16 Tips to Make Your Graduate School Application Stand Out

Tyler York

From being personal to making your writing really shine, here are 16 answers to the question, “Can you share the most effective tips to help your graduate school application stand out?”

Make a Personal Connection

When I was preparing my graduate school applications, one tip that helped my application stand out was looking for ways to make a personal connection. This meant doing research on the specific program I was applying to and reaching out to faculty, staff, and students with questions about the university’s strengths in order to showcase why I thought it would be the best fit for me. 

When I spoke directly with current students, it made me feel more confident navigating the prospects of attending that particular university as well as more connected because I could have conversations and get insider advice. Connecting with the school not only strengthened my application but also gave me a friendly face when I visited campus and helped motivate me through their individual stories.

Antreas Koutis, Administrative Manager, Financer

Show How You’d Contribute to Diversity at the School

Demonstrate how you would contribute to diversity at the institution to make your application stand out. By doing this, you’re showing that you know the importance of diversity and that you are committed to making the learning environment as inclusive as possible. 

You are also showing your willingness and eagerness to learn from the unique perspectives and experiences that your fellow students from different backgrounds will bring along with them. Moreover, you’ll be highlighting your ability to work with people from diverse backgrounds, which is a critical skill in every profession.

Joe Flanagan, Founder, 90s Fashion World

Joe Flanagan, Founder, 90s Fashion World

Don’t Overthink the GMAT or GRE

Although testing is a part of the application process, it’s only one piece of the puzzle. You should take your overall profile into consideration, and if you have an impressive resume and relevant work experience, your scores may not matter as much. 

Focus on making sure that the other components of your application are strong and showing why you would be a great fit for the graduate program. Being able to show a clear passion for the subject or field you are applying for and showing how you plan to use your skills in that field to make an impact can go a long way. Showing who you are as a person and what makes you unique will help your application stand out from the crowd.

Michael Fischer, Founder, Elite HRT

Michael Fischer, Founder, Elite HRT

Show Your Passion and Interest in a Chosen Field

Highlight any relevant research or projects that you have undertaken. Admissions committees are often looking for applicants who have a strong background in the field they are applying to and have a clear passion for the subject. 

By highlighting any research or projects that you have undertaken, you can show your knowledge of the field and your interest in it. You can also include any publications, presentations, or awards that you have received for your research work, as these can also help to set your application apart from others. It’s also a good idea to make sure that your application is well-written, clear, and concise, and that you have proofread it multiple times to avoid errors.

Natalia Grajcar, Co-Founder, Natu.Care

Include a Self-Introduction Video

With literally everything around us going digital, it only makes sense that college and graduate schools would eventually catch on. While many of them offer applicants the option of adding a self-introduction video accompanying their admission letter, adding one regardless is a great way to stand out from the crowd. 

The most obvious reason why this works is that videos add a human touch and highlight your personality a lot better than walls of text. Of course, if you’re taking this route, make sure that you have great audio and video recording equipment to make a stellar impact.

Do Your Homework

A well-written statement of purpose will show the applicant’s familiarity with the institution, the desired major, and the faculty members with whom they would interact. Do you hope to collaborate with any particular teachers or researchers? 

Describe the ways in which your time spent learning from this person will benefit your professional development. Applicants who take the time to learn as much as they can about the graduate program they’re interested in (and the opportunities it offers) stand out in the eyes of faculty and admissions officers as people who are truly invested in the idea of joining that particular graduate program’s community.

Edward Mellett, Co-Founder, Wikijob

Include all the Details in Your Resume

Applying for admission into a graduate school is not like applying for a job, and that is why it is critical that you know the right format for your application resume in order to make it stand out. 

Many students follow the one-page guideline, in which they keep things brief and check all the necessary boxes, but a graduate school can get thousands of applications that look like this, making the ones that use this format appear mundane. 

Instead, an effective resume should include as much detail as possible, such as internships with included responsibilities, volunteer work, undergrad training, and every related project you have worked on. 

The idea is to show how much more qualified you are than others and not just to do enough to secure an interview. By focusing on details rather than providing short snippets, you can effectively make your graduate school application stand out.

David Derigiotis, CIO, Embroker

Tailor It to the Specific Program or School

Tailor your application to the specific program or school you are applying to. This means researching the program or school, and highlighting how your experiences, interests, and goals align with the program’s mission, values, and focus. This can show to the admissions committee that you are a good fit for the program and that you are genuinely interested in pursuing graduate study in that specific field or at that school. 

To do this, you can:

  •  Highlight any relevant coursework, research, or experience that you have that pertains

to the program. 

  • Research the faculty of the program and mention any specific professors or research groups you are interested in working with. 
  • Explain how your interests align with the specific focus or mission of the program. 
  • Show how the program will help you achieve your goals.

Write a Strong Personal Statement

According to Dr. Barry Farber, the main thing he considers when looking at an application is the candidate’s writing skills. Therefore, writing a strong personal statement is one of the best ways to make your grad school application stand out. 

You’ll communicate your value to the admission committee clearly and concisely. So start with an eye-catching introduction that will get the admission committee invested in your application. From here, use an easy-to-read writing voice that communicates your interests in a fun way. 

Scott Lieberman, Owner, Touchdown Money

Be Precise About How You Fit the Program

I consider it crucial to emphasize in your application materials why you’re a good fit for this program. Talk about how your experiences to date and future goals are ideally matched with the programs, courses, professors, and other offerings at this specific institution.

Put your strengths as a researcher, practitioner, or author of a thesis on the topic you hope to teach in the spotlight to show the reader what you can bring to the classroom. The admissions board will probably dismiss all of your applications in which you use the same personal statement and change only the school’s name.

Frederic Linfjärd, Director of Growth Marketing, Planday

Recognize Your Weaknesses and Strengths

I consider it obvious that you should highlight your strengths in all parts of your application, but it might also be a good idea to talk about any problems you have. This is true if your transcript reveals deficiencies, such as a lower GPA or a lack of coursework in your intended field. 

If you can pinpoint valid justifications for these activities, they may become less of a burden for you. If you haven’t completed a course because you switched majors, for instance, you can highlight how you became interested in your new field and how willing you are to make up any gaps by working extra hours. 

An explanation like this could help deflect criticism of your weaknesses and boost your reputation because of your obvious resolve.

Andrew Dale, Technical Director, CloudTech24

Be Unique and Original

I remember how stressful it was to apply to graduate school. I wanted to know all the perfect answers to say and the perfect way to describe myself on paper as being a good fit. One of my best friends who was accepted to his graduate program one year ahead of me gave me a great tip early on and saved me a lot of anxiety. 

He simply said, “Be yourself, because there’s only one of you.” I work as a product strategist for the largest marketing company in Australia and that lesson is mirrored in what I do with content all day. 

No matter how much you dress something up in my world of SEO, my clients succeed more with unique and original content. Consumers are smarter these days and so are graduate admissions directors. They can smell fluff and fake from a mile away. Do some self-study before you apply and be honest with yourself about what makes you unique and what about that uniqueness makes you a good fit for your desired graduate program. That authenticity will carry you through!

William Varney, Product Strategist, Megaphone Marketing

Show Real-World Experience

Volunteering, interning, or working as an undergraduate research assistant are all examples of extracurricular experiences that could benefit a graduate school application. It may be a visible manifestation of your commitment to your field of study and to your education, similar to taking up an intensive course load. 

Additionally, if you can narrow your focus within your discipline, you may feel more confident discussing your career aspirations with professors and providing more specific examples in your application essay. Perhaps the same about formal employment. Applying to graduate school after working full time for some time? Highlight your professional maturity in all of your materials.

Timothy Allen, Sr. Corporate Investigator, Corporate Investigation Consulting

Get Strong Recommendation Letters

There are, of course, a lot of things that will determine if your application for college will be successful or not. However, one thing that can tip the balance in your favor is getting a strong recommendation letter. 

Better yet, make sure you get three or four letters to support your application. Also, don’t just get letters from anyone. Focus on people who are close enough to you to assess your character, but not too close that they appear biased. For example, don’t get a recommendation from a family member, even if they are in powerful positions in the community. Instead, focus on professional and academic relationships that you have built over the years.

Logan Nguyen, Co-Founder, MIDSS

Mention Your Career Goals and Make Them Count

Colleges love alums who have made it in life and lend their institute a good name, so when they find students who aim to do the same in their lives, it is impressive. When you mention your career goals in your application, you reveal yourself as someone who has already laid out long-term plans, an approach that highlights consistency, planning, and determination. 

Your goals also present your intention to make the most of your college experience so that everything you learn here provides the fuel you need to drive a great career plan. The continued impact is one of the most prominent consequences of an excellent college education, and when you show your commitment to align your efforts to this outlook, your application will make it to the top of the pile.

Brendan McGreevy, Head of Strategy, Affinda

Practice Outstanding Writing

A graduate program director receives hundreds of applications every semester. Most of those students applying are just as qualified and impressive as yourself, and sometimes, more so. So, how can you make your application stand out? Hands down, the best advice for making your application stand out is to really commit to refining your writing skills. 

An outstanding writer submitting a well-written application will beat out a more qualified, but poorly written or boring application almost every time. It’s not a skill that a program director looks for specifically, but they know when they are reading someone who is well written. It is such an advantage if you can write well because graduate school is about communication through the written presentation. 

Good writing is a soft skill that is worth investing time in. Not only will it help you get into grad school, but it will also help you beat out other applications in the workplace!

Brian Clark, CEO & Marketing Director, United Medical Education

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