In a previous blog post, we wrote about what an MS application entails, and what you need to have in your MS application packet. But how do you go about building a successful application?
Check out a few tips from our admission consultants on how to create that perfect MS application.
- Contact a faculty member you’d like to work with
Email them a month or so before you apply. Tell them you were considering applying, and you’re curious about the research opportunities available in the field. Comment intelligently on some research that faculty member has done. If you have done any research – attach your citations and briefly summarize your research interests. That faculty member can then make sure your MS application receives a thorough review.
Bear in mind that professors receive lots of form-letter spam from prospective students. It’s painfully obvious when the email is form-letter spam, and most professors will discard it instantly. Send a short follow-up email in December/January so they remember to tell the admissions committee to watch for you!
- Be succinct
Even “lowly ranked” schools will receive hundreds or even thousands of applications for a few dozen slots. Most MS applications are skimmed through first, and read only if something catches the reviewer’s eye. Your MS application should be easy to read, not long-winded and grammatically and scientifically correct.
- Choose your area of interest/preferred faculty carefully
MS applications are reviewed by the faculty in the area for which the prospective student states an interest. If you choose this poorly, the right person will not see your application.
Reviewers also get annoyed when there is a mismatch between area preference and faculty preference. At least skim the home pages of every faculty member.
It’s also a good idea to look for faculty with an active research program and current Ph.D. students. Faculty without funding can’t easily admit students. New/pre-tenure professors are especially eager to find good graduate students, and sometimes they have start-up funding to use until they get a grant.
- Be different
Don’t talk about how you’ve been interested in the field ever since you were a child and that you wrote your first program/proved your first theorem at age eight. The admissions committee already knows that it’s been your lifelong dream to become a scientist. (That’s why you’re applying, after all!) Many personal statements start off this with this standard back-story, and it’s a waste of space.
- Use quotes carefully
A lot of personal statements start off with a quote. If you use a quote, make sure it’s witty, relevant and one that the reviewer has never seen. Do not misquote or misattribute a quote. Definitely do not misunderstand a quote and weave that misunderstanding into a narrative about why you want to go to grad school.
- Put up a personal/research home page
Make it professional. Highlight any interesting projects you’ve worked on there. Remove all references to your political and/or religious preferences. (Clean up your Facebook/twitter profile, too!)
- Proofread your documents
This should go without saying, but it’s extremely sloppy if there are typos in your statements, or indeed anywhere in your MS application. If you’re not a native English speaker, have a native English speaker proofread your materials.
- Make your application look good
Using readable fonts, formatting your application properly, numbering the pages of your Statement of Purpose, ensuring that your resume is to point and that your recommendation letters don’t meander – all add more points to your kitty for an admissions committee.
- Choose your recommenders carefully
Cultivate working relationships with your recommenders. This is the only way to get convincing recommendations out of them!