How to Prepare a More Competitive Application

Earning a master’s degree is a major accomplishment, and the work begins long before you take your first graduate class. Obviously, strong performance as an undergraduate can be an indicator of future performance in the classroom, and since standardized tests like the GMAT and the GRE may be required, high test scores – and just as importantly, preparing to achieve high test scores – will help you establish a strong foundation for graduate studies. But academics are only one piece of the puzzle.

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Here are some steps you can take now to make yourself stand out when you’re ready to submit your application materials:

Make a Statement
Many applicants make the mistake of thinking a statement of purpose is just repositioning their resume or telling their life story. But it’s more than a bio or an introduction. The statement of purpose illustrates your writing ability and should reflect your educational and professional goals clearly and concisely.

So, write directly and objectively about your experience and your future goals. Don’t rely on a list of your accomplishments and focus instead on those achievements that have prepared you for graduate school.

And it’s always a good idea to have someone review your statement of purpose. If you’re still in school, set an appointment with a career advisor to get feedback on your first draft, and if you’re already out in the real world, turn to someone who can be objective about what you’ve written (hint: Don’t ask Mom.)

Get a Ringing Endorsement
Who has great things to say about you? (Again: Don’t ask Mom.) Is there a professor you worked with closely who could highlight your strengths, not only academically, but as a student leader and a hard worker? Would your supervisor at work – or at a previous internship – be able to demonstrate what makes you a valuable candidate for grad school? Letters of recommendation are very important to admissions committees because they help paint a picture of you from an outsider’s perspective.

So choose your recommenders wisely and to make sure they have enough time to write the best letter they can on your behalf, choose your recommenders early, as well.

Lend a Hand
Volunteering, even on a small scale, and looking for leadership opportunities at work and in the community, can tell an admissions committee a lot about your aspirations. Whether you help out at a local animal shelter or a cancer awareness walk, or you keep a dedicated calendar for all your service work, volunteering showcases your passion, your willingness to go the extra mile, and your commitment to giving back.

Making time to get involved not only broadens your experience; it also gives you a leg up in the applicant pool.

Of course, there is no perfect recipe for a grad school application. But many applicants will have a high GPA and good test scores. That’s why it’s important to plan for a well-rounded application package – one that shows what makes you a candidate the admissions committee can’t pass up.

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