Applying to graduate school is incredibly stressful and time consuming. Many of you undergraduates or potential students are going to pursue graduate school, so I’m here to help. I started applying to graduate school this fall. The first step, and the most important, is updating your resume. Your resume is going to become your best friend while marketing yourself to professors and schools. Make sure you have relevant information listed including research experience, work experience, volunteer work and publications/presentations.
After revamping your resume, you’re going to want to start contacting professors, which can be one of the most frustrating endeavors you will have to endure during your application process. When contacting professors to work in their lab, you need to sell yourself, but do not seem over eager. You should express your interest, say what you can bring to your lab (experience, proficiency with specific programs, skills, etc.), and most of all, tell them why you want to work with them. If you just love sea turtles and you’re super interested in their morphology and distribution, mention those details in the email to the professor who has those same research interests. Read some of the potential professors’ publications and let them know that you’ve read them. Last, but not least, attach your resume to the email. I’ve had way more professors respond back with my resume attached than when I haven’t attached it. The resume gives the professor further information before deciding to spend the effort discussing potential projects with you. Like I said, market yourself.
Once you’ve started contacting professors, it’s time to wait. Waiting is the worst part. Once you start getting responses, some of them won’t be so great. You’ll get the “I’m sorry but we just don’t have funding for the semester you’re applying for,” or “my current graduate students aren’t graduating by then so I have no space.” After about half of your emails get rejected, you may get the best email of your life—the potential opportunity. A professor will email you, telling you how great your resume is, how your research interests mesh and that they want to set up an appointment to meet with you either in person or over Skype. At this point, pat yourself on the back, kid, because you’re doing just fine! Once you meet with your potential advisor who reinforces that you are wanted in their lab, start your applications.
The last step, starting your applications, is the most time consuming because you will go through about 37 drafts of your statement of interest for just one school. Make sure that your statement of interest is catchy, not too long and addresses your research interest and what advisors you want to work under. If you already have confirmation from a professor, throw that in there too; it can’t hurt you. Once you’ve finished your applications, you’ll have to pay the absurd application fees, but it’s okay to cry a little over the loss of all that money. Applying for graduate school is expensive, but the previously stated steps will help you with your application and your search for graduate advisors.