Strengthening Your Graduate Application

hi everybody my name is Carla Trujillo I’m the director of the Graduate diversity program at UC Berkeley the Graduate diversity program assists prospective students with their applications to graduate school it assists students to hopefully get in grad school and assist students getting through grad school we offer a variety of support activities such as workshops for professional development mentoring academic advising a summer research program and more we hope that after viewing today’s video you’ll have everything you need to prepare a strong application that will help you hopefully get into Berkeley and hopefully other places the topics we’ll be talking about today are getting started where should you apply what kind of faculty you would like to work with preparing to apply such as your letters of recommendation your CV and more testing taking the GRE the LSAT and other standardized tests your qualifications for graduate school such as your GPA research experience internship experience and more your application essentials these are your statement of purpose your personal statement these are very very important items to the graduate school application financial aid how are you going to pay for graduate school and once you’ve been accepted what to do next we hope that after viewing today’s video you’ll be prepared for a graduate school you’ll be excited about the new options ahead of you and happy so good luck to you and thank you for looking at today’s video getting started hi everybody my name is Carla Trujillo I’m the director of the Graduate diversity program at UC Berkeley I’ve spent many years working on graduate admissions here at Cal and I’m hoping that today’s workshop will assist you with the graduate school application process first of all I want to tell you that you might want to consider leaving the state of California if you are an in-state resident consider applying all across the country look at programs that would benefit you and would be a great match for your research interests you might want to consider going across the country so that you find a variety of schools that will be a good match for your research interests that would that would be a good place where you’d like to study and that there would be faculty that you’d like to work with do your research ahead of time so that you find at least two faculty in the department you’re interested in applying to whose research interests parallel yours this would be good for you I think because you never know if you would like one particular faculty member or if he or she can’t take students any longer you’ll have other options for faculty that you might want to work with preparing to apply alright so first of all you have to think about your letters of recommendation you need three letters of recommendation for graduate school and you apply in the fall for the following fall and it’s faculty who make the admissions decisions for graduate study not a separate admissions committee it’s really faculty who ascertain your best potential for graduate school success so having three letters of recommendation from faculty from classes that are upper division classes that you’ve done very well in is key the letters of recommendation are extremely important and I don’t want to de-emphasize how important they are because they can make or break a student’s application so think very carefully about who you want to ask for your letters of recommendation those of you who are transferring from community college I would focus instead on the letters of recommendation from the four-year institution and also the departments that you’re going to be applying to if you’re switching areas you’re going to have to get a one if not two letters of recommendation from faculty into the new area that you’re switching to those of you in other areas such as social welfare or going into medical school you will also need internship letters to give proper background into a test to your potential for graduate school those particular areas or medical school so if I were you what I would do is when you’re going to ask a faculty member for a letter recommendation make sure you cultivate this relationship so they know you ahead of time some institutions are very large and the classes are very large so you really should go to office hours and you should do research with a particular faculty member if you’re interested in in doing research for that faculty member or just speaking up in class so that the faculty member gets to know you you have to have that signature of a faculty member at the bottom of that letter not a grad student instructor not a staff member ideally it really should be a faculty member so cultivating a relationship is very very important and I used to teach on the Berkeley campus and I recall stood she used to come to my office hours and they would ask more pointed questions about what we discussed in class and or wanted to go more in depth on a particular issue and those students stood out to me and I was really I did remember them and was writing better letters hang on to a particular paper that you might have written for that class in case you need to refresh the faculty members memory about how you did in the class and you have a paper a copy to give them now I know that some people feel rather shy about asking faculty for letters that some people don’t but a lot of people do and I have this saying well one of many things and one of them is everybody needs to eat so if you need to eat why not ask that faculty member out to lunch pull out your pocketbook take them to a nice place not McDonald’s someplace nice and asked you do you mind coming out to lunch with me and or coffee or tea so I could talk to you about graduate school graduate schools so important that hopefully they’ll agree to go out with you or at least have the lunch and have make sure you’ve done some research have like four or five schools where you’ve done some research and it’s in your area of interest and you’re going to talk to the faculty member hopefully at lunch and tell them that what you’re interested in studying so let’s say you’re having lunch with this faculty member and he or she has agreed to have lunch with you have a prepared set of questions about the schools that you’re interested in applying to this is really important to that if they have other alternatives that they think you should apply to they’ll tell you the other thing you want to do is segue the conversation of course because this would be a faculty member that I think you’d ideally like to ask for a letter of recommendation otherwise why are you taking them to lunch right basically what you want to do is ask them for a and then you got to insert an adjective in front of the word letter a positive letter a strong letter of recommendation something that you feel good about saying because you don’t want to just say can you write me a letter of recommendation you never want to have a lukewarm or a neutral letter of recommendation it’s going to hurt you a lot more than help you offer to give them a copy of your statement of purpose which of course you should edit before you give them and your personal statement so that they have some background on you not only about your personal history but about what you want to study in better detail ask them also how they’d like to proceed regarding submitting the letter do they want to just write one letter to the Career Center and just have the send it from the Career Center or do they want to send everything for you if they do a lot of things are electronically submitted nowadays and it takes a long time sometimes to download everything to write separates analyses of you in conjunction with a letter of recommendation so make sure that you thank them after they’re done give them a bouquet of roses even or some chocolates something to convey your appreciation you might also need to give them a couple reminders during the course of the semester as a deadline approaches testing next we want to talk about the GRE I’m not going to talk a long time about the GRE but basically most graduate programs require some kind of standardized admissions test the GRE and the LSAT for law school GMAT for business goal MCAT for medical school these are all basic standardized tests that they look to ascertain your potential for graduate school success I think quite frankly that most of the GREs at least the GRE doesn’t have a strong correlation with your graduate school success but unfortunately a lot of campuses in fact most of them still require that you take the GRE and try to do decently a lot of people try to ask well what should I do on how well should I do if you’re in the sciences like engineering in the sciences they like you to do well in the quantitative section if you’re going into the humanities they like you to do well in the English the verbal section and then there’s an analytical section that you write an essay and you are to a point and you have to be precise and concise you have to sort of think like a scientist and write like a lawyer to do well on that section so so practicing these exams ahead of time studying them ahead of time if you can afford it seeing if you can take a preparatory class so ahead of time might assist you in ease anxiety about taking the exams I personally took the GRE and I studied every day for 30 days I gave myself a little pep talk every morning and it was really important to give myself that pep talk because I felt given how hard I’ve worked and probably how hard you’ve worked to get through your undergraduate studies that you’re not going to let I hope one test keep you from graduate school so you take charge of the GRE don’t let the GRE take charge of you and study ahead of time prepare study consistently be driven to do well and start at point a you learn point a it will help you learn point B and so on and as each day you study your confidence will grow regarding the GRE some of you are going to have to take the subject test particularly if you’re in the fields of math English biology physics psychology and possibly others if you are required to take a subject test those are usually on paper offered three times a year and if the department requires a subject test they weight a lot more heavily than the general test for graduate school so if you have to take the general test that’s on a computer and it’s offered at any time of the year but you might want to make sure you register early particularly since a lot of people are going to be taking the GRE general test in October the subject tests are offered three times a year and take a little longer to score because they’re on paper so make sure also that you get all your scores in by your application deadlines so that’s really important your qualifications for graduate school next I’m going to talk about your college GPA probably the most important thing for the graduate school application process is your college GPA it’s not a surprise but a lot of faculty believe that your GPA reflects your graduate school potential particularly the grades you get not only in your upper division classes the classes in your major and the area that you want to emphasize for graduate study one example I recall a student who applied to civil engineering and she wanted to focus on structures and the faculty had literally taken a ruler and underlined all the structural engineering classes on a transcript to see how she did so a lot of faculty are very very careful about studying your grades in the particular subject that you wish to pursue for graduate study so it’s really really important that if you have done poorly in any classes that such as a D or an F to repeat them so your GPA is improved if perhaps you had a rough first year or second year of during your initial years of college but your grades really improved make sure to let people know that your grades had an upswing and that you have done really well and that your GPA for the latter two years or two or three semesters is a 3.5 on average which is a better reflection of your graduate school potential let people know that and I think a lot of people will pay attention to an upward trend in your GPA your GPA is something that you have to take seriously a lot of students spend a lot of time doing extracurricular activities instead of studying and I want to encourage you to try to like study hard do well go to the office hours if you did poorly on a midterm figure out go to talk to the faculty or the grad student instructor and ask how to do better show that you care about your grades and the faculty will think you care and then they’ll care and then everybody hopefully will work to help you do better I want to talk now about your research work experience a lot of people nowadays have acquired research experience before applying the grad school research experiences little feather in your cap everybody no matter whatever you’re in having a little bit of research experience is going to strengthen your application because faculty love it when students show initiative to do research to learn something more about a particular topic even if they’re not going to study that for graduate school so having the opportunity to speak about a research experience when you write your statement of purpose is really really important there are all kinds of research opportunities not only on your your campus on the Berkeley campus there are summer research programs across the country that pay you to go do research and it’s really a primo deal because you’re going to get usually three to four thousand dollars in a stipend plus travel expenses plus room and board and you get to work with a faculty member or a grad student instructor or TA research assistant who’s going to help you conduct a project that you’re interested in so it’s win-win-win right and then hopefully if you’ve done a really good job with that faculty member doing that research you get him or her to write you a letter of recommendation and that looks great so you really want to like think about doing this and you can’t lose and if you don’t have an opportunity to do a summer research experience I want to urge you to consider other kinds of research experience programs such as the McNair Scholars the host collars the Mellon Mays scholars and many many more Berkeley itself has over 50 research programs on the campus alone and they’re all over you can even just Google summer research experiences and you’ll get a whole bunch of them that will pop up and typically the deadlines are February 1 typically for the following summer your application essentials now I’d like to talk about the statement of purpose the statement of purpose is really the only chance for faculty to see something in your application that is not a number so this is a chance for them to see something more about you and you get to write in one and a half to two pages single-spaced which is basically the average length of a statement of purpose something about an introduction to what you want to work in or an introduction to yourself in general a summation of what you did is an undergraduate maybe you’ve done cool internship experiences research experience or you had a great job or great opportunity that you took advantage of and you summarized these and in succinct paragraphs for example if you’ve had a research experience you want to talk about what you did who you worked with what your results were and if you submitted them to for publication or to a research conference and that’s one distinct paragraph that summarizes a particular experience that you had some students have have a variety of research experiences or internships of different kinds and they speak about them in quick summary paragraphs the one thing you really really have to make sure you cover in a statement of purpose however is what you want to do for graduate school I call this the meat and potatoes statement even though you might be a vegan you still need to write a meat and potato statement a paragraph rather in your statement about what you want to study what are you the questions in that area what do you care about why this is exciting what are some questions you have about this subject that you want to pursue this is very very important and it’s what a lot of the faculty use to base your admissions in their particular department you also need to follow that meat and potatoes paragraph with another paragraph ideally with the faculty two or three of them and mention their names who you’d like to work with and this is based on the research you did the first part of this workshop where I talked about do you research buying a couple faculty two or three who’s working whose research interests parallel yours and so in the second paragraph after your meat and potatoes paragraph you want to talk about the faculty whose work you’ve researched and so if you can infer in that paragraph that you have read a little bit of their work that’s even better because then the faculty know that you’ve read a little bit of their work and they know that you know about them and you know what you want to do faculty feel very strongly that this statement of purpose should convey your scholarly potential your motivation for graduate school your enthusiasm to study and your motivation to you know work harder to learn something and contribute to science or to scholarly achievements so they take this very seriously make sure that somebody helps you edit the statement of purpose we have a guide on the Graduate diversity program website on writing a statement of purpose now some departments require a personal statement in conjunction with a statement of purpose a statement of purpose is usually academically driven and a personal statement is about usually about obstacles you’ve had challenges you’ve faced or opportunities that you took advantage of leadership that you’ve had coaching mentoring helping younger people any kind of experience it gives us a reading of a little bit more detail about your life this is something that we think will show your perseverance for graduate school particularly if you face certain challenges there was a time where I recall meeting a student who he was applying I recall to the journalism school for this is an example and he forgot to say that he had worked 30 hours a week in the Dining Commons in his statement of purpose so when I asked him what was it that why is it that rather that you didn’t have a second internship because I happen to know that the journalism school requires two internships and he had only had one he said well I could I didn’t have time for a second internship because I was working in the Dining Commons 30 hours a week to help support myself and I said I don’t see that anywhere in your statement of purpose so when he included it it didn’t make a difference in his getting admitted to the department because he needed to work that much to help support himself through school that student went on to win a major award on campus so don’t think that if you’re giving money to your home or helping to support a family member or just working 20 hours a week this is normal because really it’s something that shows that you’re working hard and talk about these things so it’s very very important so Berkeley requires two statements like I said a statement of purpose and a personal statement some schools across the country only require one statement of purpose and that’s where you’re going to have to integrate some of the personal information into the statement of purpose that is relevant so that the admissions committee knows a little bit more about you in addition to the academically focused stuff you’ve been talking about this is important because it can sometimes garner you a fellowship for grad school most fellowships are merit focused some are merit focused and some provide additional support to students who show such perseverance to achieve one more thing about your statement of purpose make sure that you have somebody edited of course like I said but you also want to speak in the active voice not the passive voice and you want it if you had any particular difficulty in your life that you’re addressing make sure you speak about it in a really positive way that despite this challenge you managed to succeed and do well and do research and that sort of thing some departments also require a CV curriculum Vita this is starting to growth in more popularity so you’re going to have to research what a CV looks like so you can construct that last of all some programs are going to require a writing sample and this is typically in the humanities in social sciences and that would is usually a term paper you’ve written for a class where you’ve done very well so you usually have to include that with your application make sure you have somebody who looks that over and edits it for you so it’s a beautiful beautiful term paper even if you got an A in it make sure that they look at that for you so you can turn in a good piece of work financial aid there’s all kinds of money out there in graduate school all kinds of money hopefully you wouldn’t have to like get into severe debt for graduate study if you consider applying outside the state of California and check out the entire country and look at schools that match your interest like I said and faculty and so on there might be really good money out there fellowships from the University that you’re applying to to help support your graduate endeavors all kinds and so that’s why I’m trying to encourage students nowadays to look at all kinds of opportunities and consider leaving their hometown or their home state or maximizing their options to look at throughout your state and so on because there could be great opportunities to get support so that you don’t leave graduate school in high debt you have to always make sure you apply by a fellowship deadline so make sure you know what that is it should correspond to the admissions deadline but not always so so keep a close eye on that institutions will have fellowship support you can apply for support independently of the institution and there’s all kinds of money Ford Foundation Javits National Science Foundation and many many more that you also can apply independently of the institution that you’re applying to and they would be portable fellowships that you could take to that institution and support yourself through grad school and sometimes some students will have both and then they’re really happy that they have all this money in their back pocket and they’re taking out fewer loans some programs will also offer you a job such as a grad student instructor or grad student researcher or reader and that usually will pay your tuition and fees and provide you a stipend so a lot of students find all kinds of ways to apply for money you won’t you should always be looking for money never stop looking for money because it’s out there I personally got a fat fellowship to go study in the Midwest and I got a GSI Ward to work for two semesters then I applied for a dissertation fellowship so you should be doing all these things and more and that will help you fund your studies if perchance you think you need to get a master’s degree and you want a PhD is your final degree and you think you need a master’s degree make sure you apply to an institution that is not going to drain your pocketbook and you know kill you so that you have you know so much debt you’re limited about where you can apply for your PhD try not to do that to yourself try to get into the best masters degree program possible and hopefully a thesis oriented master’s degree program but hopefully one where you don’t go into a lot of debt so that if you decide to get a PhD you have more options to consider once you’ve been accepted what to do next last of all let’s say you get admitted to several campuses now I was encouraging you to apply to five to ten campuses they cost money sometimes you can get fee waivers if you’re a McNair scholar or various other scholars sometimes you can apply for free or the Institute for the recruitment of teachers you might want to apply to that and then you can apply for ten to ten campuses for free but let’s say you apply to several campuses and you got admitted to several now comes a choice of like where do you what do you do what do I do I got admitted to all these campuses now what so I encourage you to go visit the campuses that you’re most interested in attending call them up or email them very politely and say I’m so happy to be admitted at your University and I’d love very much to come out for a visit might there be any support to help assist me financially to visit the campus and hopefully they’ll say yes hopefully they have some airplane ticket money you might have to sleep on the couch doesn’t matter to go do it go visit the campus and have prepared questions how long does it take to finish your degree talk to faculty talk to students pull aside grad students who are there and ask them can I can I just ask you some basic questions about being a grad student here what do you find to be the most positive aspects about being a graduate student at this particular University what do students think are the most positive aspects and hopefully the student will reveal to you what he or she thinks would be the positive aspects about being a grad student at that particular institution and then you want to say what do you find what do some students find to be some of the challenges and then hopefully they’ll reveal that to you they may not want to personalize but at least asking the questions in a way that lets them either personalize or not personalize will give you some more data points about going to that institution and that’s pretty much it so hopefully you have that choice of money you’ll get a financial offer you’ll get admitted to several schools you’ll get the choice to visit hopefully at a choice to pick the best school that has the right match for you thank you very much you


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