How to apply to graduate school
Congratulations! If you’ve reached this page it means you are ready to advance your career and learning and perhaps you have a pretty good idea of what you need to do to apply to graduate school! But we know it is very intimidating to apply to graduate school, so here are some more pointers:
- Don’t self select! If you never apply, you’ll never get into graduate school. So, what’s stopping you? You might not get into some schools, but that is not a reflection of you personally. Usually people do not get into graduate school because of lack of funds and not the best fit.
- You don’t have to be perfect! Each one of us has strengths and weaknesses. We’re not expecting you to already know everything, otherwise, why would you go to grad school? We want to hear about what you are interested in, why and how we can help you pursue those interests. (See Advice #1)
- If you are worried about the fee to apply, you can contact the department to ask for a waiver. In most cases of need, the fee can be waived. Some schools offer a “coupon” for application fee waivers so ask early. Don’t let application fees stop you (See Advice #1)
- Graduate school in marine sciences isn’t like college where you apply and a certain percentage of top students get in. It’s more like a matching process between potential students and potential advisors. Your potential advisor plays a big role in determining admission AND your trajectory once in graduate school.
- Contact lots of potential advisors before applying. Send a short introductory email introducing yourself and your interests in a few sentences, ask if the advisor is accepting students, and attach your CV. Ask to talk with the potential advisor on the phone/zoom/skype/Google meet to learn more about what projects you might work on and to get a feel for if you would get along with them. After this exchange, here’s where you can self-select. If a faculty member is not accepting graduate students or if you have a bad feeling about your interaction, focus on other schools.
- Expect for many of your emails not to be answered or to be answered very late. Don’t be afraid to follow up in a week or two with another email. Trust me, you’re not being annoying. You can also call, but many faculty are in meetings, in the lab or in the field so email is the easiest way to make contact and find a time to meet via phone, in person or via web conference. Some faculty have different strategies. I will often send a short response and set up a time in November or December to talk with many perspective students on the phone.
- You’re interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you. Be yourself and talk about your interests. It’s ok to be interested in lots of things and not have a focus yet. Ask about the culture of the institution and ask to be put in touch with current and former graduate students to get the honest truth about working in that lab and that institution.
- Ask about deadlines. Some schools, like UNC, have multiple deadlines, but most schools say something like “For full consideration, apply by XXXX”. Apply by date given for full consideration. Because admission depends on research funds, teaching assistantships and scholarships/fellowship all of which are in very short supply, usually only the students that meet that early deadline are accepted. Basically, it’s a long shot if you wait until the absolute final due date.
- Ask about visiting. In person meeting can be really effective in making a connection with a future advisor. Most schools will either have a recruitment weekend (some do this before you are accepted, many do it after) or they have limited funds to pay for your travel to visit the lab and institution
- Apply for additional funding and internal scholarships. Many schools have scholarships that either supplement or fully pay your stipend for grad school (typically grad students don’t pay tuition). Some may not feel comfortable doing so and that’s ok, but please self-identify if you belong to any historically underrepresented groups, as you are very likely eligible for additional funds and programs.