Applying to an advanced degree program? To best assess your chances of getting into grad school, you’ll need to know where you stand with respect to your prospective schools’ admissions criteria. Each program will be looking at all the parts of your application and weighing them against those of other competitive applicants.
So, how do you get a handle on seeing your candidacy from the perspective of the admissions committee?
Get a sense of whether you have a shot at matriculation by creating a fact sheet with your GRE scores (or projected scores), overall GPA, and GPA in your major (and minor, if applicable). Relevant outside activities, work experience, internships, publications, etc. will also contribute to the overall strength of your application.
The next step is to find the most current admissions information about your target graduate schools and their admissions facts and figures. There are several guides and online databases published each year that provide rankings of schools and data about acceptance rates, average GPAs, and GRE scores. Many graduate programs do not publish the GRE ranges of accepted students. Most programs will share that information if you give them a call.
Look at your GRE score and GPA alongside the averages of schools that interest you. The comparison will give you a rough idea of where you stand, but remember: GRE and GPA are not the only criteria for getting into grad school. Many other factors, including recommendations and extracurriculars can factor prominently into the admissions equation. Once you have some idea of where you fall in the competitive applicant pool, you can begin to make decisions about your application strategy.
Build your strategy for getting into grad school
A sensible application strategy will target schools across three general categories:
- Dream schools: These are your “reach” schools—places you’d love to attend, but where your chances of acceptance are uncertain or even unlikely.
- Good possibilities: You should apply to a few programs that you’d definitely want to attend and at which the median GRE score and GPA of accepted students is close to your own.
- Safety schools: It’s a good idea to apply to at least one or two graduate school at which the admissions figures suggest a high likelihood of acceptance, especially if you have your heart set on enrolling with the next incoming class. Having qualifications at the higher end of the ranges for accepted students can often translate into fellowship and graduate assistantship opportunities.
Most prospective grad students apply to between four and seven schools. How many you should actually apply to, however, is best determined by certain key factors, including:
- your strength as an applicant
- the difficulty of admission at schools to where you’re applying
- the general difficulty of getting into any program in your discipline
If you’re applying to five or six grad schools, pick a couple of dream schools, a couple in the “likely” category, and one or two safeties. The best admissions strategy entails knowing roughly where you stand in the candidate pool while also diversifying your applications.
Choosing the Right Graduate School Program
Whether you have the most impressive application or one that limits your options, choosing the right graduate school for your field of study is a long, complex, and often frustrating process.
Of course, this process would be much easier if there were some universal standard against which to compare different programs. But the fact of the matter is that finding an objective perspective is nearly impossible. Every school presents itself as being unique and the best at what it does (and any school that doesn’t probably isn’t worth your time). So, how do you navigate your options?