College students and young professionals are increasingly looking to grad school as a way to advance their careers. However, searching for and applying to schools and programs can be anything but straightforward.
From doing research to submitting your application, there are several key differences that set graduate applications apart from their undergraduate counterparts.
If you’re thinking about applying to grad school, whether soon or far in the future, make sure to keep the following 6 tips in mind.
1. Research the schools and subjects you want to pursue.
Graduate programs allow you to become even more specialized in one subject or discipline than undergraduate programs. There is a wide diversity of universities, each of which is best known for a certain type of program.
It’s no longer just about the overall school ranking, but how the particular graduate program of interest compares with other programs in the same field.
Even among business schools like ASB, there is a wide diversity of specialties and degree types. Some schools lean more heavily toward finance while others focus more on entrepreneurship. It’s important to research what your target schools are known for and tailor your application to highlight these aspects of your background.
Before applying to grad school, think about the fields and sub-fields that you want to study. You may even want to research what specific faculty members are doing to advance these fields. Also think about the locations and companies at which you want to grow your career.
These considerations will help narrow the field and allow you to focus on the programs that are the best fit for you, rather than just relying on rankings.
2. Take standardized tests sooner rather than later.
Almost all top master’s programs will require you to take some sort of test as part of their application process (ASB is an exception). Most programs will require you to take the GRE. If you’re specifically interested in earning an MBA, consider taking the GMAT.
Even if you’re not planning on enrolling in graduate school right out of undergrad, you should still take a standardized test before or shortly after graduation. It will be much easier to study for and obtain a high score when you’re still in a test-taking mindset and have recently learned the subjects covered. Most test scores are valid for 5 years.
3. Keep your options open with Early Admission.
It’s not always possible or recommended to enroll in graduate school right away. For example, most top MBA programs require applicants to have a certain amount of work experience before enrolling. However, Early Admission programs can provide students with more certainty in their graduate school plans.
Early Admission allows you to guarantee your spot in a future MBA cohort 2-5 years in advance. Once you’ve been accepted, you can then time your matriculation to take advantage of shifts and plateaus in your career or choose not to enroll at all. These programs help ensure that you will have a valuable alternative if your career plans change or are otherwise disrupted.
ASB has just launched an Early Admission application process. Although the official deadline has passed, you’re welcome to email email@example.com if you’re interested in applying. Our next cycle will open early August.
4. Reach out to the Admissions office.
Start the conversation with the Admissions office even before you apply to your target programs. Express your interest in the program and ask good questions about the student experience and the application process (that cannot be found on the school’s website). Many schools will also allow you to schedule a call with an Admissions representative.
Not only will your application stand out because you took initiative, but the Admissions team may give you valuable insights and advice that can help strengthen your application. They can also help you determine whether their program is right for you.
Make sure to be prompt and professional in your communications throughout the entire process. Often, Admissions teams keep a record of the interactions you’ve had with them, and you want those interactions to reflect well on you.
5. Tailor your applications to each school.
Your evaluators will determine two things from your application:
- What value you can bring to the program
- Why you chose the school and program over others
If these two things are not well-articulated in your application, it will decrease your chance of admission.
With that in mind, don’t use a generic cover letter, resume, or essay for every school. If you’ve already done your research (see tip #1) then you should have no trouble tailoring your application materials to your schools and programs of interest.
But don’t only look at the school’s functional expertise when tailoring your applications. Be sure to research the values and culture of each school and find out what mindsets and personality traits make an applicant stand out.
For example, as a unique startup school, ASB seeks students with “frontier-mindedness,” an entrepreneurial spirit, and the ability to take risks. But this isn’t the case for many other top business schools.
Not sure how to find this information? The school’s website and student blogs are a great place to start, as well as reaching out to current students and alumni. Also search for mentions of the school or program in the news to see what it’s been recognized for.
For more detailed tips on how to structure your resume and cover letter, read my article on the ASB blog.
6. It’s all about the end goal.
Ultimately, where you go to grad school should be informed by your desired location and career trajectory. It helps to start with your goal in mind and work backwards to figure out what kind of credential you may need.
Find people who currently have your dream job and look at their backgrounds. Browse through job postings for positions in your target industries to determine what experience and degrees recruiters are looking for. Ask your professors, advisors and mentors for their advice and insights.
While it may be difficult to envision where you want to be 5, 10 or 20 years from now, having some idea of this can help you narrow down your preferred subjects, degree types, and schools, as well as point you toward the types of activities and experiences that will make your grad school applications stand out.
Applying for graduate programs can be a stressful process, but it doesn’t have to be. Laying out your strategy and goals in advance can streamline the process and give you a better chance of embarking on your dream career.
When it comes to grad school, it’s never too early to start.
For more information about Asia School of Business in collaboration with MIT Sloan, download our program brochures here.