Common Grad School Application Mistakes and How to Avoid Them


If you’ve decided which grad schools you want to apply to, it’s time to start the all-consuming process of applications. Even though this can be a stressful time, keep in mind that it could also be extremely rewarding as long as you avoid making these common mistakes:

1. You Haven’t Done Your Research

As a potential grad student, you can’t get away with choosing a program based on location or accreditation alone. You need to get to know the school and program so you can determine if it’s right for you. If you don’t, your application can suggest that you are uninterested in the school, or characterize you as an improper fit, leaving you with a rejection letter. Instead, read everything you can about the school, scan program and class descriptions, follow the school (or department) on social media, subscribe to their email list, visit the school (if possible), and schedule a chat with current students or alumni.

2. Your Personal Statement is Lacking

Many students don’t fully understand what a personal statement entails, and therefore write an unsuccessful one. Your personal statement is where you get to showcase who you are as a person and a student. Try not to be too conversational, it’s important to keep a level of professionalism. And don’t use this statement as a place to list your accomplishments. This tells the reader nothing they couldn’t find in the rest of your application. Instead, invite the reader to get to know you personally while explaining your academic and employment background, career goals, and why you would be successful at the institution.

3. Your Application Summarizes Your Resume

Some students make the mistake of relying too much on their resume in their application by briefly expanding on all its details. However, an admissions officer already has your resume, and this approach does nothing to showcase your personality and career objectives. Instead, focus on a few experiences you have had that will demonstrate your qualifications for the program. These can be pulled from your resume as long as you are able to go into depth.

4. You’re Choosing the Wrong Recommendations

Finding the right person to write your recommendation letter can be a difficult decision. Some students believe that it speaks more to an admissions office if you have a recommendation from the most prestigious individual at your university. This could be beneficial, but only if you have a personal relationship with that person. If not, how can they speak about who you are as a person and why you would be a good fit? Instead, choose someone who likes you and knows you well because they are more likely to take the time to write a credible and positive recommendation. It’s the content of the letter, not the title of your recommender that will impress an admissions office.

Students may also want to include a recommendation letter from their employer. This can be useful if you’re working in a field in which you intend to study or if your employer can discuss skills you have that will contribute to your success in grad school.

5. You’re Too Generic, Bragging, Insincere, or Have Bad Humour

Some students take the wrong tone with their grad school applications. For example, they’re too generic. If you can copy and paste your application for more than one school, you have a problem. It’s important to tailor your application to each school. If you don’t, you could come off as insincere and it may suggest you don’t have a true interest in the school you’re applying to. Don’t be afraid to show your personality and experiences, no two students are alike. With that being said, make sure you aren’t bragging. Mention the experiences you’ve had but don’t consistently repeat them or exaggerate. You want to put your best foot forward, so be humble. And keep humour minimal as it could end poorly when used in large doses.

Be sure to take your time, proofread, and start your grad school applications as early as possible to set yourself up for success. Good luck!

Contributed by: is Canada’s leading job board and online career resource for college and university students and recent graduates.

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