How to Strengthen Your Graduate School Application

strengthen  grad school applicationToday’s article, you will learn How to Strengthen Your Graduate School Application.

This post was inspired by a comment posted by a reader few days back. He wanted to know, how to create a strong profile to improve his chances of getting admission in USA.

Follow the instructions below that explain in detail on How to Strengthen Your Graduate School Application.

Remember – It will take time and determined effort to improve your profile.

Strengthen Your Graduate School Application

  1. Proper Planning
  2. Test Scores
  3. College GPA
  4. Statement of Purpose
  5. Letters of Recommendation
  6. Research / Work Experience
  7. Financial Need/Aid
  8. Bonus Tips

Before we look in detail about above steps, here is the actual question from the reader.

Question About Graduate School Application

I had been preparing since July 2011 for getting an admission in colleges of USA or Canada for MS in computer science for fall 2013. I am currently pursuing a B tech degree. I have entered in my final year of my bachelors program. For making my profile strong, I started taking courses and collecting knowledge and certificates in different fields of computer science.

Then I volunteered for various national and international events and participated in international conferences along with some social activities.

In three years of my b-tech, i have made several projects worth sharing in the sop. I have also submitted three research papers whose publication is still in waiting process. Maintaining a decent percentage of 80, i am pretty sure of getting admission in top grade universities.

I am yet to give GRE and TOEFL, but my mock test scores are pretty good. But a sort of tragedy happens in my last semester in which I got backlogs in four subjects due to lack of attendance.

Now, how will it hamper the strength in application package and my chances of getting a good admission. Please suggest me that which semester i am for applying – fall 2013, spring 2014 or fall 2014 and a corresponding timeline.

Proper Planning

The first step to strengthening your graduate school application is making sure that you are applying to universities that match your student profile. You want to find a university that not only has the program that you need but also has the kind of faculty with which you would want to work.

Ideally, you will be able to find at least three schools that will be a match with your future goals. This does not happen overnight. It takes several hours of research and a planned approach to find the right set of schools.

But first – an example of how not to do it. Check out this article at Universities for GRE Score 318. Here is a student who made a list of universities without doing any research, hoping that someone in the forum would be able to narrow down his choices for him. Again, this is not the way to go.

You should begin your research at least one and one-half to two years prior to your planned start time, taking note of any admission and financial aid deadlines.

Follow the steps listed in this article – Applying to Colleges in USA – Timeline.

Test Scores

The GRE is required for most graduate school programs. If you are planning on beginning grad school Fall 2013, consider taking the GRE no later than this October. Be aware that depending on the type of program you are applying for, certain areas of the GRE may be weighted more heavily than others.

Refer to this GRE Test Prep Guide for more helpful hints regarding the GRE.

For example, science and engineering programs will give more importance to the quantitative section of the GRE. However, you should still aim to do your best on all sections of the GRE. In some cases, high GRE scores can help to compensate for lower academic performance.

In addition to GRE or GMAT, international students have to take TOEFL (or IELTS). High score in TOEFL (or IELTS) can compensate for low verbal score in GRE (or GMAT).

College GPA

Along with your test scores, another important factor is your undergraduate GPA. Typically, graduate schools require a minimum GPA of 3.0, but some programs require that your GPA be even higher.

Do not be discouraged if your overall GPA isn’t particularly impressive.

As stated before, higher test scores can help to offset a low GPA. Also, showing a general trend of improvement in your grades can help to compensate for a low GPA. If this is the case, highlight the cause for your weaknesses and how you have worked to overcome these weaknesses in your statement of purpose.

Statement of Purpose

The statement of purpose is a crucially important document in the application package. This is your opportunity to express why you are motivated to participate in this graduate program.

It conveys your interests, intentions, and previous experiences. It should explain who you are, your academic background, your research interest, and how your previous academic experience relates to future research. Explain in detail your undergraduate experience and how it relates to your masters’ program.

It is also good to list a few professors and their research, and how you would want to work under them. Remember, while your intent is to highlight your academic strengths, you should present yourself as well-rounded individual. Talk about your social and community involvement.

Finally, if you have decided upon the problem you’re going to research, briefly discuss it in your statement of purpose or an attached sheet.

Letters of Recommendation

Your letters of recommendation are also important documents in the application package. If you do not have work experience, you need three letters of recommendation from your professors. If you have summer internship or work experience, then one of your letters should be from your manager or research coordinator.

The letter of recommendation should include your intellectual the following:

  • Grades (or GPA)
  • Intellectual characteristics
  • Knowledge of field of study
  • Communication Skills
  • Leadership and class participation
  • Ability to communicate
  • Industry and self-discipline
  • Personal effectiveness
  • Potential for graduate study

Be sure that when you are choosing professors to request a letter of recommendation, select those people that will paint you in the best light possible.

Whenever possible, request recommendations from professors whose work is in a comparable field of study as the graduate program for which you are applying.

Research / Work Experience

Showing interest in research, and working toward gaining research experience will greatly help to strengthen your graduate school application. Make every effort to get research experience as an undergraduate student.

Find professors or research labs that you can work with during the summer. If this is not possible, then read white papers on specific areas; make paper presentations in conferences. Anything you can do to gain perspective towards research will make you a more valuable candidate to the graduate program to which you are applying.

Financial Need/Aid

The biggest hurdle to overcome in terms of financial need is being sure to apply before deadlines. Often, financial aid applications/paperwork are due before other materials in the application package.

Second, if financial aid is a large priority, then apply to schools where the chances of aid are high.

Do not waste application money on schools that are out of reach, either in terms your student profile, or in their likelihood to give aid.

Additional Tips

Admission is not based on luck; here are some additional tips to ensure success in your graduate school applications:

  • Organize the application process; take meticulous notes or maintain a spreadsheet;
  • Understand the admission needs of a program, and find the best fit for you;
  • Be creative. Don’t follow the crowd;
  • Do not copy college admission essays;
  • Get all of your application documents reviewed; and
  • Include a checklist with your application documents.

By following these simple guidelines, you can be sure to present the best possible picture of yourself to the graduate programs of your choosing. Good luck!


Do you have any questions about strengthening your graduate school application?

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  1. hi , my gre score is 325 (q-164 , v-161 ). Im planning to retake gre and try for 325+.I want to pursue masters in computer science . I did lots of projects related to cs . But im from electronics and comm. Department from south indian reputated engg college osmania university . I have very low aggregate (55%) and had 16 back papers (cleared ’em ) . I dont really like electronics so I ended up with back papers . I self taught some computer science subjects and worked on projects . Im planning for spring 2013 . To improve my profile what else do you think I need to do ?I’ll be doing interships and working on more projects for next 6 months . Do you think I have a chance to get in good unis for spring 2013 ? And could you please tell me the pros and cons of spring admissions . Thanks in advance (:

  2. I am pursuing my in computer science. I am planning to do my ph.d in usa.
    can anyone plzz suggest me which course should i choose for doing ph.d so that i can have better opportunities in future…….

  3. Hi,
    does any one know list of graduate schools where the chances of aid are high for MS in Computer Science.

    Thank You.

  4. I left my studies in the year `1997 to support my family, how ever i was doing engg. From past two years i have again resumed my studies in the pharmacy as I had worked in my own medical store. My semester scores are above distinction and I am planning to do MS in U.S. Will the gap of thirteen years be a barrier in getting U.S visa. If yes then what would you recommend.

  5. It is almost 4 years I graduated(4years work exp).I don’t have contact with any of my professor now.Does universities require reco. letters for experienced professionals. What should I do If I need to provide recos.

    Please advice .

  6. Thanks HSB for your response to me queries but you have not answered my main question: With 4 backlogs should I apply for fall 2013 or wait for the clearance of backlogs and then apply for spring 2014.

      1. I have backlogs from 6th semester, so can I send 5 semesters transcript to colleges leaving the result of 6th semester

  7. Hi HSB,
    My GRE score is 328(Q-168 and V-160) but my B.Tech % is on the lower side,62% at the end of 6 semesters.I am a student from India.I want to pursue MS in Automotive Engineering.What are my chances of getting a University and which universities can I apply to?

    1. Vishal, congrats on your high GRE score… Will you please share the material studied for Verbal? Thanks

  8. i wanted to know if i can get a visa with a lower gmat score after being admitted with the lower score.

    1. henrietta justus, Yeah you can! The university at which you will be studying has found you a worthy student why then would you be thinking of the vo rejecting your visa? on the other hand if you think the lower gmat score happens to be your weakness in your visa application try and sell/convince the vo in other department. think of something that makes your visa application a stand out. Also, be prepared to answer questions regarding as to why your had a low gmat score. I hope you are not going to tell the vo you didnt prepare well, are you?

  9. hi.. I am planning to apply for masters in computer science for FALL 2013. I am currently waiting for my final year BS computer science results. If i get a backlog in the exam, will i still be able to send my applications to universities??

  10. hi.. I am planning to apply for masters in computer science for FALL 2013. I am currently waiting for my final year BE results. If i get a backlog in the exam, will i still be able to send my applications to universities??

    1. Yes you can. But your admission to graduate school will be on hold until you provide them your complete transcript.

      I didn’t had my complete transcript when i got admission. After attending one semester I provided my complete transcript to grad school and my hold was taken off.
      Hope this helps.

      1. I dont know what backlog is but I guess it has something to do with failed grade… this makes me wonder why you are thinking about the possibilities of failing an exam you are YET to take. You are not doing yourself any favour by reasoning like that. Be positive!

  11. Hello Everybody,

    I am pursuing my Masters in US. Back in India during Undergraduate I had Low GPA like 6 point someone. Well I did lot of search to find a good program with assistant ship and I made it. It is true that GPA matters a lot but when you don’t have high GPA its better to make your SOP, References, Resume attractive. One more important thing I would like to say to candidates who are planing to study in US. If your GPA is low in first your years that’s not a big issue. It would be very good for your admission/assistant ship if you can increase your GPA in last four semesters.

  12. Very well written. Statement of Purpose and Grades (or GPA) can make or unmake you. The interesting thing about Grades/GPA is that you would be having no power to influence it once you complete school. That is why you dont have to mess with the Statement of Purpose! It happens to be a great opportunity to sell yourself!

    1. Well said Adolf. Even if someone is relaxed at school and messed up their GPA, SOP can help them fix weakness.

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