In our last post, we talked about what to do when starting your graduate school search 12 months before sending in your applications. Here are some tips for what to do 11 months before applying.
1. Conduct initial research on your list of schools: Assess not only the content of material on websites, but also look at the ways in which graduate schools present that material. Is information easy to find? Is the tone friendly and inviting? Are there easy and quick ways to request more information?
When it comes to gathering details, this is also a good time to request written information from each of your prospective institutions. This will both enable you to review the printed materials whenever you want and will also allow you to find out how responsive the admissions offices are.
Officials' response time can be very telling. In your own notes, grade each institution on its website, as well as its level of responsiveness.
Here is a suggested grading system:
-- A: Easy to navigate, informative, captivating
-- B: Well-done, good information, friendly
-- C: Fairly easy to navigate, not as helpful/friendly
-- D: Difficult to navigate, not very informative
-- F: What were they thinking?
-- F-: No website, or close to nothing
-- A: Had a response within seven business days
-- B: Had a response within 12 business days
-- C: Had a response within 17 business days
-- D: Had a response within 22 business days
-- F: Took three weeks or longer for a response
-- F-: No response
2. Based on each school's website and responsiveness, narrow your search: But don't narrow your list too much. Obviously, institutions you have graded as F or F- can be eliminated, but you might be surprised by some of the options that received poor grades.
If you still have an interest in those schools, keep them on your list for now. But if you find that you keep getting the same disappointing results from browsing the websites or seeking information down the road, ask yourself whether that's the kind of treatment you'd want as an applicant and ultimately as a student.
3. Create a spreadsheet for remaining options on your list: You may have already started a spreadsheet during your initial research, in which case you can just expand it. If not, start one now.
Along the left-hand column, create an alphabetical list of your options. Place the options that you want to compare across the top columns.
Here are some suggestions:
a. Website grade
b. Responsiveness grade
c. Usefulness of printed materials/brochures
d. Friendliness of admissions staff
e. Interaction with current students
f. Interaction with faculty
g. Interaction with alumni
h. Campus visit/admissions events you attended
i. Number of students enrolled in the institution
j. Number of students enrolled in the program you are considering
k. Professor/student ratio
l. Average class size
m. Grading system
o. Housing options (should you be relocating)
p. Extracurricular opportunities
q. Career services/employment percentages
r. Total cost of education for one year (including room and board, books, health insurance, and transportation)
s. Tuition cost for one year
t. Financial aid: scholarships, loans, assistantships, fellowships, work study
u. Application deadlines
v. Application fees
w. Application requirements (including what standardized tests are needed)
x. Must you do an interview?
y. Do they keep a wait list of applicants?
z. Can you receive feedback if wait-listed or denied?