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By: Holly Sims, Teaching Fellow, Romance Studies

If you are applying to graduate school—or even just considering it—then you probably have at least a few questions about the application process. They may look something like these: How many letters of recommendation do I need? When do I need to take the GRE? Does it even count? What should I say in my personal statement? How many graduate programs should I apply to?


It is normal to have questions like these, especially as you begin the applications. However, you should not let your concerns distract you from the most important question of all: Why do you want to go to graduate school? Here are five tips to help you use your purpose for applying to graduate school to navigate (and learn from) an otherwise tedious application process:


  1. Dream Big – But in Detail: When you are applying to graduate school, dream big. Do not automatically discount top-ranked programs just because you think you will not be accepted. At the same time, however, dream in detail. Ask practical questions like these: Where is this program located? What is the weather like? Do I want to live there? What is the cost of living in that location? Use these types of questions to transform your “dream” into the reality of what your life would look like at each institution.


  1. Do Your Research: It is crucial to have a thorough understanding of each program you intend to apply to. Start by poring over their websites for information about faculty, staff, current graduate students, course offerings, and degree requirements. If possible, visit the campus and meet with faculty and students in person. As you research each program, you may need to reevaluate whether it is a good fit for your interests.


  1. Just Get Started: Whether you are in the early stages of research or have already finalized your list of programs to apply to, it is important to just get started. Do not let yourself become overwhelmed by the details of the applications or the gravity of the decision. If you procrastinate, you will likely cause yourself undue stress.


  1. Listen Carefully: It can be helpful to ask questions, seek advice, and bounce ideas off of trusted friends, family members, professors, and employers. Everyone that you talk to will likely have their own opinions about your plans for graduate school. Listen to what they say, but also remember that the only opinion that really matters is your own.


  1. Be Honest with Yourself: You will encounter questions about applications, life in graduate school, and your own decisions at every stage in the process. Whether the question is one that you have, or one that you receive from a friend, family member, or professor, it is important to be honest in your response. As you navigate the application process, return that most important question: Why do I want to go to graduate school? Only you can provide an answer, and it is important to give yourself—and others—an honest response.
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