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Talking to Professors at Prospective Schools
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With all the piles of paper involved in applying to graduate schools, it's easy to conclude that paperwork is what it's all about. But the application process doesn't end on the page.
When it comes to graduate admissions, you have a big advantage if you talk to people. The conversations you've shared with faculty at your prospective schools will play an important part come decision time.
A typical graduate program receives only hundreds–not thousands–of applications each year. Out of these hundreds, a program might extend offers of admission to a few dozen, expecting some of those admitted to choose other schools. Usually, the number of candidates is small enough that the admissions committee can expect to meet, or at least talk to, a significant portion. Faculty members who are not on the admissions committee often lobby it to admit preferred candidates.
Therefore, to put together the strongest possible application, you have to be a go–getter (or at least act like one). That means getting in touch with professors at your prospective schools and making your research interests and career intentions clear to them. If you've done some thinking about what you want from a graduate program, the faculty will sense your clarity and direction.
Don't feel that you need to sound like a professor yourself. Stretching your knowledge to sound wiser than you are is a sure–fire way to appear foolish. If you haven't studied an important area of your field, present it as a topic you're looking forward to learning about. Then try and shift the discussion back to a subject in which you're more conversant. After all, no one is expected to enter grad school already knowing everything there is to know.
Remember to stick to the positives when you talk about yourself. Though you should be prepared to discuss your shortcomings, don't volunteer them yourself.
Finally, have a clear sense of what you'd like to get out of each conversation. It's best to have a few specific, carefully–chosen questions prepared. Practice discussing your background and interests. Professors will be more likely to advocate for you if you're articulate, friendly and respectful of their time.