Seven Deadly Sins for Graduate School Applicants

Following up on last month’s article, here are seven deadly sins for grad school applicants:

  1. Rude or arrogant behavior. There is never an excuse for less-than-polite and mature behavior. Yes, we all have bad days. But when interacting with the admissions office in any capacity, it is imperative to be professional, courteous and accommodating. Admissions committees highly value confidence. But confidence can easily be interpreted by others as arrogance. So, be careful. Demonstrate confidence but avoid conceit. A splash of humility doesn’t hurt. In fact, it may show authentic confidence.
  2.   Here’s what I believe:  Applicants who are dishonest in the application process are not necessarily dishonest people. They simply yield to the pressurethat results from believing what they bring to the admissions committee is not as impressive as what others may offer. So they take certain ‘liberties’ with the facts—be it their GPA or test scores, or overly embellishing accomplishments such that they become essentially untrue. As the saying goes: “Just Say No” when tempted to exaggerate or misrepresent the facts. In most cases you will be found out.
  3. Too much contact. If you have a legitimate question, by all means ask the admissions office. But don’t over do it. Avoid excessive contact or weekly emails to the admissions committee reminding them of your “strong interest.” This is often interpreted as desperation and really hurts your appeal.
  4. Not following directions. If you are asked to submit a 750-word essay, don’t submit 1,000 words. If you are asked for two letters of recommendation, don’t send seven. This behavior begs the question: If you cannot follow simple directions on an application, how will you follow directions and procedures as a student?
  5. Sending wrong or non-proofed information. There is no excuse for sending essays that have numerous misspelled words or grammatical errors. Let spell-check be your friend. And always have someone else review your work. Moreover, be sure to double-check the mailing address. Sending an essay that you wrote for one program to the wrong school is an indication that you did not take time to make sure everything was in order before sending your application. Believe me; it happens.
  6. Asking questions you could answer yourself. Do your homework and take the time to know the basics. Steer clear of the following questions when communicating with the admissions office: 1. What are your application deadlines? 2. Do you offer financial aid? When an applicant asked me these questions, I made a note for future reference, and it was not because I was impressed.
  7. Leaving something unaddressed or making excuses. If there is something about your application that you believe needs explaining (a gap in employment, a low undergraduate GPA), be sure to address it head on. Otherwise, the admissions committee may think you are hiding something. But when you do address it, don’t make excuses. Provide an explanation and offer to provide more information if needed.


Dr. Don Martin, Ph.D.

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