The process of applying to grad school can be tricky if you don't careful steps. You should be thinking about the decision just as seriously as the decision to get married or buy your first home. The effects of the graduate program choice will be long-lasting and life-altering. Now that you're sufficiently spooked, let's discuss the five things you want to avoid when beginning the grad school application process.
1. Taking the Easy Road
As humans our natural inclination is to seek the path of least resistance in much of what we do. There are some trailblazers among us but they are certainly in the minority. This thought process can't carry over into your grad school application process.
Are you searching for an easy graduate school curriculum? If so, you're searching for failure. Don't get caught up in the wordy descriptions of courses or the esoteric topics that the faculty researches. Work to identify what areas of specialty the program offers and whether any of them match what you're searching for. Increased difficulty will only be an advantage to you when you emerge as a graduate of the program.
2. No Plan for Application Fees
Applying to grad school can become quite expensive in a hurry. While every university will not take you to the cleaners, be prepared to invest a significant amount of money (>$50) into each grad school application.
If you have financial hardship, call the graduate admissions office for the university or program and ask about fee waivers or other options for individuals who are facing difficulty paying application fees. Sometimes waivers are not possible but if you don't ask, you won't find out.
3. Deciding on A University Before Selecting A Program
Never pick a university before selecting the graduate program. This is a doomed strategy. There is little harm involved in being drawn to the name brand laundry detergent at Walmart but it's a huge mistake to assume that a prominent university will offer the type of graduate program that you need in your field. This poor strategy might lead you to settle on a program without the correct specialization to match your interests or, worse, you might settle for an entirely different program than you originally intended just to say you attended Big Name University.
Yes, you can find things to reassure you that Big Name University is right for you (rock star professors, D-1 athletics, and famous alumni) but you might also learn that your faculty is too busy out of the classroom to adequately advise you, student aid is pretty low in the list of financial priorities, or that none of the alumni from your program have gone on to do anything significant in the field.
4. Forgetting Faculty Fit
Faculty fit is perhaps the most important part of selecting a graduate program. The concept is simple. If you get admitted to a graduate program where the faculty does not teach anything that you're interested in, you will fail and/or waste precious money and time.
The admissions process is the time when most faculties assess applicants' fit for the program and weed out misguided individuals. But, you might get lucky and strike the right tone in your personal statement to fly under the faculty fit radar. Insurgents don't thrive in most graduate programs so don't celebrate if this happens to you. Choose the program where you share interests with the faculty.
5. Ignoring Your Goals
Your ultimate enrollment decision should be aligned with your medium and long term career goals. Finishing a graduate program is a great accomplishment but if you regret committing the time afterward, you didn't do yourself any favors. Identify where you would like to be professionally five years from now and then identify which programs have the potential to get you there based upon alumni success, areas of specialization, faculty fit, and financial reasons.