I worked with a client, who due to medical reasons, only earned a 2.2 GPA in a social science degree program. After graduating, he decided that the right career path for him was computer science so that he could realize his dream of becoming a tech entrepreneur. He had an ideal school in mind and began reaching out to students in the computer science program to learn more about their experiences.
He was so enthusiastic about what he heard, that he decided to take a bold step and move halfway across the country. He enrolled in this top university’s continuing education division, taking courses that would not lead to an academic degree, but would give him the credibility he needed.
Eighteen months later, he had taken every course that is required for a computer science major and earned A’s in all of them.
I suggested that he visit the admissions office and introduce himself, which he did. Because the professors knew him by then, and the admissions staff also knew him and given his outstanding, relevant post-baccalaureate record, he was accepted into the graduate program for computer science.
How to stand out from the crowd
When working with clients who are applying to graduate programs, I often observe that they focus 100% of their energy on perfecting their resume and essays. Of course, written documents are critical components of a successful application, as are standardized test scores and college grades, but what can differentiate an applicant is evidence that the candidate reached out to current students or alumni of the program to learn firsthand about the school’s culture, academic programs, student clubs, internship opportunities, and more.
Most graduate programs are described on their websites, and applicants are apt to quote from this information to persuade an admissions committee that this is their top-choice school. The applicants who make the effort to reach out to those who experienced the program are more likely to uncover details that relate to their personal and professional goals. And it’s that effort and those details that end up being much more convincing to the adcom. In the process of connecting with others, applicants can gain valuable insights and even good leads that can jump-start their success upon arrival to campus.
For example, you are working as a technology consultant in India and don’t personally know anyone at the U.S. schools where you are applying. On the school’s website, you can usually find a list of student clubs, and oftentimes, the club officers and contact information are also listed. You can send an email to these individuals asking if they would be willing to speak to you about the club activities and answer other questions you have about the school. If the officers are all too busy to speak with you, ask to be referred to another club member. There may be a university alumni club in your country. You can also reach out to the alumni club’s representative and ask if he or she knows of recent graduates with whom you can speak. If these efforts fail, ask the admissions office to assist you with student or alumni referrals.
Go beyond the information on the school website
Many international students cannot afford the time or investment it takes to visit U.S. or European campuses. Therefore, it is even more important to make that extra effort to connect with campus officials, students, and alumni. In doing so, you’ll be learning inside knowledge that you can then use in essays and interviews that show that you truly care about the program and are a match that they should seriously consider.
Connections count – start making yours now.
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