First, it’s essential that you continue building the proper foundation through academic achievement and excellence in standardized testing. The first thing admissions committees will look at is your academic transcript. Only candidates with strong grades will be considered for offers. Next, admissions officers will look at your standardized test scores. This includes the GRE (for most graduate programs) or GMAT (for business schools) along with the TOEFL (for American universities) or IETLS (for British universities) to test English competency. Admissions committees will only grant offers to students that have demonstrated the ability to do high-level work; your transcript and test scores represent your intelligence and diligence to universities. That said, even a 4.0 GPA, 800 GMAT, 120 TOEFL does not guarantee admission to Harvard Business School. At elite universities, your academic qualifications enable you to be seriously considered but it is other, “intangible” factors that actually earn admission. Let’s discuss how you can build your “intangibles” this spring.
After evaluating your transcript and test scores, the admissions committee is likely to judge the quality of your two recommendations so it’s crucial you invest time this spring to bolster your recs. The best way to earn great recommendations is to build close working relationships with your professors. How do you build relationships with professors? Do reading and homework before lecture, listen actively during class, and ask a smart question after the class period ends. This enables you to strike up a conversation with your professor and gradually build a positive relationship. Share that you are aiming to study abroad and ask your professor for any advice. Always be respectful of their time and be sure to follow-up with an email or handwritten note expressing your gratitude for their time and advice. After several conversations, your professor will likely be able to write you a strong recommendation letter that speaks on your academic merits, personality, aspirations, and potential. Strong recommendations take time so begin by speaking to two of your favorite professors after class this week.
But academic achievement and excellent recommendations are only the first steps! It is also important to build your professional experiences. This can include internships with private companies, government agencies, or NGO’s to build skills, insights and contacts. Internships are very important for students aiming to attend “professional programs” like business, medical or law school, along with non-research based Masters programs. You should aim to intern in a field related to your academic interest. If you want to get a Masters in Finance, try to work in banking or investments; if you are aiming for a Masters in Public Health, then interning with a health care NGO or government agency is a smart move. Research and laboratory experience is crucial for those aiming to attend research-based Masters or PhD programs. Lab work is also a great way to work closely with a professor and earn a strong recommendation by a faculty member in your target academic field. Research related to your target PhD field is weighted much more favorably than unrelated laboratory experience.
Admissions committees will evaluate candidate’s “real-world” experience, qualifications and contributions after they have determined you can perform at the high academic standard required. Internship and research experience helps set candidates apart in competitive application pools.
This spring you should also begin brainstorming which universities and programs you plan to apply to. Start by thinking of your career goals and how graduate school can help you achieve your aspirations. Don’t worry if you’re not exactly sure how to start making your target university list. We will cover methods to gain clarity on target schools, programs and academic fields.
In my next post, I will share advanced strategies to get excellent recommendation letters.