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So, you want to apply to graduate school? Essential tips from an admissions counselor and Mississippi State graduate student

Maddie with prospective students

As a Mississippi State admissions counselor, I guide students through the application and admissions process every day. Then, a few months ago, the tables were turned when I decided to go back to school myself.

Having seen the process from both sides, I can now offer these essential tips for navigating the graduate school application process.

Get an early start

There are several important reasons to begin the application process early.

  • Graduate applications often require additional materials; some may require test scores. You will need time to compile all these materials before the application deadline.
  • Graduate programs can be highly competitive at Mississippi State. By submitting your application ahead of deadlines, you demonstrate your commitment and enthusiasm and increase your chances of securing a spot.

  • Beginning early gives you more time to ask questions of Mississippi State’s friendly and helpful staff and seek support throughout the application process.

Leverage your network

A key component of graduate applications is reference letters. It is important to thoughtfully consider who to ask to provide a reference for you and to begin asking them early. Identify people such as supervisors, advisers and instructors who can speak to your professional interests, accomplishments and abilities to fulfill the requirements of the degree program. Moreover, also choose references who will be responsive to the request.

Even if you have done an excellent job of staying connected with your network, it can feel daunting to reach out and ask for a reference if some time has passed since your last contact. I found that providing my prospective references with an updated resume helped refresh their memories and provide additional information so they could flesh out their letters. Overall, it's essential to choose references who will not only respond to the request but also present the most accurate and comprehensive picture of your abilities.

Tell your story

Think of your personal statement like a cover letter; you are selling yourself to the admissions committee. The requirements for personal statements vary, so it is important you follow the guidelines set out for you, which might be general or specific based on your program of interest. Focus on specific examples, emphasizing enthusiasm and highlighting relevant aspects of your life or career. If the prompt is general, you may address key questions about your interest in the field, career goals post-graduate study, unique qualities, relevant experiences and the rationale for choosing the specific school and program. You can also use your personal statement to explain gaps in your resume or academic records or to provide more context for those documents. Remain positive and highlight your skills, experiences and interests that make a compelling case for your admission.

Do your research

Don't forget to identify and research faculty who have interests that align with yours, especially if your desired program requires a thesis or dissertation. You can do this by visiting the faculty directory for your program and viewing the information about each faculty member, which typically includes a list of their publications. Not only does this help you begin identifying a possible research committee, but it also allows you to make contacts within the department. This grows your network and enables you to learn about additional opportunities such as internships or assistantships.

Reach out

Mississippi State admissions counselors and coordinators are here to help you throughout the application and admissions process. You can reach out or schedule a call with me today!

MSU’s Career Center also provides great resources about applying for graduate school. Thanks for your interest in joining our Bulldog family. At Mississippi State, we'll prepare you for your future.

Maddie Ludt, MS State Online Admissions Counselor