A Recipe for Success

When Should I Start Preparing My Application

June 23rd, 2014

Well-timed preparation for admission is the key to successful entry into grad school. There is a lot that should be done beforehand, but if you set your mind to it you can complete the application process in a month. That’s why planning ahead and starting as soon as possible are essential. These are the two key pieces of advice that every master’s programme consultant would give each applicant if he or she wants to succeed and become a master’s degree student.

The time applicants invest in the preparation process should not be underestimated. It’s not just a case of simply filling in the application file and sending this, along with the additional documents, including CVs, essays and references, as well as test scores, to schools’ admission offices. To get the minimum score required by the school for admission you do need roughly three months preparation in order to prepare for the GMAT or other standardised tests.

Candidates invest significant time in writing CVs and essays and finding people to write references for them. The time spent in figuring out to which programme they are best-suited also takes time. The preparation process might also include travelling to schools, campuses, meetings with alumni and undertaking other kinds of research about the school or the programme.

In general, graduate school admission is a systematic process usually starting six months before admission. Graduate application deadlines are usually in early spring, so candidates should start their preparation during the preceding summer. The process includes several steps that are usually bound by non-negotiable deadlines. Candidates should be aware of the entire process, all requirements and deadlines, well before they begin the application process. That’s why the most successful applicants to graduate school plan ahead and really know the whole admission process extremely well.

The main steps
Conditionally speaking, there are five main steps in the application process. Discover. Connect. Prepare. Apply. Accept. In one short sentence this means: discover the right programme; connect with the chosen school and department of study; prepare for the tests and work on the application file; apply by submitting the whole application package; and accept admissions offer by one of the schools on the targeted list. Going through the first three steps is strongly individual as people differ when deciding what programme and school is best for them and how much time they need to prepare. That’s why fixed deadlines are difficult to pin down. As going through all these steps is time-consuming, time management is essential. The fourth step is bound by non-negotiable deadlines and it’s impossible not to adhere to them. If you miss the deadline to submit your application package, you will simply put an end to the whole process. The fifth step, which is to say to your grad school that you are “in,” is again bound by a fixed deadline.

The “discover” and “connect” steps:
Gather information
Choosing the right school and the right programme is the first step. Thorough research of the schools, the programmes, their curricula, their students, their marketability and placement on the job market, etc., is essential for every would-be master’s student. The best resources of information about potential graduate schools and programmes are professors at undergrad schools, advisors, career services staff, professionals in the candidate’s field of interest, and others pursuing graduate study. Visiting educational fairs and school campuses, as well as gathering information from online resources is another way of getting the information required to make an informed choice. The research will help the candidate choose the programme that will best fit his or her needs, career goals and plans. After gathering a great deal of information, the next step is to narrow down one’s choices. This is essential, otherwise the candidate would spend hours completing applications to a long list of schools.

Finance your studies
In the meantime, the financial question should be considered carefully as well. Finding the best option to finance one’s study often requires as much time as the actual preparation for the test, the personal essays and finding people to write recommendations. As only a few candidates are lucky enough to rely on their personal bank accounts and parental support, for most finding the money to pay for tuition, application fees and the preparation as a whole is a serious issue that needs time to be thought through fully.

A scholarship is the first option for all students. Some grad schools provide this opportunity to their candidates. There is another non-negotiable deadline here – regardless of the programme or the school - filling in the scholarship application file must be done according to the school’s deadline. This makes meeting this deadline as obligatory as meeting the deadline for submitting the general application form for the master’s programmes. For those who do not qualify for a scholarship, there are plenty of other funding options available on the market. Finding the best and least expensive also takes time.

The preparation step
The preparation of the application file is usually the lengthiest part of the process before actually submitting the application documents. It includes preparing for and taking a standardised test, writing CVs, essays, preparing the references and getting ready for the admissions interview.

Depending on the school the candidate applies to and his or her field of interest, he or she will likely need to consider preparing for and taking one or more standardised tests. Typically these tests should be completed at least about three months before the application deadlines. Their scores are valid for several years, so they can be taken even earlier. Taking a standardised test like GMAT, GRE, TOEFL, IELTS, is the first must-do prior to beginning the application process. “I had to take the GRE exam, for which I studied for about three months.I also had to fill out an application, which included writing an essay. This took me about aweek. The most difficult part was the GRE, as I studied for it while I was doing my undergraddegree“, says Konstantin, who has a Master’s in International Economics from McGill University in Canada. Alongside the test preparation, the other elements of the application process should not be left aside. These include finalising the CVs, essays, assembling the letters of recommendation, as well as the preparation for the interview. Somewhere in between, the candidate should arrange his or her official transcripts to be sent to each of his or her programmes of choice.

Although there is not a strict timeline for preparing personal CVs, letters of recommendation and writing the application essay, it’s worth preparing them as early as possible. The essay is a very important part of the application file and should not be underestimated. Admission officers will read it carefully and it’s one of the best ways to impress the school. Admissions officers who have read through thousands of essays would immediately recognise one which was simply downloaded from the web. Such essays are never tolerated. After completing the tests, CV, essays and recommendations, the preparation for the admission interviews begins. It is helpful to have thought about the most common questions asked at interviews and prepare your answers accordingly. Obviously, this does not mean that you will be asked the same questions that you have prepared for. However, training yourself to think on the spot, formulate your answers clearly and concisely, and coming across as calm, cool and collected during the interview are all things that you can work on in advance in order to increase your chances of a successful interview.

All in all, the application process is a stressful period of time that calls for your complete dedication and focus. There is no precise recipe for success per se. However, as you know yourself well and you know how quickly you can get things going, you should create your own timeline to adhere to as you start the application process. And just remember, a little stress can be useful but don’t let yourself get overwhelmed as this could be detrimental to your final goal.

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