In an earlier post Dr Sridhar Pappu described how to shortlist universities for graduate school admissions, He discussed a step-by-step approach to shortlisting universities based on your GRE scores. This second part discusses how to put together a compelling graduate school application package that will help you get noticed by the admissions committee.
You will have to spend a good deal of time on this step. It may appear easy, but it is not. Note that many of the other applicants will have a similar (maybe even better) academic record and test scores than you have. But that should not be cause for despair. You still can stand by highlighting your USP. Here’s how:
Spend a significant amount of time on this step, as this will eventually help you put together a powerful application essay or Statement of Purpose.
Most resumes are boring. And you could use that to your advantage. If the graduate school admissions committee is going through 100 application packages, they may easily miss important points in a long multi-page application profile. Just like a 30-second business pitch, you should create an application profile that is no longer than one page, highlighting all your strengths and achievements. To do this, you need to be creative and innovative.
For example, if you are applying to a master’s program that has a significant emphasis on visual design or user interfaces, your one-page application profile should be creatively written to inherently highlight your visual design strengths. Likewise, if you are applying to data sciences programs, your profile should highlight data-related aspects and present information using relevant charts and graphics.
The flip side, however, is that you need to be extra careful while presenting information in this way; if you show charts but forget such basics as labelling the axes properly, you may be shooting yourself in the foot by highlighting a lack of knowledge in the areas you claim to be competent in. But, then, you can’t stand out if you don’t work hard enough!
Now, you may have a genuine concern that you cannot present all the information you want to in a single page without cluttering it. Use appendices to your one-page application profile as a space to include brief project descriptions, copies of certificates you have earned, details of relevant courses you have taken, publications, presentations, extra-curricular activities and so on. Try to stick to half a page or less for each summary.
These appendices help the graduate school admissions committee see the details if they want to. But your one-page profile should give the overall picture even if they skip the rest.
Your Statement of Purpose (SOP) is the section of your application package that gives you the opportunity to pour your heart out and make up for some of the lacunae you might have in your academic credentials. But this doesn’t mean you start telling a sob story. Your focus has to be on why you are applying for higher studies – ie. THE PURPOSE. And this is where you start consolidating the strengths you jotted down while creating your USP.
The Statement of Purpose should flow as smoothly as a story. Unless the university asks you to write your essay in the form of answers to specific questions, you could use the following template to create your Statement of Purpose story:
Once you have written your Statement of Purpose, ask some others to read it to ensure the flow is smooth and there are no errors; if required, take their help in editing it to get the message across that you really want to convey.
Here again, don’t just ask any two of three people who you think know you well and will give you a good recommendation. Refer back to your strengths in the USP you created and think about all the people who can vouch for different strengths – academic record, motivation, creativity, communication skills, integrity, etc. More likely than not, there will not be a single person who would have observed all your skills well enough to strongly vouch for them all. You must identify people who can collectively cover most of your strengths.
If you are a recent graduate, you may get all your recommendations from your undergraduate faculty. However, if you have been working for a year or more, get at least one reference from both your academic institution and your workplace. In you have been working for over three years and have completely lost touch with your alma mater, you may get all your referees from your professional contacts, but it is always advisable to get at least one from someone who can talk about your academic strengths and potential as well.
While there is no magic recipe or guarantee that following the above will lead to success at every university you apply to, following these steps should help maximize your chances for graduate school admissions success. At the end of this whole process, your efforts should be such that you should feel that you couldn’t have done any better. Wishing you all the best.
Thanks Suman for the post.It is really helpful specially the point of adding the charts and graphics while applying for Data Science or other data related opportunities.
Thanks for the post. While attending data scientist course In Hyderabad we discussed about this topic side by side with big data, hadoop and cloud concepts.