My Tested & Proven Secret Strategy To Get Into Grad School

Update on June 22nd 2015: Success!

Since this post went live about a year ago, a few friends have asked me for advice about grad school acceptance, and I always send them a link to this post.

Just the other day I received the message below. My strategy worked for my friend, myself, and it will work for you too. I can't wait to hear what amazing school you head off to!

I have to thank you... I called the program coordinator (like your blog said), chatted with her, and over the phone she accepted me. Had I not called, I never would had got accepted. So THANK YOU. I don’t know what I’m going to do yet but it’s nice to have options!

Who doesn't love options?!

Original Post:

You might have noticed I’ve mentioned quickly here and there through some previous posts that I’m heading to grad school in the south this fall.

I had a friend ask me last night for tips on taking the GRE, and while I gave him some, I realized there’s a much more important tip I should give. So Evan, this one is for you. 

We all know that life is a little unfair, and that knowing someone is a huge help in school and work situations. So what do you do if you don’t already know someone where you’re applying? Throw in the towel! (Completely joking, that is what NOT to do!)

You get to know someone, of course!


The 1 Strategy No One Told You About Getting Into Grad School:

Make A Personal Connection

Here’s some background.

I applied to three grad schools, and Graduate Assistant (GA) positions at all of them.

I had never stepped foot onto any of the campuses, nor knew a single person at any of them. So I can promise you it wasn’t already knowing someone that got me in.

My undergrad marks and GRE scores were on par with what the schools asked for, but I wasn’t that student who spent four years of undergrad with my nose in a book 24/7 who pulled the highest marks in every class.

I was however successful with all three schools.

How did I do it?

I have a funny feeling a couple personal connections I made set me apart from the rest.


Strategy 1: Speak With The Program Coordinator

Before applying, I emailed the Program Coordinator of each school and asked for a phone call meeting, as I lived too far from all of the schools to go for a visit.

(There might be a different title than Program Coordinator depending on the school. If you’re not sure who it is you want to speak with, send a message to the general program email and ask for the contact information of the person who is knowledgeable on the graduate program).

Before the phone calls I prepared some questions to ask about the program that might not have been clear on the website, such as thesis or project options, information on previous grads, what they were doing now, connections the school had with other professional organizations, etc.

I also asked about the availability of GA positions, and what type of work I could expect to be doing if I were fortunate enough to receive a GA position.

While having these conversations with Program Coordinator of each school, I was actually interested to learn the answers to my questions, but I also made the effort to make a personal connection.

Some of them and I would get completely off topic from my questions and started talking about their kids, where they liked to go on holiday, my exchange abroad, my previous experience in the field, and what type of position I’m hoping for after school.

I was on the phone with one of them for a full hour just chatting up a storm, and was even given some insider information on scholarships and general acceptance information that I hadn’t even asked for.


Now I think it becomes pretty obvious, when my application, and Johnny Smith’s application crosses that same Program Coordinators desk, which one are they going to be more in favour of accepting?

Unfortunately for Johnny, it was likely mine.


Strategy 2: Connect With Current Students

Another method of making a personal connection, is getting in touch with grad students who currently attend the institution you’re applying to.

I connected with and messaged someone on LinkedIn who had completed my same program at my undergraduate school, and was in the program I was applying for at a grad school. She also held a GA position there.

I got her perspective on the program she was taking, her GA position, and asked some questions about her transition from her Canadian to American university.

Again, she was well connected to the faculty, and I know that she also put in a few good words for me.


Strategy 3: Current Professors

Lastly, if a current professor of yours went to the school you’re planning on applying to, utilize their office hours and go get acquainted with what to expect at that school. If you’re lucky, after that conversation the professor might send off an email to the Program Coordinator to let them know to expect your application, or may write you a recommendation letter.

Grad School
It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.
— Leonardo Da Vinci


Don’t be discouraged if you feel like everyone else ‘knows someone,’ and you don’t. Take matters into your own hands! Get to know ‘someone,’ and make some personal connections.


Takeaway Two:

While making a personal connection could edge you just above the rest, no program coordinator can admit you if you’re significantly off from what the requirements of admissions are, so meet them halfway. You’ll also have to get some good marks, study for that GRE, and ask for reference letters from some people who are really excited to see you achieve great things!

Best of luck to everyone with your applications, especially you Evan!

Are you considering grad school? And of course, if you use my strategy, I want to hear about your success! Leave it in the comments.