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Applying to Graduate School

How do I apply to graduate school?

Once you have identified the programs to which you plan to apply, your next step is to secure application forms. In most cases you will not be using a universal application form, rather you will apply to each program directly. Visit the program web site to learn how to get an application.

Generally, you will need to pay an application fee for each program. This can get costly. Ask if fee waivers are granted. Many programs offer fee waivers to students who can provide proof of financial need.

Read through the entire application before filling it out. This way you are aware of what forms are included (e.g., personal statement, recommendations) and what are not as well as what materials/information you'll need to have gathered so you may fill it out completely. Remember, things will differ program to program, institution to institution.

Filling out applications

Your goal is to provide admissions committees with the information they need in the format in which they request it so that your candidacy can be evaluated most effectively. If at any point you are unclear about what information you are being asked to provide, contact the school directly.

Be sure to provide complete information in every section of the application. If something does not apply to you, enter "N/A" so that the reader knows that you did not simply forget to supply the requested information.

Also, be aware of application deadlines. They are likely to differ program to program. Allow enough time for your completed applications to arrive well before the published deadline. If some of your programs have rolling admissions, don't wait until the very end to apply when the competition will be steeper for the few remaining slots. Get your application in early.

In addition to the application form itself, you will be asked to provide supplemental documents. Commonly requested supplemental documents include:

Important: be sure to submit your supplemental documents according to directions in your application. Some programs may request that your application form and all supplemental documents are mailed together in one envelope. Others may prefer that supplemental documents are mailed separately.

Also important: be sure to mail your application materials by registered mail and request "return receipt." This way you will have confirmation that your materials were received and when they were received should there be any question about whether or not you met the deadline.

Official transcript(s)

Your official transcript provides documentation of your academic performance and progress. It is the formal document used by admissions committees to evaluate you academically. You may request your official RIC transcript via the records office.

You may also be asked to provide official transcripts from other (or even all) institutions where you have taken undergraduate coursework. Check with these institutions directly to find out how to request an official transcript and if you are required to pay a fee for transcript(s) requested.

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Your Personal Statement/Essays

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Not all the schools you'll apply to will invite you for an interview. Many will make their decision to admit you based solely on the information gleaned from your application, transcript, and references. The inclusion of a personal statement can take the place of an interview and give the admissions committee the opportunity to "meet" you on paper convincing them you're a great candidate for their institution. So, even if a school doesn't ask for a personal statement, we encourage you to include one anyway.

It can be hard to know what to choose for the topic of your statement. So hard that some students choose not to write an essay or not to apply to a school asking for one. Don't fall into this trap - you want to apply to the best schools for you and to use every opportunity to sell your candidacy.

Some schools will ask you to answer a specific question or to write on a specific topic. Be sure your essay addresses what they request and in a way that helps them better know you based upon what's important to them. For some reason, many students submit beautifully written statements that never really answer the question asked!

Other schools will leave the choice of topic up to you. Either way, think carefully - you want the story you choose to tell to reveal positive qualities about you that give life to the facts and numbers found in your application and transcript. Some common questions/topics include:

  • Tell us about a significant event in your life.
  • What extracurricular activities have strongly affected you?
  • Who is your role model and why?
  • Tell us about yourself.
  • Why are you applying to our school/program? Why is College X a good choice for you?
  • Is there something else we should know about you?
  • Send us a sample of your writing.

While these sound different, your strategy for answering them will be pretty much the same.

The mistake people tend to make in these kinds of essays is that they tell the story about their life, the specifics of all their activities, the qualities of their role model, everything the school already knows about itself and end the statement there. Your life and your activities and those of your role model are probably pretty interesting, but that's not enough. In fact, that shouldn't take up the majority of the statement. Think two pages, double-spaced unless a different page limit has been specified. Keep the description part of your statement to one half page. The remainder of the statement should focus on why this is important to you. What have you learned from the encounter? How have you grown and developed (or how do you anticipate doing so)? How have you applied that lesson successfully? - best if you can provide a concrete example. This last page and a half is the key to an effective personal statement.

A great way to get started is to brainstorm with people who know you - friends, family, faculty, or a RIC staff member (maybe your advisor). What things about you and/or your life stand out to them? You don't need to have climbed Mt. Everest or have won the Nobel Prize to be able to sell yourself. Once you've selected your topic and generated a rough draft, have the experts in the Writing Center give you some feedback. Grammar, punctuation, and spelling are as important as a well developed topic. You're not only using a story to introduce yourself, you're also providing a sample of your writing.

Your aim with the personal statement is to catch the attention of the admissions committee in a way that they have a better impression about what you'll bring to their institution as a student, as a classmate, and/or as a future alumnus. Reiterate your accomplishments so they might envision how their campus will be better because you're a student there.

Important: when discussing why you want to attend a certain program be specific. Most writers are so vague that it would be easy to plug in the name of any institution.

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Your Resume for Graduate School

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A graduate school resume is a document that accompanies your application to a college/university. It provides the admissions committee with more information than what's included in the application and focuses on what they need to know to better evaluate your candidacy. This resume is different than the job search resume. Job search resumes are designed to get you an interview; graduate school resumes are designed to enhance your application to a school and provide yet another opportunity to sell yourself.

It is similar to your job search resume in the following ways:

  • Crisp language - use action verbs to describe your experiences
  • Clean layout - use lots of "white space" so that it is easy to read
  • No mistakes - no typos, no grammatical errors

It is different from your job search resume in the following ways:

  • Is not limited to one-page in length (two pages is fine)
  • Separates your work and non-work experiences into different sections
  • Include all your experiences - not just the ones targeting a specific job
  • Indicates amount of time (per week, month) you've committed to different experiences
  • States how many hours per week you work to pay what percentage of your education (e.g., "Work 20-25 hours per week to pay 100% of educational expenses.)
  • References your education but does not provide complete information - that will come from your transcript

Your graduate school resume may include different categories than your friend's. That's because your experiences will be different. The sections you choose to include and the order in which you choose to list them should be strategic on your part. What do you want the admissions committee to pay the most attention to?

Some of the most common categories included in a graduate school resume are:

  • Education
  • Employment
  • Extra-curricular Involvement (college)
  • Extra-curricular Involvement (high school)
  • Volunteer/Community Involvement
  • Certifications

Additional categories you might choose to include (don't be afraid to generate your own):

  • Memberships
  • Leadership Experience
  • Research/Presentations
  • Foreign Languages (remember to indicate levels of proficiency)
  • Foreign Travel
To get started with your graduate school resume, we recommend:
  1. you pick up a job search resume handout from Career Development Center (Craig-Lee 054) or review the Adobe PDFresume information available on our web site to check out action verbs;
  2. generate a rough draft; and
  3. set up an appointment with a career counselor to review your draft. Be sure to bring your rough draft to the appointment.

To schedule an appointment, stop by Craig-Lee 054 or call 401-456-8031.

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Letters of Recommendation

Part of your application will include letters of recommendations. These recommendations should be both positive and meaningful. They should come from people who know you and your work well enough to provide an in-depth analysis of your abilities.

Important questions to ask yourself about letters of recommendation:

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It is possible there is more information you want to share with an admissions committee than you've addressed on your application, in your essays, or on your resume. Often this need to communicate more information is linked to a potential "red flag" in your candidacy that needs explanation - something that might potentially concern an admissions committee.

For instance, you may have had one "bad" semester GPA-wise. Perhaps it was your first semester at college and your first time living away from home. You found the adjustment challenging and it showed in your grades. Since that time you have an upward trend, but those first semester grades are weighing your overall GPA down.

Your strategy is to include a brief, one paragraph statement that reads something like this: "I would like to make the admissions committee aware that I do not believe my GPA is indicative of my academic capabilities. I attribute my first semester grades to ... A review of my transcript will reveal that for each successive semester I ... Thank you for your consideration."

Important: what you are offering is a brief explanation not an excuse. Excuses will only serve to weaken your candidacy. Be careful of the tone in your writing.

We invite you to meet with a career counselor to discuss whether addenda might strengthen your candidacy and if so, how to address the potential "red flags" in your application.

To schedule an appointment, stop by Craig-Lee 054 or call 401-456-8031.

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Page last updated: May 31, 2016