The Admission Committee
The people who make the final decision on your application are faculty members within your department. Keep them in mind as your audience while making the application. Quite often your application (or one of your applications) will be sent to the admission department at the Graduate School (made up of all the graduate programs). Graduate Admissions will monitor whether all pieces have been sent in (fee, GRE scores, transcripts, letters, etc.) and whether you meet minimum admission criteria. Departments typically wait for a green light from Graduate Admissions before they spend time reviewing your application. In some departments the final admission decision may be made by one faculty member, the one who has the funds to take you on as a research assistant.
Deadlines matter in the graduate application process. Generally speaking, the more competitive the graduate program, the earlier the application deadline. Select programs might have December 1 deadlines, with the bulk of programs posting deadlines from mid-December through the end of January. Check carefully whether the deadline represents the day the application is to be postmarked or the day it is to be received. It is your responsibility to ensure that all components of your application, including letters of recommendation, have been received on time. As a courtesy some schools will notify you of missing materials, but it is risky to rely solely on this gesture. Prioritize completing applications by deadline dates.
Often you will be required to complete two different applications for a given school:
- Graduate School application
- Department application
One Augsburg student completed the graduate school application for the University of Madison but failed to complete the Computer Science Department’s application. When he didn’t hear from the department, he phoned them only to learn of his error. It was too late to be considered for admission; the department told him that he would have been very competitive had they received his application. Thankfully the student had correctly applied to nine other programs. Purdue University, where he is currently a doctoral student in computer science, offered him a generous 5-year funding package.
Increasingly, applications can be found completed on-line. The software allows you to work on your application in pieces, save it, print it, and edit it before you hit the “send” button. You are able to access your application through an assigned account number and chosen password. Write this information down for safe-keeping.
If the application is not on-line, you will want to contact your program to have one mailed to you.
- Make a list of due dates and target mailing dates.
- Complete the application with the earliest deadline first. If more than one application is due on a particular date, prioritize by the school’s importance to you.
- Type paper applications. Do not handwrite them.
- Applications typically take longer to complete than students imagine. Budget enough time to complete a flawless application.
- Read all instructions carefully. Each application will be somewhat different. Be careful not to assume schools are asking the same questions. While there is often overlap in essay questions among various applications, a close read usually reveals subtle differences. Departments expect you to answer their specific question, not a competitor’s question.
- Take care to thoroughly complete all sections of the application. Your application may be considered incomplete if all sections are not completed.
- Plan on submitting applications a month (or at least one week) before they’re due, in case you have any last-minute snafus.
- Proofread the application. Have at least one person read it before you submit it.
- If you are submitting an application on-line, you may still have to mail a signature sheet.
- Print out or photocopy your completed application and file it. Schools can lose applications in the abyss of paperwork.
- After a week or more has passed, and prior to the deadline, check to see if your application has been received and is complete. Most departmental secretaries will answer this question, as will Grad Admissions staff.
Points to Ponder
Grade Point Average
Apply yourself to your coursework fully if you want to go to graduate school. You can control your GPA more than you can control your GRE scores, yet students tend to worry more about the latter than the former. An excellent GPA tells a committee that you have mastered the material, that you are attentive to quality, that you have solid study skills, and that you are serious about learning.
- Minimum GPA
Most graduate programs list 3.0 as the minimum GPA needed to apply. A higher GPA is always to your advantage. Some program websites list the average GPA of recently admitted cohorts, which should give you a sense of where you stand among the competition.
- Low First-Year GPA
Graduate admissions committees might forgive a lackluster first year (chalking it up to college adjustment issues) but expect to see continual improvement in grades as you move up through your major course of study. In fact, on some applications, in addition to providing your overall GPA, you will be asked to compute your GPA minus freshmen grades and/or within your major.
- Low Semester GPA
Selection committees might also forgive a semester of sub-par grades in later years if there is a valid reason for your performance (i.e., significant health, emotional, financial or personal issues). It will be up to you (and, hopefully, at least one of your recommenders) to adequately and convincingly explain your situation. Committees need to be assured that the problem is behind you.
- Low Overall GPA
My GPA is lower than a 3.0. Should I bother applying? It depends. There are always exceptions to every admission rule. Each year students with GPAs lower than the minimum required by the program are admitted. If your GPA is low, you can improve your admission chances with high GRE scores, excellent recommendations, and a stellar personal statement. Remarkable life experiences, especially those that suggest a certain character, intelligence, or preparedness, can work in your favor.
Another way to repair the damage of a low GPA is to take graduate classes as a non-degree-seeking student, meaning you are allowed to take courses but are not admitted to any program. Getting A’s in these courses, and earning faculty recommendations along the way, will improve your chances for admission.
If your application is being seriously considered, your transcript(s) will be scrutinized. Admission committees pay particularly close attention to the coursework—in terms of level of difficulty, quantity, and performance—within your major or closely related fields. They look for patterns of performance and any deviations from those patterns. Ultimately, they want to know if your undergraduate coursework has prepared you for their unique graduate program. On occasion committees offer admission contingent upon the applicant taking a set of courses prior to attending or soon after arriving. These courses are called “bridge courses”, as they bridge the gap between undergraduate and graduate studies. Students moving into a graduate field of study different from that of their undergraduate should expect bridgework.
Application fees range from $50.00 to $125.00. If you apply to an acceptable number (three to ten) and range (competitive to less competitive) of programs, fees quickly load your credit card or deplete your checking account. Fee waivers are often available for students facing economic hardship. Contact individual schools to see if you qualify and to find out what the process is for doing so.
Occasionally unofficial transcripts are acceptable, but, more often than not, graduate programs require official transcripts from ALL schools attended since high school. It takes time and money to obtain transcripts, so plan ahead. Your application is considered incomplete and will not be reviewed until all transcripts arrive.
Résumé/Curriculum Vitae (CV)
Some programs will require a résumé or curriculum vitae (an academic version of a résumé). For assistance creating a résumé, visit the Office of Service Work and Learning or their website. The CV differs from the résumé in terms of content, although there is overlap. A CV features teaching and research experiences, publications, presentations, interests and related activities. Your professors had to submit a CV to be hired, so you might ask them for a copy of theirs; however, don’t be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of what they have accomplished. Your CV will be judged against those of your peers—fellow grad school applicants. Visit the Undergraduate Research and Graduate Opportunity office to view sample CVs written by Augsburg graduates, and/or check the reference shelves for a copy of The Curriculum Vitae Handbook: How to Present and Promote Your Academic Career by Rebecca Anthony & Gerald Rose.
In addition to the personal statement and/or essay responses, some programs require a writing sample. Consult one of your professors about what might be an appropriate and flattering sample. You can select a piece that you have written for class providing you:
1) Submit a copy without any grade or teacher comments
2) Revise with the new audience in mind
3) Provide context for the writing (as a class assignment the context was obvious) by framing the writing within the context of larger conversations going on in the field or wider culture
4) Proofread, proofread, proofread!
Art (music, drama, fine arts, graphic design) and architecture programs typically require a portfolio of your work. Providing you meet minimum requirements, the portfolio is the most important piece of your application. Schools typically inform applicants of the criteria by which they will be reviewed. If you are planning on studying art, including creative writing, in graduate school, you should start cataloguing your work early on in your academic career. Look at program websites for sample portfolios of successful applicants. Ask a faculty member for guidance and to review your work.