Do you make these 11 Common Graduate School Application mistakes?

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Almost every graduate school has an online application facility that works along with the traditional paper-based application system.

Sometimes it takes a long time to fill out an entire online application and some terms and conventions followed in U.S. will look different for international students and it will take some time to get used to them.

But as you apply online at more schools, it will be easier because you will notice that they follow almost the same styles, formats and arrangements.

I have listed some of the most common mistakes that students make when filling out online or paper format graduate school applications.

The first application you will fill out, submit and send documents to will always be a good learning experience. I have seen some people ask so many questions for each field, before they type or write anything.

And that’s understandable because we can see our future career in front of us while filling out the application. I hope the following list of common mistakes will give you a general overview on what to expect while submitting graduate school applications.

Student ID or SSN

If you are an international student and you haven’t submitted any online graduate school application yet, you will not be given any student ID. Your social security number (SSN) will be issued only after you had arrived in the U.S. (how to get SSN).

If you have submitted online applications, some forms of ID will be assigned to you. Make sure that you include the ID number in all pages while sending hard copies of your documents.

For example, your Reference Number or Student ID after you have submitted your online application is 444-023-5555.

Make sure that you include that ID (or Reference Number) at the top of the page of your SOP, recommendation letter cover, resume, and other documents that you’ll send in the application package.

Type Name or Print Name

Most students have a hard time to understand what do when they come across “Print Name” or “Type Name” in paper based applications. Those 2 are equivalent to ‘Write your name here’.

If it’s an online application, you just need to type your name in the space provided.

Missing Last Name

So far, 2 students had asked me on what shall they do or what will happen if they don’t have a “Last Name” entry in their passports. It’s simple, universities will not admit them.

Although some schools might give admission, they cannot issue an I-20.

No one can survive in the U.S. without having a last name. So I strongly suggest those with similar cases to first have their names changed in their passports to include a last name long before your booking dates for GRE and TOEFL exams.

The “last name” is also referred to as “family name”.

Your “given name” is your “first name”.

I have read about an actual student who applied at a graduate school in Oregon and he was not given admission since he didn’t have a last name.

Date Of Birth

You have to write in the following format MONTH/DAY/YEAR. Different places in the world follow different date formats.

But in the U.S., make sure you fill in dates using the Month/Day/Year format.

Transcript (Name)

You will be asked what other different names you have used in the documents that you’ve submitted. In India, we use initials before our first name. So your name could be like this in your passport.

  • Given Name: John
  • Last Name: Young

However, documents in India will bear the name, “Y. John.” If that’s the case, make sure you write that name under the field asking for “Alternate Names” that would appear in the documents (transcripts, recommendation letter, SOP, resume, etc.).

How to attach a Resume

When attaching a resume, it would be always better to upload a well formatted ASCII resume (*.txt file). If you attach the resume in a Word document format (*.doc), it will look distorted when schools download the resume.

Here’s a link on how to convert a Word file into an ASCII file.

Wrong Email Address

I have encountered a few students who shared that they gave a wrong email address while submitting their application documents. Make sure you give the right email address all the time.

Also, try to use professional-looking email addresses.


How to Paste Documents when Submitting Online aapplication

Some online applications facilities will ask you to paste your SOP, resume, etc. into free-form fill text boxes. As what I’ve said in the section, How to Attach a Resume, don’t paste the content directly from a Word document file (*.doc) into the box.

Instead, convert your text into an ASCII file or at least copy DOC -> TXT File -> Paste into Application.

Recommendation Letter: Email and Hard Copy

Even though you have submitted SOP, recommendation letters, etc. online, it is always better to send the hard copies of all the documents you had submitted so that the schools will have formatted copies of your documents.

If you had some certification images in the resume, those will not go through very well when submitting the document online.

Again, I strongly suggest that you send all the hard copies of the documents for verification purposes, especially diplomas and other legal academic certificates.

Student Signature

If you have to sign any of the documents, make sure you use a blue ink ballpen. If in case the paper gets wet, your signature will remain intact.

Another reason why formal documents must be signed using blue colored pens is that if you make photocopies of documents signed using black ink, it would be hard to find out if a document is the original copy or just a photocopy of original document.

So using a blue pen instantly eliminates the confusion and difficulty.

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