Tools for a Successful Application

Marketing Yourself to U.S. Universities

Self-marketing is a concept that confuses many Romanian candidates. Why do you need to do it? Simply because your objective is to convey a comprehensive picture of your abilities and aspirations, just like all the applicants to a study program will do. As always in a competitive environment, it is a wise approach to market yourself. After all, who knows better than you that you are far more than the sum of your grades and test scores?

Marketing yourself may not come easy. The good thing is that you are not alone in this effort: your recommenders, for instance, should be advised to mention important features about you and your education and include some contextualized appreciation in their letters. For example, “with a GPA of 9 out of 10, this student is among the top 15% at microeconomics in his class of 127 students”. But professors may be able to support your application in other ways as well. Read on.

The Professorial Link

While researching departments and selecting schools to apply to, it makes sense for you to learn about professors in the department and their work. Once you become clear about their research interests and their range of publications, you may be able to see a number of affinities. You will certainly explore further and once you become aware of professors you would like to work with, you will contact them with a meaningful question or a well-documented remark.  The goal is to spark a professional dialogue that might lead to a future collaboration. This may be a great opportunity to show the professor that you have a strong background and a clear vision of your goals and professional interests. When the professor begins to see you as a potential assistant, then they will become interested in supporting your admissions.

Are you imposing on a professor’s time if you contact them? NO, if you research well before writing and your message is focused and professional. Most graduate departments encourage communication with potential applicants before they submit their applications. There are actually professors who will not consider you for inclusion in their team if you do not contact them beforehand, especially in the case of PhD applicants.  Surprising?
Not if you know that the faculty at U.S. schools has multiple responsibilities: a professor will teach and advise students; in addition, the professor will contribute to creating knowledge through research. The research results are presented to the scientific community at conferences and they are published. Research requires significant funding, so the faculty also work to attract research grants for the department. Thus, professors have control over the grant money they attract for funding their research projects. Little surprise then that hiring teaching and research assistants is also controlled by the faculty and that assistantships are offered on a case-by-case basis.
Many Romanian students admitted to graduate schools in the U.S. developed a professorial link before admission. They researched the department website to learn about the research interests of the faculty and also about their publications. Once they spotted some academic or scientific compatibility, they approached the faculty with some insightful comments or questions on an article or book authored by the respective faculty member. The point is twofold: for the applicant to demonstrate a good grasp of their field of study and a clear research interest and for the faculty to see the applicant’s potential for a graduate assistantship. The key to success is, again, to research thoroughly, to be selective and realistic in your choices, and to communicate professionally. Professors are busy, but they always welcome communication with strong students who can contribute fresh ideas and a clear vision.

Develop the professorial link

Here is some advice for a smart approach to building the professorial link:
•    After thoroughly researching the university website, write to the admissions contact in each department that you find relevant to your needs and aspirations. Raise interesting questions and show focus. Be positive in your approach and emphasize your interest in that specific study program. Provide some background on yourself so as to point out the good match between the department focus and your own abilities and career goals. Be selective with the information you provide: do not send a message covering your full academic experience or all your questions. Make your messages short and powerful. Make sure you highlight your skills and experience if they relate to the topic at hand. The best time to start writing to the admissions office is after the busy admissions season, that is over spring-fall.

•    Make the most of the statement of purpose! The essay is a reflection of your character, life experience, and knowledge. As such, it can basically “make or break” your application. Strive to answer the essay topic so that the essay captures your professional passion and interests, your personal values, and your maturity. You want the essay to make you memorable to the admissions counselors. Put your sparkling, unique personality into it, while staying honest and realistic in your self-assessment. As a department chairman says: “Admissions to our department is very competitive, and essays make a big difference. After two days of deliberation we’ll be trying to cut the top ninety students down to fifteen. They all have straight A averages, high GREs, and all the recommendations say, “This is the best student I’ve had in twenty-five years.” All we’ve got left to go on is the statement of purpose and papers they’ve written. That’s why the statement of purpose is so important: it’s where the students have a chance to establish a personal voice, to appear unique in a situation where everyone looks the same.” (Getting what you came for. The smart student’s guide to earning a Master’s or PhD, by Robert Peters, p. 84)   

"After you decide which programs you’re applying to – ideally at least 3 months before the deadlines – it’s time to ask yourself some questions: 1) What makes me a good scholar?; 2) Why will I be a good specialist/expert in my field?; 3) Why would the department want me: what can I bring to the department ? and 4) Why did I choose this department?
Why these four questions? These are, more or less, the "ingredients" of the personal statement, which, if you ask me, is the most important part of the application package, save the transcript."
Bogdan State, PhD in Sociology, Stanford University, CA

Marketing exercise

The marketing exercise below could be a helpful starting point:
a)     What can you bring to the campus that is unique about you?
b)     What can you bring to the department you are applying to?
c)     Develop a personal writing worksheet:
1.    List 5 adjectives that describe you best:________________________________________________________
2.    List 3 of your strengths: ____________________________________________________________________
3.    List 3 of your weaknesses:__________________________________________________________________
4.    List 3 major experiences that have shaped you:__________________________________________________
5.    What do these experiences reveal about you? ___________________________________________________    
6.    List 3 individuals that have strongly influenced you:________________________________________________
7.    The most important point you want to make in your essay is: ________________________________________

Tips for Interview Success
By Livia Branga-Peicu, FEAC advisee and current Fulbright Junior finalist 2013-14
Poza 4.31I recently had an interview with George Washington University regarding my Sport Management MBA application. However, not all graduate programs will interview you for admissions purposes.

Sitting an admissions interview can be a nerve-racking experience. However, with a little preparation ahead of time, any interview can go a lot smoother. I was lucky enough to have visited the EducationUSA Centre beforehand. Staff provided me with both preparation materials and emotional support. I am very grateful for their help and hope this article will be of help to you, future interview-goers.           

What to do before the interview?
1)    Research the program you have applied to thoroughly: department, campus, professors, classes, activities you would like to get involved in etc. It might be helpful to put all the information in a table as you go along.
2)    Get extra information from current students. The university’s Graduate Admissions Office can be very helpful in putting you in contact with a current student. You can then find out directly what the interview process is like and receive answers to any additional questions you might have.
3)    It might also be a good idea to email a professor from your desired university. The email can be simple: showing your interest in the professor’s work, questions about assistantships, getting involved in extra activities, etc.
4)    Review everything the university knows about you: your CV, personal statement and letter of purpose etc. This will ensure you don’t contradict yourself with what you have previously stated.
5)    Prepare for difficult questions: Why this program? Why this university? Your strengths and weaknesses? Describe a challenging situation you have had and how  you overcame it? Why are you the right candidate?
What to do during the interview?
1)    Make sure you have a glass of water nearby. This might be overlooked and thought unimportant but you’ll be glad you did it.
2)    If it is a Skype interview, you could make a note of the key things you wish to say and place it on the keyboard or desk in front of you. Do not read!!! This is just for in case you forget to mention something important and want to take a quick glance to get you back on track.
3)    Don’t panic! The interview staff is really friendly. If you have my luck you will go into the interview wanting to be “calmly confident” but after waiting 15 minutes and not getting called via Skype you’ll start to panic and call the interviewer yourself. Only to find out later that the interviewer’s computer had decided to update and restart and you should just have just waited patiently.
4)    Make sure to ask questions! You should have one or two questions prepared beforehand. It is vital to ask questions as this shows genuine interest in the program.
5)    Smile. Relax. Be yourself. Interviewers are not testing your knowledge or credentials. They are testing your social skills and confidence.
What questions did I get asked during my interview?
1)    Provide an introduction about yourself. Mention why you wish to complete this program (degree) and why this university?
2)    What do you wish to do after completing this degree? Perhaps work in the USA? If you wish to study further (PhD), do you wish to do this at our university?
3)    Have you contacted one of our university professors?
4)    What is your biggest achievement so far?
5)    Do you have any questions?
All in all, the interview went better than I expected. The stress beforehand seems unnecessary after having gone through the process; although, a bit of stress doesn’t hurt. It will stimulate you to get the ball rolling in terms of preparation.

I wish you the best of luck with all your future interviews to come! Thank you EducationUSA for making my interview a successful one!

Poza 4.32 Poza cu front cover de la If You Want to Study in the USA, hyperlinked la volumul PDF

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