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.