When you make the decision to apply to graduate school, you may be deceived into believing that a rational decision paired with a ferocious intensity will be enough to get you in. You’re committed to applying and you’re focused — that’s enough, right?
Nope, sorry, it’s not. Though there are several reasons why you might not be ready to make a successful push to graduate school, a few in particular stand out.
Not Managing Your Time & Process Well
If you mishandle the application cycle and seasonality of the process, you torpedo your chances and potentially your motivation. The first of the two sides of the timing coin pertains to deciding to apply to school too late. Applications are typically released in the summer a year before you would matriculate. So, if you’re looking at being on campus in fall of 2020 pursuing your graduate degree, your applications will be available in the early summer of 2019. The best way to limit your success is to start your application process a mere three weeks before your application is due.
How can starting an application late be a massive hindrance? You have less time to formulate compelling essays, identify and prep willing and capable recommenders, and determine the right type of degree and particular programs. And for all regular programs, you will need to order transcripts — you cannot rush university administrative offices, at least not successfully! It’s hard to know if you need to write an optional essay to address poor grades if you don’t have your transcript to even know. And you won’t be able to obtain it after the application is officially due. For competitive programs, these hang-ups can be fatal to your candidacy.
Not Being Methodical in Your Search
While passion is an important part of the application process, it can never override the need to be methodical in executing the necessary tasks to get accepted. Many applicants get exuberant about the potential of their candidacy and the benefits they will receive and don’t spend enough time assembling a plan to help direct two important decisions: 1) the type of graduate degree they hope to pursue and 2) the particular schools they are targeting.
Candidates may be swayed to pursue a certain degree based on its popularity and perceived benefits as opposed to if it’s the correct fit in terms of past experience and intended goals after graduation. For example, with the popularity of the MBA degree in media (fictional and real-life) there is increased interest in the degree. Candidates who have shown no prior interest in business from an academic and/or professional perspective have increasingly become focused on pursuing such a degree. While some have done a high-level analysis to ensure it is sensible, there are many who are persuaded by the popularity, appeal to wealth, and perceived prestige they believe an MBA confers.
Some of these candidates would be best served by pursuing an adjacent graduate degree like a Master’s in Finance, which is more focused in financial markets as opposed to the general management of an MBA, or a Master’s in Business Analytics, centered on using predictive data to help with financial, strategic, and operational performance. However, since those degrees are not common/popular, candidates with a haphazard approach to determining their next step are missing out on finding the best fit. The consequences of this mistaken pursuit can be huge: Not finishing your degree, lack of career options for which you have real interest, and a lot of debt for a high level of dissatisfaction are the likely outcomes.
If you choose the right degree, but incorrect programs, the ramifications will be less pronounced. But, you may still have a degree of unhappiness over the usefulness and quality of your network and the types of companies that are recruiting at your school. You may underperform due to a lack of motivation. Graduate degree pursuits are difficult enough when you’re motivated and focused. If those traits are partially sapped because you were not organized or methodical enough to pursue the right degree at the right place, you may be in trouble.
Not Getting Your Ducks in a Row
Despite great planning with enough time to launch a strong application, you may be dramatically hindered if your application assets are not appropriately polished or you falter in presenting them in your application itself. Application assets — your grade point average (GPA), activities, and resume — need to be sufficiently strong for your target degree and program. Regardless of your extreme passion for a Master’s in Public Policy degree from a top 30 schools, if your GPA is below a 3.2, you’re likely facing a real uphill battle. If you are trying to pursue a Master’s in Computer Science and you don’t have coding projects to demonstrate, your chances are similarly hampered.
If you are in a position where you note a weakness, it is critical that you have attempted to remedy it. Not doing so is a sign that you are not as “together” as you need to be and will be a serious impediment to application success. For both of these aforementioned examples, you can take remedial action to tighten up your profile. You may look to take some supplemental classes at your local school or code a solution to solve a problem for a local company, respectively.
This same ideology applies to taking prerequisites. Sometimes candidates are emotionally ready to apply to a graduate school, but are not organized enough to have completed required training. As an example, it’s nearly impossible to get into an American medical school without having taken organic chemistry, physics, and calculus. If you don’t have your act together enough to satisfy the requirements for applying, you will not get into graduate school.
The need for a well-crafted, convincing application to showcase these application assets is hopefully clear. As is the enormous downside regarding your application success if you fail to meet that standard. Even if you possess amazing application assets, if your application is not well-written, your candidacy will be irrevocably hampered.
Feeling ready for graduate school is not enough to guarantee success. Simple and clear deficiencies in terms of mismanaging your process, being disorganized in your degree pursuit, and not having your $#*! together can be impediments to getting in. If you’re serious about your potential success, you need to eliminate these issues.