Admissions Tips from the Associate Director of Admissions
Make sure you put your best application forward
Author: Stephanie Brown
When I began my higher education enrollment career over 18 years ago, my supervisor at the time shared with me her words of wisdom for working in this unique industry: “Our role as admissions recruiters is not to hold the door of the institution closed and only allow a select few in. Our role is to open the door wide and welcome in all those who believe it’s the best place for them.”
Those words have influenced how I’ve approached my work each day since. That’s because graduate admissions is not about creating the perfect profile with the perfect list of activities, professional experiences, classes, and grades. It’s about finding the perfect fit in a learning community in which you will thrive, grow, and become who you are meant to be, all the while achieving the goals and dreams you’ve set for yourself.
It’s less marketing yourself, and more soul-searching within yourself. For those of us who have spent our careers in higher education enrollment, this is something we wish everyone knew about the process, and it’s the one misconception we wish nobody had.
After reviewing hundreds, maybe thousands, of admissions applications throughout my career, I’ve identified some important factors that make an application, and an applicant, stand out among the crowd. Here are my top five recommendations to submit your best graduate application and ensure that it’s as much a personal endeavor as it is a professional one.
TIP 1: Read (and follow!) the directions carefully, and answer questions appropriately. Admissions teams spend hours carefully considering and discussing the questions and requirements of an application. These are meant to guide you in providing the information, details, and experiences that are important to the admissions team. This information is how we help you to discern your best fit in a graduate program and a university community. Following the application directions carefully ensures that you are indeed providing this invaluable information and taking a step toward finding the best fit.
TIP 2: Choose your recommenders thoughtfully. Some of the best recommenders are the faculty who gave you a hard ‘C’ rather than an easy ‘A.’ Faculty who saw you struggle, seek help, advocate for yourself, stick with it, and learn from mistakes are the ones who often have the most positive comments to share about you. They can speak to the qualities you possess that we value in our graduate programs and can paint a picture of you as a successful student in this next academic journey. It’s also important to have variety in your recommenders. Consider each recommendation as valuable real estate in your application. If you select two recommenders who worked with you in the same context, they will provide similar accounts of your skills and qualities, essentially repeating the information provided to us. If you select two recommenders who worked with you in different contexts, each one will provide a different set of experiences, qualities, and skills they have witnessed in you. This doubles the information the admissions team learns about you, increasing your application’s property value!
TIP 3: Balance the personal and professional. Applying to graduate school is a professional endeavor. But it’s also a personal one! You’re taking steps to invest in yourself and progress toward achieving your unique goals. It’s important to present yourself professionally through your application credentials – resume, statement of purpose, essay, etc. Be sure that your writing and language are professional. But don’t forsake the personal reasons you’re applying! You may have selected a graduate program for professional reasons, but your professional goals are often rooted in personal passions. You may also be considering a campus community for personal reasons. The best way for you and the admissions team to know that you’re a great match is to ensure that you’re sharing both your personal and professional sides within your application. This can be done through your essay content, the subject of your statement of purpose, or even through your interview responses.
TIP 4: Tell your story. Be genuine. As I mentioned previously, the content of an admissions application is to help you (and us!) find your best fit in a graduate program and academic community. Because this is our ultimate goal, it’s important that you tell us your unique story. Don’t be concerned with sharing content you think we want to hear or that you think aligns best with the program. We want to hear about YOU! Be true, be genuine, and tell us the story of how you arrived at this application, for this program, at this institution, for which dreams. In the end, it will land you in the perfect space to grow and thrive that is perfectly aligned with you.
TIP 5: Don’t sell yourself short. Every experience and skill adds value. I’ve reviewed many applications over the years that exclude content the applicant felt was not important to the program or the institution. Any experience and skill have the potential to add value to your academic experience and the cohort among which you’ll be learning. Tell us about the part-time jobs, research projects, or case competitions you completed. Share the community service you’ve done, the volunteer coaching position you held with a youth group or the technical skills and software you’ve learned along the way. Each of these has the potential to showcase your leadership and teamwork skills, your investment in the community, and your ability to learn.
As I wrap up my five tips for submitting your best graduate application, I want to stress that the admissions review process is not solely about the numbers. We recognize that there is a real person with real experiences and goals behind each application. Don’t let the fear of rejection hold you back from applying. You have much to contribute, and what you bring to the table is valuable!
Following these tips will help you to demonstrate just that. Our admissions team looks forward to learning more about you through your application. Be sure to join us for our virtual events to connect with the admissions team and learn more about our graduate business programs and the Notre Dame community.