grad school Graduate Admissions Top Tips

Grad School Game Plan

Post by: Dr. Kristen Willmott

I know many of you are using this summer to prep your fall graduate school applications, and I’m here to offer some tips and tricks on where to begin, AKA sort your grad school game plan and sort yourself.

Creating your grad school admissions tracking file is key. Guidance on how to create a ‘grad school admissions tracking file’ is included in our graduate school admissions consulting programs, but if you’re seeking insider tips on how you can craft, refine, sort, manage, and assess your plan, I’ve got those right here!

Having this information in one spot will save you TONS of time and heartache across the graduate school admissions process from start to acceptance.

Items to include:

  • Top 3 reasons you’re targeting the program
  • Top 3 reasons the program is a good fit for you
  • Ranking of programs in order of your preference
  • Ranking of programs in order of your acceptance odds (based on the school’s admit stats from the previous year)
  • Your campus (or virtual) visit notes including notes on program offerings, faculty, students, campus, location, research, other opportunities, career tracks of recent graduates, etc.
  • Admissions stats from previous admitted classes including testing and GPA averages
  • Transcripts requested and sent
  • Test scores requested and sent
  • Letters of recommendation –who, when asked, how, date requested, date needed, preferred “fed topics” to be discussed, etc.
  • Essay topics, word limits, content focus, layout, submission process required by the admissions website, etc.
  • Resume or curriculum vitae, often different versions depending on program and school
  • Writing samples
  • Interview notes
  • Campus contacts and alumni connections, including names, dates, and contact info
  • Communications tracker with anyone you know who has an affiliation with the school
  • Deadlines, ideal time to submit, actual dates of submission confirmations received, etc.


The item that many struggle with is the “reasons the program is a perfect fit for YOU.” I am often asked where to begin when it comes to researching programs (and how to best ensure it fits with your career goals), and that can be tricky.  I’ve had several calls in recent weeks from students who are toying with law school OR a Master’s degree; an MBA OR an M.S. in Entrepreneurship, etc. It used to be that you couldn’t really gain intel on a program or faculty until you were on site, but now you have the ability to take a class online with faculty from the department you aim to gain entry into, before you’re even there.

  • For example, let’s say you’re drawn to the field of genetics, not necessarily because you want to head to medical school, but because lab work is your thing and you’re looking at the University of Michigan’s M.S. program in Human Genetics.
    • As their site notes, “Human Genetics interfaces with multiple research and clinical disciplines, with new opportunities for those with advanced training in basic science, clinical diagnostics and industry.”
    • But, you’re on the fence, you’re not sure if you’ll like UMichigan; you’re not sure if you’ll like their method of teaching or the content –or the faculty. These are all things you need to know if you’re trying to create a file in which you’ll pinpoint the ‘top 3 reasons the program is a fit for you.’
    • SO —you could consider registering for the noncredit online EdX course (via UMichigan) called Anatomy: Human Neuroanatomy this summer. Then, you get a free intro to the content and to the method of teaching from their faculty.
    • It’s free to enroll in this class and $49 for the optional course certificate. Nothing to lose (other than the time taking it, of course) and everything to gain (as it’s a great resume entry too).


See if this kind of a grad school game plan offers you added intel into a program and the extent to which it’s a great match for you. Then, add the university to your list of targeted schools. Perhaps the added information you glean from the course puts that university even higher up in your grad school admissions tracking file.

If you’d like personalized advice for your graduate school process Top Tier Admissions is here for you.

Let me help!

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