So, you have made the decision to take the leap and apply for graduate school. Let me be the first to say congratulations, as this is a step toward an amazing future and an investment in yourself that you won’t regret! Now you sit faced with the daunting screen of questions, checkboxes, updating your resume, cleaning up your portfolio, writing an essay, and perhaps going through a round of interviews. Earning your Master’s in any field is no easy task, and the process prior to being accepted into your program is most likely just as difficult.
During my application process, I felt very blessed to have had recently completed undergraduate classes that equipped me with a well-rounded portfolio, essay, as well as interview practice. I am very aware of how rare this is to have most of my undergraduate work line up with the timeline of my graduate application process, and hopefully, my experience can be of help to some of you on your journey!
As cliché as it might sound my first tip before the actual official tips would be to simply give yourself enough time to prepare and complete the process. Many graduate programs offer scholarships simply based on the merit of your application, there is no sense in rushing to complete your application just to get it done. This application represents the best of your work thus far and introduces you to your new set of professors even before they have met you. As soon as you can apply, I would head to the portal and scope out what the application consists of. Many times, this simple step gives you enough time to request your transcripts, determine the application fee, and most importantly plan what you would like to showcase in your application. Additionally, the first section of the application normally will include several questions solely about your background and contact information which will only take about 10 minutes to complete. And just like that, you have knocked out 25% of the process!
After getting your feet wet of what to expect from the application, I recommend something that made my submission cohesive: developing my personal brand and establishing that narrative through each element of the application process. You may be wondering, “How do I develop my personal brand, let alone embed it into my application if I don’t know what it is yet?” The answer is simple and can be easily applied with these helpful tips that my teachers instilled in me during the final semester of undergrad:
- Be your authentic self – The essay, prompts, questions, and even your portfolio are unique opportunities for you to showcase who you are. There is no need to create a persona or a sob story of yourself because most admission counselors simply want to hear why you want your degree and how you will use it in the future. These questions have answers you have most likely answered when you made the decision to apply and should be relatively easy to explain in detail. By firmly knowing the answers to those questions you can set the baseline for your personal brand and create an outline for yourself of what important themes most resonate with who you are.
- Show the growth of your work – Your portfolio and essay serve as points of work examples. I took this opportunity to further my personal brand by not only exhibiting pieces of work that I have completed but also explaining how they evolved into some of my best work and how they serve to catapult me into being a successful graduate student. The same can be true for you whether that is in art, finance, fashion, entrepreneurship, marketing, animation, or etc. Faculty love to hear and see student work, and you can take it a step further by being self-aware of your growth by explaining how you could improve.
- Ask insightful questions – If your application process includes an interview portion, please do not let this steer you away or intensify your stress. See this “interview” as a mere “Get to Know Me” session with your future teachers and advisors. This is the moment that you get to make those words on your resume and essay a reality, radiating your energy and what you can both bring and take away from this program. Do this both by answering their questions authentically, but also by asking the interviewers thoughtful questions that show your curiosity and excitement about the program.
- Be engaged – I applied and was successfully accepted into the Entrepreneurship for Creatives M.A. program which offered several faculty meet and greets as well as orientations. Attending these pre-enrollment events gave me a great sense of what the course work would be for my program, as well as a chance to meet my cohort and future professors. Such events also are another opportunity to ask questions and gain insight on how to tailor your application.
- Find a mentor – Another beautiful aspect of my application process was that I had several mentors to reach out to for questions and to seek advice. Many of these mentors were my undergrad professors, however, I was able to connect with a current MA student at Columbia in the Entrepreneurship department that I met with several times for simple conversations on what the application process was like for her and any recommendations she had for me.
I hope these tips can be just as helpful for you all as they were for me, and if any readers are interested in applying for a graduate program, I would be more than happy to answer any questions along the way!