Thinking about graduate school? The process to find the right school and create the best application can feel intimidating. Where do you start? How much time do you need to prepare?
The Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs brings together the leading graduate schools around the world, which specialize in international affairs. Our events and resources help students navigate the search process and connect with the programs to meet their personal and professional needs.
We recommend a long-term approach. Starting 12 months before you want to apply gives you the opportunity for discovery. It will enable you to explore lots of options and put forward the strongest application possible.
12 months out: Cast a wide net
This is the chance for research. Think broadly about what’s interesting, desirable and practical. Get advice from family, friends, coworkers and supervisors. Read job descriptions to learn more about different careers and the skills they require. Look at the staff biographies for organizations at which you want to work. See what they studied and where. Begin looking into financial aid options.
Start to focus. Tailor your search within a particular field or sector. Visit websites and request brochures. Identify any weakness in your background and find ways to make up for them. Complete prerequisite courses. Take standardized tests. This way, if you don’t do well, you still have time to take them again. Begin to understand the financial aid options in your field (both within specific schools and external sources).
6 months: Where the rubber meets the road
Finalize your list of desired programs. Create a spreadsheet to track the application and financial aid requirements for each school. Participate in graduate fairs and ask schools about the priorities of their admissions committee. APSIA, its members, and partners regularly hold in-person and online events around the world. You have a chance to have your personal questions answered and build one-on-one with admissions representatives.
Six months out is also a great time to begin to pull together parts of your application. Start with the easy ones: update your resume. Reach out to potential recommenders. Request transcripts from your undergraduate institution(s). Retake any standardized tests or courses. Outline your essays. Explore more financial aid options.
Advance each piece of your application. Write out your personal statements. These essays must put forward a clear case as to why you are the right fit for each specific program.
Check in with your recommenders to make sure they will turn things in by the deadline. Finalize your financial aid applications, too. Ask friends and family members to review your materials. How do you come across; is it what you intended? Tweak as necessary.
Deadline day: Last look
Put the finishing touches on each piece of your application. Double check your spreadsheet to make sure you prepared everything each school requests — no more and no less. Make sure everything is error free! Hit submit and feel confident knowing you planned well and put forward strong materials.
After you apply: Still work to do
Unfortunately, you’re not done. First, confirm that each school received everything you think you sent. Then, thank your recommenders; you want to preserve a strong relationship with them beyond one application process. Keep learning about the schools to which you applied. Attend their open houses. Talk with alumni. Hopefully you are admitted to more than one school. Be ready to decide between them!
Putting together successful graduate school and financial aid applications does not need to become an overwhelming experience. With planning and forethought, you can put forward the best case for yourself.
Looking for more tips on applying to graduate school? APSIA hosts monthly webinars with best practices in applying. Visit www.apsia.org/events for details.
Carmen Iezzi Mezzera serves as executive director of the Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs. APSIA strengthens and promotes the leading graduate schools around the world, which specialize in international affairs. APSIA.org serves as a clearinghouse for events and resources on graduate study and careers in international affairs.
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