So you’ve made the decision to apply to one of Columbia College Chicago’s graduate programs… Congratulations! Choosing to go to grad school is a big decision. And as someone who’s been around the application block and made it into the program (and as a graduate admissions employee at another school in another life), let me share some advice about ways to make your application a winner.
1) Check the deadline for your program. The application deadlines are all different for each program, so check carefully. If you don’t think you’ll have enough time to get your application materials in, contact the Graduate Admissions Office. You might be able to apply after the priority deadline (just without eligibility for the Follett Graduate Merit Award) or you might not. But when in doubt—ask! They’re really nice people.
2) Letters of Recommendation can take the longest time and be the most challenging part of your application to pin down, most likely because your wonderful recommenders are busy people and deadlines sometimes slip unintentionally into the cracks of memory. It’s not good to be a pest, but sometimes it can be helpful to follow up with your letter-writers with a gentle: “Thank you again for agreeing to write a letter of recommendation for my application to Columbia College Chicago. Since the deadline is X, and I see you haven’t yet submitted my letter, I was wondering if you needed any more information from me to help you out?”
3) Make your personal statement, artist’s statement, essay, etc…personal. Not what-I-ate-for-breakfast or soap-opera personal, but share your hopes, dreams, and goals with your audience (the admissions committee) and be sure to express how Columbia specifically will help you achieve those dreams. Your application readers want to see a mature, thoughtful, excited applicant who has done his or her research about Columbia and will clearly benefit from admission as well as be a good fit with the department and college.
4) That said, if you are crafting multiple applications for multiple graduate institutions—for goodness sakes, write a different essay for each one and ALWAYS proofread to make sure you don’t have the wrong school’s name listed anywhere. Sure, there will be some overlap in applications from different schools, but if you choose to recycle parts of your essay from other applications, be 100 percent sure that you are answering the questions put forth by your program’s application at Columbia.
5) It’s okay to write many drafts of your personal statement. That’s why you should start your application as early as possible. You may be surprised how excited, uncomfortable, introspective, intimidated, frustrated, or proud of yourself you feel when instructed to write about yourself and your dreams. For many people, it’s almost therapeutic, for others it’s a struggle the whole way through. For me, it provided an outlet for me to clarify and focus my career goals—why I wanted to make a career change and become a journalist. But whatever emotions your application writing stirs up, be honest and fair in your self-assessments, be proud of what you’ve accomplished in your field so far, and don’t be afraid to dream big.