Applying to Graduate School

This page exists to be a convenient place to collect resources I see that will be useful for students preparing for graduate school. I update it from time to time with new content as it crosses my radar.

Preparing for Graduate School

The single most useful thing you can do to prepare for graduate school is to get involved with research as an undergraduate.

I involve undergrads in our research group through a variety of experiences. At Boise State and elsewhere the HERC and McNair, and LSAMP programs are useful frameworks for pursuing research. Many U.S. universities have some kind of undergraduate research program (sometimes called UROP).

Also, look for REU (Research Experience for Undergraduate) experiences. They take a variety of forms; one is an ‘REU Site’, typically a summer residential program with a stipend. These aren't limited to your home institution.

The Application

The Statement of Purpose

A couple more things to avoid — they may seem pretty obvious, but I have seen some things:

  • Don't plagiarize. Just don't. Ever. This includes taking SOP examples or templates and plugging in your target institution and research keywords, even if those SOPs are published for the purpose of being examples in books about getting in to grad school. Mediocre text you wrote yourself is better than good text you copied.

  • Don't flatter. Say why you want to pursue a Ph.D, what you think you might want to do, what qualifies you for the work, and why you want to go there. Say specific things about how the program will fit your goals; don't say general things like ‘your program is world-renowned and is the best place.’ Such statements backfire in two ways: if they are true, the people reading your application don't need you to tell them and are are in a far better position to judge impact and prestige. If they are not true1, they demonstrate a lack of critical thinking that is a major red flag.

    Many example SOPs in books about how to get into graduate school are full of flattery. I consider them to be bad examples.

  1. It is impossible for a brand-new program that has yet to graduate its first student to be internationally renowned for its excellence.