There are a number of factors to consider when deciding where to apply for graduate school. Talk with your advisor and professors about your areas of interest.
- What kind of students enroll in the program (academic abilities, achievements, skills, geographic representation and level of professional success upon completion of the program)?
- What are the program’s resources like (financial support, the library, laboratory equipment and computer facilities)?
- What does the program have to offer in terms of both curriculum and service?
- What are the student-faculty ratios, and what kind of interaction is there between students and professors?
- What is the reputation of its faculty?
- Application deadlines vary, but most are January-March. Many schools have rolling admissions and act upon early applications.
- Obtain application forms and information early.
- Read application requirements carefully, which vary among both fields and institutions.
- Submit completed applications either in one package (including letters of recommendation) or as a two-step process – a preliminary application and a second set of documents.
- Pay an application fee; sometimes this fee may be waived if you meet certain financial criteria.
- Admission decisions in most cases are handled like this: once the graduate school office receives all of your application materials, your file is sent to the academic department, and a faculty committee or the department chairperson then makes a recommendation to the chief graduate school. Usually a student’s grade point average, letters of recommendation and graduate admission test scores are the primary factors considered by admissions committees. The weight assigned to specific factors fluctuates from program to program.
- To give yourself the best chances of being admitted where you apply, try to make a realistic assessment of an institution’s admission standards and your own qualifications.
Graduate Admission Tests
Colleges and universities usually require a specific graduate admission test, and departments sometimes have their own requirements. Scores are used in evaluating the likelihood of your success in a particular program (based upon the success rate of past students with similar scores). Most programs will not accept scores more than three to five years old.
- Your essay/personal statement should be succinct statement showing you know what you want to do and you are enthusiastic for your field of study. It should be positive in tone and reflect your writing abilities.
- Have your essay critiqued. Your advisor and those providing letters of recommendation may be helpful. The Writing Center and the Office of Career Services can also critique your work.
- In your essay, it is better not to deal with information that may reflect badly on you unless you are asked. Address the issue(s) on a separate sheet titled “Addendum,” and attach to your application, or include in a cover letter that you enclose. Your explanation should be short and to the point. You may want to ask one or more of your references to address the issue in their recommendation letter.
- Review the OCS Guidebook for tips.
Admission committees require official transcripts to evaluate your academic preparation for graduate study. Grade point averages are important, but are not examined alone; the rigor of the courses you have taken, your course load and the reputation of Harvey Mudd College also are considered.
Letters of Recommendation
Most graduate schools require three letters of recommendation. Approach your potential references early and ask if they think they know you well enough to write a meaningful letter. Make an appointment to talk, and give them necessary documents as well as other supporting materials—transcripts, resume, your application essay and/or a copy of a research paper as these will assist them in writing a good, detailed letter on your behalf.
There are three types of aid:
- Money given to you (grants, scholarships, and fellowships)
- Money you earn through work
Grants, Scholarships, and Fellowships
Most grants, scholarships, and fellowships are outright awards that require no service in return. Often they provide the cost of tuition and fees plus a stipend to cover living expenses. Some are based exclusively on financial need, some exclusively on academic merit, and some on a combination of need and merit.
Scholarships and fellowships often connote selectivity based on ability—financial need is usually not a factor.
Several federal agencies fund fellowship and trainee programs for graduate and professional students. The amounts and types of assistance offered vary considerably by field of study. The following programs are available to those studying engineering or applied sciences:
- National Science Foundation
- National Institutes of Health (NIH)
- Ford Foundation Doctoral Fellowship for Minorities
- National Consortium for Graduate Degrees in Engineering and Science (GEM)
- National Physical Sciences Consortium
All applicants for federal aid must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This application must be submitted after January 1 preceding enrollment in the fall. Two to four weeks later you’ll receive an acknowledgment, the Student Aid Report (SAR), on which you can make any corrections. The schools you’ve designated will also receive the information and may begin asking you to send them documents, usually your U.S. income tax return, verifying what you reported.