Succeed as a Nontraditional Grad School Applicant

A prevailing misconception is that a majority of graduate students are stepping right out of their undergrad, bachelor’s degree in hand, and right into grad school - when the reality is that thousands of graduate school applicants have spent several years working, living, and laying the foundation of their future careers before they ever apply.

A Council of Graduate Schools report states that majority of enrolled students in the fall of 2007 were aged between 25 and 29 - as was the case 10 and 20 years earlier as well. The report also states that there were approximately the same number of students aged between 30 and 34 as there were between 22 and 24, and perhaps most surprisingly that nearly a quarter of enrolled students were over the age of 40.

Many graduate school applicants worry about the impact their undergraduate record may have on their chances of being accepted into their institution of choice, especially those whose GPA turned out to be 3.5 or lower.

However, it may to be refreshing for these applicants to hear that they can more than offset any negative impact they fear their less than ideal academic record might have on their chances of acceptance if they can demonstrate a constructive, successful track record following their bachelor’s degree. Take it from me, a former Dean of Admissions who’s read countless applications from across the whole spectrum of prospective students: what you did with your time between receiving your bachelor’s degree and applying for graduate school has an immense impact on how your application is evaluated, and can outweigh any sort of previous academic record. It may be surprising to hear, but I remember evaluating an applicant who was 67 years old when she applied! And she was accepted because of her intriguing life experience rather than a stellar academic record.

When you’re applying for graduate school, it is absolutely critical to highlight what you’ve done in the time since leaving college; How have you spent your time? What opportunities did you pursue? What sort of life xperience can you share that would demonstrate your character and persona? The admissions department wants to see how you have developed as a person in the time since receiving your bachelor’s degree. Anything and everything you can use to show your personal development will almost always have a positive impact on your chances of acceptance.

Travel Experience: It is common to take a year or two off after your undergrad for travel; to go out and explore the world, immersing yourself in other cultures and accruing firsthand experience in faraway places that can broaden your own horizons and deepen your understanding of the human world. This is highly prized experience that is certain to enrich your application, and is highly recommended.

Work Experience: This may seem like an obvious addition to any application, but far too often applicants fret about the nature of their work experience. Whether you stuck with the same job for several years or hopped around different occupations trying out different industries, we at the admissions department are only looking for solid work experience. Whether you flew up the ladder at a prestigious organization or slogged it out in the same spot is less important than showing consistent output.

Community Service: Like the old adage goes, actions speak louder than words. Nowhere is this more true than in your application - highlighting a commitment to community service demonstrated by actual experience shows character, and is infinitely more effective than the most eloquent wording

Independent Research/Writing: Some prospective students devote their own time towards independent research or the writing of their own book - something that shows determination and always adds flavor and diversity to an application and which is sure to help yours stand out.

Entrepreneurial Achievement: Whether you developed a startup that invented the prototype to the next iphone or your first venture crashed and burned utterly, the fact that you took a risk in order to pursue your own idea is very impressive to any admissions department. It demonstrates discipline, ambition, and a willingness to take risks in order to achieve something great. During my time as dean of admissions, these applicants always stood out to me. Theirs was a difficult path, and whether it led to initial success or failure, it earned them serious, real world experience that is difficult to match.

Thus, the best advice I can give to anybody with a few years between their undergrad and graduate school application is not to fret over a less than stellar GPA. Of all the factors that help distinguish your application, that is but one. While it is not without significance, it can certainly be outweighed by an impressive use of your time and energy in the time thereafter. Don’t let your opinion of your academic record lower your expectations for success - your application is more impressive than you might think!

Experts from the article Dr.Donald Martin