Antione D. Tomlin

Antione D. Tomlin, PhD, PCC

Associate Professor + Chair of the Academic Literacies Department

Anne Arundel Community College

Hiawatha D. Smith, PhD

Assistant Professor, Literacy Education

University of Wisconsin River Falls

Graduate school is an investment in your future. More specifically, it has the potential to positively impact your salary, career opportunities, and knowledge within your field of study. Applying to graduate school can be fun, exciting, frustrating, and anxiety-provoking all at the same time. As faculty who have experienced the infinite emotions that potentially arise when applying to graduate school, we pull from our personal experience to offer four tips to consider when completing the process. During this process, you will want to think about the financial aspects, the admissions requirements, and the benefits of graduate school, but this post moves beyond this to highlight tips that we feel are underlying keys to success. While applying for graduate school can bring some stress, we also encourage you to think deeply about how you may be able to bring joy to this essential decision-making and doing process.  Moreover, whether you are applying to a master’s or doctoral program, we are sure that these tips will aid in supporting both processes.   

Tip #1: Investigate the Program. Is it a Mutually Good Fit?

This tip might seem like common sense, but it is often overlooked. Therefore, we urge you to complete a thorough investigation of the program you are contemplating before completing an application. It is important to understand the program’s requirements, features, and outcomes, as well as your goals/needs from your graduate experience. These program components are inconsistent across universities and therefore merit a solid exploration. Here are some ideas to consider when exploring and applying to a program. What is the format of the program? Is it face-to-face, hybrid (regular or intermittent meeting schedule), or fully online? What are the requirements for completion? Is there a thesis, research project, practicum, or external assessment required to complete the degree requirements? Last, what are your goals for the program? Are you interested in a new career, career advancement, or advanced certification? After investigating these, ask yourself if this is a mutually good fit.  

Tip #2: Chat with Students & Faculty in Your Desired Program

A tip that could be reasonably simple—yet take you a long way—is to make an effort to connect with students and faculty affiliated with the graduate program under consideration. Connecting in this way could not only put your face with your name for faculty when making decisions about acceptance, but it could also give you some inside perspective on if this is indeed the right program for you and your life. Remember, just as much as your desired program is taking a chance on you, you also need to be sure the program feels like a good home and fit for you. Lastly, folks closely aligned and affiliated with your program are uniquely positioned to help you understand the journey to and completion through the graduate program. So, we say, use your resources, and work smart, not hard.   

Tip #3: Ask an Alum to Write A Letter of Recommendation 

We admit this tip is more strategic than a traditional must-do for your application. Securing a letter of recommendation from a graduate of your desired program shows your potential institution and program your passion and connection to the content area.. Having a letter from someone who has completed the program you are applying to serves as a gesture of goodwill and ability. You are signaling to the program that not only do you believe you can, but others who have successfully done it believe you can as well. Lastly, asking an alum to write you a strong letter of recommendation also puts the program in a position to justify why they went against the better judgment of someone they trained themselves, should they decide to deny your application. If “real recognize real,” then having an alum to highly recommend you in a letter should make your application for admission even stronger.   

Tip #4: Plan your Personal Statement

This statement has many names, but it has a single goal, to showcase you for the reviewers. This essential component of the application process is a snapshot of who you are beyond the other application materials. It highlights your intentions and goals, how you fit within the program, and why you should be admitted to the program. With the importance of this document, you should carefully plan this statement. Read then reread the prompt(s) for the statement. Be sure you understand exactly what it is asking you to do. Next, jot down notes to be sure you answer all components. Then, think about what makes you unique, what makes you stand out? Integrate this within your written narrative, highlighting the unique qualities that make you a good candidate for the program. Last, are there faculty you wish to work with during your program? Identify them for the reviewers. 

Feel free to join us in the conversation on Twitter at @TomlinAntione

Authors Bios:

Antione D. Tomlin, PhD, PCC is a tenure-track Associate Professor + Chair of the Academic Literacies Department at Anne Arundel Community College. Dr. Tomlin is also an ICF Certified Life Coach.

Hiawatha D. Smith, PhD, is an assistant professor of literacy education at the University of Wisconsin River Falls. In addition to his teaching responsibilities within the teacher education department, he is the director of the graduate elementary education program.  Dr. Smith is a member of the Diversity Scholars Network at the University of Michigan and a 2022 NCTE Early Career Educator of Color award recipient.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of Interfolio.