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Tips for UW System students applying for graduate or professional school

Applying for graduate or a professional school is a big decision, and there are many considerations for determining which path is right and how to ensure your application is successful.

“Grad school is not an easy thing,” said Morgan Theobald, a graduate admission recruiter at UW-Green Bay. “You want to be sure you’re confident in the program you choose and modality in which you do it so that you remain happy and healthy while you complete your degree, and you don’t stress yourself out.”

Theobald offered her advice on how to prepare for the application process:

Ask questions and network. If you’re unsure which program or area of study you want to pursue for a graduate degree, Theobald suggested reaching out to your campus’ career services office to get guidance and tips, as well as any faculty who have experience in fields you’re considering. Those faculty could also connect you to working professionals, which can help you figure out what specific experience and education you need.

“Don’t be afraid to ask (someone already in the field) how did you get there?” she said.

Set goals and priorities. Theobald said students have multiple ways of achieving their graduate degrees, depending on their goals and learning style. For some students, getting work experience before applying to a graduate program can make more sense than going straight in from undergraduate. Part-time versus full-time, and online versus in-person, also are important questions for students to weigh.

Theobald suggested creating a list of your goals and priorities and then using those as criteria to evaluate which graduate programs would be the best fit. 

Personal statements and recommendation letters are important. While admission requirements will vary between institutions, Theobald said many require personal statements and letters of recommendation. She cautioned students against using a generic personal statement because some schools have specific questions, criteria or prompts they want applicants to answer.

“If personal statements are required for the program, which most of the time they are, that might be a differentiator when (the admissions team) is weighing other materials,” she said.

She suggested students be clear about why they want to attend a specific institution and highlight anything unique about themselves so that their letter stands out.

For letters of recommendation, Theobald told students to check whether the program they’re applying to has specific requirements, and then communicate those to the person who is recommending them. She advised students to pick a person who knows them well and can speak in detail about their abilities and strengths. She urged students to ask their letter writer  well in advance of any application deadlines, so that the writer has ample time to write a thoughtful submission.

Know program requirements. Theobald said students should research the specific admission requirements for their desired school to ensure they can meet those criteria. Those requirements should be available on each school’s website, though Theobald said students can also contact admissions office directly to ask about requirements and what they want to see from applicants.

She suggested looking into requirements a year or more in advance, in case you need to shore up your GPA, take certain classes or find relevant work or internship experience to strengthen your future application.

Apply early. Theobald advised prospective graduate school students to submit application materials as soon as possible in the process. That way, you can ensure all of the necessary materials are submitted, such as transcripts and letters of recommendations, and any missing items can be resolved before deadline.

“If anything arrives late, you might not move ahead in the review (process),” she said.

Be professional. Theobald said any time students reach out to admissions staff or have an interview, they should use professional and respectful language. She also told students to ensure any emails include the proper name spelling and pronouns for the recipients. If you do make a mistake, own it and apologize.

She suggested that students follow up on any interview or request with a thank-you note, both as a sign of respect and as a way to reiterate your interest in the program.

For more tips from Theobald, watch WiSys’ “Graduate and Professional School Advice” event on YouTube, or dive deeper into the specifics of attending the following: