Graduate Admissions Top Tips

A Master’s is the New Bachelor’s

As we all have flipped our calendars to 2019, many students and their families are making plans to visit colleges and universities in the coming months. In some cases, this will be rising juniors and seniors checking out college campuses for the first time. Others will be recent high school graduates planning to attend freshmen orientation at their new colleges this August. Still others are current college undergraduates visiting, and chatting with faculty, at an assortment of graduate schools, as they finalize applications and will soon hear results.


Our work reflects a growing national trend in that almost every student we work with plans an eventual graduate school path. The reality is that in recent years, the master’s degree is the new bachelor’s degree. As recently confirmed in Forbes, “The Master’s Degree Continues to Thrive” over 800,000 U.S. master’s degrees will be awarded this year and since the year 2000, the percentage of earned master’s (60%) has outpaced the increase in baccalaureate degrees (52%).

The bottom line is “The master’s degree has become a much more important part of the American mobility story,“ as Dr. Katherine Newman, Dean of The School of Arts and Sciences at Johns Hopkins has stated. And  –WE AGREE!


1.) Start (or continue) researching your scholarly and professional goals in the context of graduate school. Schedule an in-person meeting or draft an email so that you can engage in conversations with 1-2 professors at your college (or elsewhere) who are presently teaching and researching in your field of interest for graduate study. What graduate schools did they attend? What programs do they recommend? What research are they most passionate about? Research the programs they advise and take notes on your personal reflections from these conversations (they will be valuable as you write your personal statement for graduate school applications!)

2.) Make a list of prospective graduate schools and programs and research their current faculty and graduate students. For faculty, explore what they teach, what they research, and if possible, what their current advisees, research assistants, and teaching fellows are working on. For example, let’s say you are considering applying to Columbia University’s PhD program in Earth and Environmental Sciences. Here is a great website to see what their current PhD students are studying. What are their scholarly areas of interest within their fields? What articles have they co-authored with peer students and their advisors? Here’s one student who published three articles and links to them. This is a superb way to explore the many disciplines that you could focus on as a masters or doctoral applicant.

3.) Determine if your prospective graduate schools have scheduled visits near you and seek out grad fairs! If not, make arrangements to meet with appropriate professors in your field of interest. The annual fall Idealist Boston grad fair would be a TERRIFIC grad fair to attend. They did 11 cities in the U.S. in 2018 and plan to do the same in 2019.


The good news is that Top Tier Admissions is here to help. Pursuit of a graduate degree is one of the best possible ways to invest in yourself, expand your frame of experience and discovery, and meaningfully contribute to your scholarly background, your career and your field.

Graduate Admissions Insider Tips Top Tips

Top Tips to Ace Your Graduate School Application

You’re applying to graduate school, investing in yourself and taking the next step in achieving your educational and professional goals. Congratulations.

Whether you’re applying for a Master’s Degree, Master’s in Public Health (MPH), Master’s in Public Policy (MPP), Master’s in Business Administration (MBA), or PhD, the graduate admissions process can sometimes be unnecessarily confusing. (And, not to mention, stressful!)

That’s where we come in. As admissions deadlines loom, we want to share our top tips to make sure you’re putting your strongest grad school application forward.


Demonstrate your ‘fit’ with the program you’re applying to—that is, articulate how your background and goals align closely with the program’s mission, spirit, and coursework.

Remember, admissions committees are looking for students who they know will benefit academically and professionally from their programs, but who also bring something to the programs. Providing specific details on how your background relates to quantitative requirements and ‘signature’ lecture series, for instance, demonstrates to admissions readers your honest effort to learn about their programs as well as aligns your interests with what they have to offer.

Including specific details about, say, coursework or a recent faculty publication, demonstrates your familiarity with the program you’re applying to. That’s a signal of your enthusiasm and interest in joining a like-minded community of professionals and scholars, yet another way to cement your ‘fit.’

Graduate School Application


One way to find out more about your programs of interest? Reach out to the admissions office. You could ask, for instance, to be connected with a student who shares a similar research interest to yours.

Not only will you learn more than what’s posted on the program’s website, you’ll also have a unique and poignant detail to include in your personal statement. In a sentence that describes why you’re drawn to the program, you could include a phrase like, “When I spoke with [name of current student], I was happy to learn about the graduate program’s strong emphasis on…”

Take initiative to learn about the program and personalize your application as much as possible.


This is our specialty at Top Tier. As long as your GPA and test scores are in range for the programs you’re applying to, a strong personal statement can be the difference between rejection and acceptance, a partial scholarship and a full-ride.

A polished personal statement is a story. It should both intrigue the admissions committee and leave the committee feeling satisfied. Think of the statement like a fine pastry recipe: it’s one part describing how your background led you to where you are, one part why you’re capable of completing the program, and two parts how the program will help you achieve your long-term goals—all with a vigorous sprinkle of enthusiasm and interest.

Communicating these components gives admissions readers less reason to defer or reject you, and more reason to accept you.


Letters of recommendation are one of the first items admissions committees review during the application process. A strong recommendation letter should serve three goals:

  • Lend credibility and legitimacy to your accomplishments.
  • Provide complementary insight into your character, apart from what you’ve written in your personal statement.
  • Frame and clarify your academic and professional goals.

Select recommenders who can help fulfill these objectives, and with whom you have a strong relationship. Opt for lesser-known recommenders who can lend deep insight into your academic or professional work, rather than higher-profile recommenders who may have little to no knowledge of your background.

The goal here is to supplement your personal statement with credible evidence of your accomplishments and character.

Congrats again on applying to graduate school. Looking for more help as you navigate the graduate admissions process? We’re happy to help!

Graduate Admissions

The Ten Best New Grad School Programs

Here at Top Tier Admissions, we are in the midst of helping students prep and finalize graduate school admissions applications, essays, resumes and CVs. We have many students who will apply to graduate school this fall and are in the throes of final GRE prep, and many law school applicants who utilized the recent February 10th LSAT test date, as they want to save the June test date as a backup for a retake if needed. We offer tutoring for both.

If you have your sights set on graduate school, exploring programs at top institutions that have just launched new departments or new programs can be a wonderful path to a degree from a top university.

best new grad school programs work for it


Here, in alphabetical order, are the ten best new 2018 graduate programs, 8 Master’s and 2 PhD programs, actively seeking applicants (and that is definitely beneficial in terms of admissions odds):

1) Berklee College of Music is launching a new online Master of Music in Music Production and online Master of Arts in Music Business. On Feb. 21, 2018, applications opened for the two programs. They are online, 12 courses each and can be done in one year for $33,695. Berklee confirms this is 20% less than the cost of an on-campus degree. This could be a great way for a music student to obtain a top Master’s degree in a less expensive format with a flexible schedule. You could be part of their first class of students who will begin in September 2018.

2) Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, within their Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, has a new PhD in Historic Preservation, the first in the nation. It is a five year fully funded (tuition and stipend) PhD program. The application deadline is March 15, 2018 and the first class will begin fall 2018.

3) MIT’s hybrid Master’s in Supply Chain Management had its first students set foot on campus in January 2018. The inaugural class of 40 graduate students completed an online MicroMasters Program in Supply Chain Management offered by the MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics. The students completed the MicroMasters online, and their online credits are counted toward their Master’s degree from MIT, within the program called “Blended Supply Chain Management” or SCMb. This Master’s is identical to that received by full-time residential MIT students, which is quite unique. The degree can be accomplished in two ways: 1.) SCMr  Residential– requires 10 months of full-time residence (August to June); or 2.) SCMb  Blended – requires completion of the MicroMasters credential (online) and just over one semester in-residence (January to June). The deadline to apply is April 6, 2018.

4) McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management in Montreal is launching a new Master’s of Management in Analytics in which students study analytics from a business and management perspective. The deadline for international students to apply is March 15, 2018 and the program starts in July 2018.

5) NYU is offering a new fully funded 36-credit Master’s program within their Department of Media, Culture and Communication. It is called the ‘NYU at Weber Shandwick: Masters in Residence program’ and is for students who are already enrolled in the NYU Steinhardt Department of Media, Culture, and Communication’s MA degree program. The application deadline was Feb. 1, 2018 for the inaugural class.

6) The Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) is now offering a Master of Arts program in Nature–Culture–Sustainability Studies. The program seeks to help students “develop scholarly expertise in the rapidly evolving field of interdisciplinary environmental studies.” The application deadline was Jan. 10, 2018, but the department website is clear in stating that late applications may be accepted. Translation: they’re likely actively still seeking applicants.

7) Tufts University’s Institute of the Environment is launching a new, one year Master of Science in Sustainable Water Management (SWM) this coming fall 2018. Students will be able to enroll in one of four program tracks: Water Diplomacy; Water, Food and Energy; Water Infrastructure for Human Development; and Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) in International Development and Humanitarian Response. The application deadline is April 1, 2018.

8) The University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business and McIntire School of Commerce are partnering to offer a brand new one year hybrid format Master of Science in Business Analytics. Applications are not yet being accepted but the program is scheduled to launch in late summer 2018.

9) The Wake Forest University School of Business is expanding their Master’s Program in Business Analytics to now include an online option, making it the first online degree from the business school. Applications are due April 23rd and students will be accepted into the program three times a year. The next class starts August 2018.

10) Washington University in St. Louis has announced they will offer an interdisciplinary PhD Program in Imaging Science, beginning in fall 2018. As the program description states, it “will incorporate the latest imaging technologies, including biomedical, satellite, seismic, sonic and light detection and ranging.” This PhD in Imaging Science is one of only two in the country. The other is offered by the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, NY, home to Eastman Kodak. The new program at WUSL is thanks to a recent $25 million initiative recently launched by the School of Engineering & Applied Science and the School of Medicine. For this brand new PhD program, you can tell that they’re actively seeking applicants, as there is no application fee in the year 2018 and they’ve already extended their deadline once (to Feb. 15, 2018). I suspect they would also accept applicants in late February as well. They even go the distance to state that PhD candidates “will also receive a generous stipend to cover living expenses.”

grad school programs plan

If you are targeting graduate admissions, now’s the time. As the recently released fall 2017 Council of Graduate Schools study on international graduate applications and enrollment found, for the first time in over a decade, there is a decrease in the number of applications to U.S. graduate school programs from international students. International graduate applications went down 3% and first-time enrollments went down 1% from fall 2016 to fall 2017. The study attributes the decline to new U.S. immigration policies and travel bans which are impacting global competitiveness with U.S. graduate admissions. Updated 2017 and 2018 data on international graduate school enrollment is still TBA, but with the above ten new programs now out, many of which promise to toss funding at new 2018 students, it’s worth applying if you’re interested in one of the interesting fields above.

We’ve worked with many students who have a passion for water studies, business analytics, sustainability, media, and art history and preservation. The above programs offer unique outlets for added scholarly pursuits at the Master’s and PhD level. Which field is yours?

Graduate Admissions Top Tips

Self-Branding: Why It’s Needed for Graduate School Admissions

–post by Dr. Kristen Willmott

Graduate school admissions is about finding the right fit. As a grad school applicant, you need to ask what a program can deliver to you as well as what you can deliver to the program and the school. Read any Ivy League or top level alumni magazine in the month of September and you will learn about all the “brands” they snagged as part of their freshman classes and their incoming graduate student classes.

If you want to go to a top tier program, what’s the brand you are offering them? You will be in a better position to climb ahead of your peer applicants if you can determine your brand sooner rather than later. If you cannot articulate what you are offering to a program, and what your specific niche is, then how will a faculty member be able to articulate to an admissions officer why you should be admitted and vice versa?

Take your elevator speech and boil it down to a Tweet. Now you can expand on THAT as the seed of your brand.


With graduate school admissions branding, the goal is to articulate your academic interests, and then go above and beyond in that area of scholarship. This is not just in the name of “getting in” but also to demonstrate to programs that you are capable and ready to explore, go further, learn, experiment, focus and thrive. It tells them what YOU bring to the program. They can’t admit ALL one brand!

So, ask yourself:

  • What (that is academically-oriented, not bungee jumping-related!) do I love to do so much so that when I am doing it, time seems to stand still? Come up with 5 things you love to learn about, do, talk about and share with others. This is the beginning of exploring the brand called YOU.
  • How can I deepen and share this interest in a scholarly venue or outlet? Can I publish, present, attend conferences, volunteer as a research assistant, launch a club or interest group, complete online coursework, do a Ted Talk, host a blog, etc.?
  • How can I demonstrate to graduate school programs that I am already a scholar with a developed research foundation and the academic skills required of leaders in my targeted field of interest?
    • Today, top students applying to master’s and doctoral programs have substantial research experience and have published their work.

Begin creating your personal brand now. Define your passion, determine how to deepen and share your academic interests, and start building and framing your research foundation!

Making a move to ensure your branding base is in place is a terrific way to rise above the rest in graduate school admissions, especially as you launch into essay topic brainstorming.

Graduate Admissions Insider Tips Top Tips

Grad School Ducks In a Row

–by Dr. Kristen Willmott

Having read thousands of essays and applications to top tier graduate school programs, I know what works and what might raise a red flag. Graduate school admissions officers and faculty can tell, quite clearly, if the personal statement they are reading was one of the first that the student prepared, or one of the last in the process.

Get Your Ducks In a Row —But How Many?

I recommend students apply to 1-3 reach schools, 2-3 in-range schools, and 2-3 backup schools. That is no less than 5 programs and no more than 9, with my recommended total being 5-7 in all. The benefit of applying to grad school programs that offer an earlier October/November application deadline or rolling admissions is that you might not even have to click submit on application 5 or 6 in the spring, as you might be accepted to one of your top choice schools in early January. The benefit of applying early is not only breathing easier, but having to finalize and submit fewer applications and essays that hover in your ‘backup school’ category.

If you’re applying to Masters, MBA, law or doctoral programs this year, we know you’re busy assessing your test scores, identifying schools, planning your application strategy, and plotting the many components of your application. We can help you break your list into reach, in range and backup schools and utilize all rounds of admissions, if the programs you’re targeting have multiple submission dates, as many do.

We offer personalized application timelines to help you manage the process and ensure winter and spring are happy seasons with application acceptances rolling in. Let us help!

Want to know the Top 4 Reasons to Go to Grad School?