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by Vault Education Editors | April 01, 2009

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Guest author Geraldine Koch offers up her expert counsel to grad school hopefuls. Assistant Dean of Admissions at Brandeis' Graduate School of International Economics and Finance

Applying to graduate school can sometimes be a daunting task. Even after completing thorough research, selecting the college or university, and submitting the application, applicants are frequently left with unanswered questions and legitimate concerns about the evaluation process.

Some of the commonly-asked questions students have at this stage of the process are: "How much emphasis is placed on my undergraduate grades?" "Are my standardized test scores strong enough?" "How important are my written essay and work experience to my application?" and "Who makes the final admission decision?"

International students, required in almost all cases to submit a test score or documentation indicative of their ability to study in English, are faced with additional criteria by which their application will be judged, and may therefore find the evaluation process that much more intimidating. It should help to know that the application and evaluation process is relatively straightforward.

Regardless of the program, the evaluations are based on two main criteria:

  • academic background

  • personal background

In order to determine if one's academic background is admissible, the applicant is asked to submit the following items: official undergraduate and or graduate transcripts indicating one's coursework, showing credits and grades in these courses; a standardized test score (such as the GRE or GMAT) specifically requested by the program; and a TOEFL or TOESL test score report, if applicable.~To determine if one's personal or professional background is admissible, an applicant is asked to submit two or more letters of recommendation, preferable from academic or professional references; a written essay(s), which may pertain to a specific topic or reflect the applicant's objective in pursuing the degree program; and a resume or curriculum vitae summarizing the applicant's work experience to date.

In addition, some programs may request a portfolio or sample of one's work. Many schools will request a personal interview after evaluating the application. This may be done in person or over the telephone.

ACADEMIC BACKGROUND
The admission committee will begin by reviewing the main indicators of how well one will do in a graduate degree program: undergraduate grades, standardized test scores, and TOEFL or TOESL score.

When reviewing the undergraduate or graduate grades, the committee will look closely at the overall grade point average, as well as grades in the major or concentration. The standardized test score is examined, and depending on the type of program, special consideration may be given to a particular section of the test.

PERSONAL BACKGROUNDWhile the grades and test scores are the most objective measire of the applicant's ability, the personal and professional criteria can do much to enhance an applicant's profile. The written essay, which for some schools may take the place of a personal interview, provides evidence of an applicant's writingn ability and his or her motivation to pursue the program.

Letters of recommendation describe an applicant's skills and abilities in the workplace or the classroom. The resume informs of areas outside the classroom in which a student may demonstrate competence or knowledge. The combination will provide a clear picture of an applicant's admissibility and subsequent selection for the program.~APPLICATION TIPSThere are a few things you can do to ensure the smooth processing and evaluation of the application. The overall appearance of your application indicates your professionalism and organizational abilities, so be sure to write neatly or type your application, essay and resume (checking for any spelling or grammatical errors). International students should keep in mind any cultural differences such as the order of first and last names. Also, make sure to complete and send in your application in a timely manner - try not to leave it all for the last minute - especially if you're hoping for financial aid. Give ample notice to the people writing your recommendations, and leave yourself time to correct mistakes or find any additional information that might be required. You might even consider making a schedule for yourself so you don't cram all of your preparation into the week or two before the deadline.

Answer all questions on the application completely and, if necessary, attach any additional information on separate sheets of paper. Make every effort to have official transcripts and translations sent directly from your previous university.

Lastly, try to have standardized test scores sent to the University in advance, so they arrive at about the same time as your application.

The most important piece of advice that a prospective graduate student could receive is this: do not hesitate to ask questions.

There are many ways to obtain answers to specific questions about admissions policies: you can search the web, attend university information sessions, and e-mail, write, fax or telephone the admissions office.

Knowing the answers to your questions will help you discover whether your academic and personal profiles match your school of choice and allow you to go through the admission process with greater confidence. Good luc

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