Before you apply to graduate school, you have to do a lot of research to figure out where to apply. What schools offer the courses you want? Where will you have the best rapport with the professors? What program will set you up for the best career?
I’m going through this process right now, as are some of my friends. We’ve all been approaching it in different ways, so I thought I would share our experiences with you so you can learn about different strategies and find one that will work for you.
Above all you can see that you should not be shy about contacting people who may be able to give you information about various programs. Just make sure that you approach them in a professional way that indicates you are serious about pursuing your studies.
Student 1: Contacting program coordinators for official information
One friend is currently pursuing her studies in communication and hopes to attend graduate school in TV production. She is an outgoing person who is good at networking, and had no problems reaching out for information. She chose to contact program coordinators, hoping to learn more details about the campuses and programs.
The contact information for program coordinators is almost always available on the program’s website. She emailed several program coordinators for graduate programs she is interested in. In the email, she had a general description of herself and expressed her eagerness to meet with them. Coordinators replied to her very soon and set up appointments with her, offering to have a face-to-face talk and share some information materials.
In her first appointment with a coordinator in an education program, the coordinator gave her a full list of the spring courses offered by the program, letting her know what specific needs these courses expect to meet. The coordinator also offered to add her email address in the program mailing list, so she can see information about social activities, internships, and other things that will give her a little bit more awareness about the student body and network.
Student 2: Getting the inside view from alumni
Another friend is currently in his third year studying Management Information System (MIS) at a college with a strong “alumni network” in which there are alumni from numerous prestigious graduate programs. He is eager to begin applying for grad schools soon, and he started by contacting alumni who are in the programs he is curious about. In his emails, he described himself as a current student with a strong interest in the programs they are in, asking for recommendations of which professors he should choose for future cooperation and which specific focus he should have in those programs.
By talking to the alumni, he learned about some of the differences amongst programs and which ones might be a better fit for his interests.
After several conversations, he came to find out that some programs are really academic-focused, which is different from his expectation of getting trained to be a practitioner. He was also able to learn that some professors’ assignments are too much for him and some have special training methods that are not to his taste.
Student 3: Trying out potential professors
The last example comes from a friend who majors in computer science and plans to go to graduate school to continue those studies. He wanted to talk directly to the professors who would end up playing a leading role in his graduate education, and therefore he emailed several professors in the field. He also hoped that letting professors, who may play an influential role in choosing applicants, be familiar with him would help him gain an edge over the competition.
In his emails, he merely used two paragraphs to try to keep his ideas neat and to the point. He sent out 5 emails in total, and in the end he got 3 replies. One professor agreed to have a phone conversation with him, while another even invited him to come have an interview!
Through this process, he got to know more about the programs that he is interested in, and about the professors who may be influential for his graduate study – he not only got to find out whether the program was a good match, but also got to see if he and the corresponding professor would be a good match.
I hope that gives you some suggestions for how to approach your own pre-application process. Good luck! Have you had experiences contacting people for information? Use the comments to tell us about how it went.