Manage the U.S. Graduate School Application Process

Making time to revise and edit will help international students get graduate school applications in.

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Stay on top of admissions tasks and deadlines even after submitting applications to U.S. graduate schools.

Applying to graduate school at U.S. universities can be a long process for international students. Prospective students may feel a sense of relief after taking standardized tests such as the TOEFL or GRE, but a satisfying score is just one step forward in the journey to an American university.

As the application process ramps up, you will realize there is still a lot of work to do before getting an admission letter from your dream school.

Making an application checklist helps applicants to U.S. schools manage the application process efficiently and effectively, and to a large degree, will ease anxiety and stress during the process. Understanding the various tasks that are part of the admissions process will help prospective international students along their path to graduate school.

[Learn how grad school officials evaluate international applicants.]

First, make sure you conduct research on the school. Answers to many questions, such as application deadlines, curriculum details and professors' profile information, can be found during a school's Q-and-A session or on a program's website.

If you do ask questions, make sure they are thoughtful. One good guideline, particularly when emailing professors, is to refrain from asking more than five questions at once – normally asking three or four questions is fine.

Next, make time for interviews, because some U.S. schools may require them as part of the application process. I would recommend you to schedule an interview with the school as soon as you decide to apply, even before you start your application. Contact the school to set up a time for the interview.

When you schedule the interview, take time zones into account and tell the interviewer what time zone you are referring to.

Think about questions an interviewer may ask. Typical responses include a self-introduction, the reason why you're interested in a specific school or program and your knowledge about that institution.

While you should prepare answers ahead of time, if you have an interview over Skype or by phone, don't read your prepared answers. List some talking points and speak normally and naturally like you are having a face-to-face conversation with an interviewer. In order to do that, start preparing at least one week ahead of the upcoming interview.

[Get tips for international students on mastering the MBA interview.]

When you do start working on your applications, set your own deadlines so you can apply as early as possible. Setting a hard personal deadline for each school to which you plan to apply will help you monitor the whole application process in a timely manner.

If a school's official deadline is Dec. 15, set an earlier deadline for yourself, perhaps Nov. 20. By that date, finish preparing all application materials, such as your cover letter, resume and essays.

Making sure everything is ready early will give you at least two to three weeks to polish your resume and rewrite your application essays. Take that time to improve your application before the official deadline. Sloppy, last-minute work will not earn you a seat in your dream school.

[Know how to make an American-style resume for your application.]

Finally, make sure to check on your application status – but do it intelligently. Many schools in the U.S. dislike having applicants inquire repeatedly about the status of an application.

Of course, the waiting process is not pleasant. Many schools allow you to check the status of your application online, so you should do that instead of contacting the admissions office. However, this does not help your application if you check it frequently, like three times a day. I prefer to check my status once a day, usually in the afternoon, so that I would get the most updated information of the day.

If your school does not allow you to check online, contact the office about a week after you've submitted your application to make sure it has received all application materials. If you have not received a decision from the school by the time is has said you would hear, it's acceptable to send an email to check, but don't inquire more often than that. Many schools don't like to be called because admissions committee members are busy with a high volume of applications and may not have the time to answer the phone.

Take advantage of the opportunity the admissions process presents to learn how to manage all these tasks and priorities simultaneously. You will feel grateful that you have mastered this skill once you start your busy graduate school career.

Jia Guo, from China, graduated from the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities in 2012 with a bachelor's degree in broadcast journalism after transferring from Shandong University of Political Science and Law in Jinan, China, where she studied law. Guo is currently a graduate journalism student at New York University.