Here are some tips:
1) ESTABLISH CONTACTS: Contact professors as early as possible. Introduce yourself. Mention your academic interests and what you want to pursue during your Master’s/doctorate. Ask if you’d be a good fit. Ask what kinds of opportunities are available at their institution. Try to start a conversation—you want professors to recognize your name during the application process.
2) MAKE FRIENDS: Once you start emailing professors, ask to be put in touch with their current graduate students. It’ll give you an idea of whether or not you want to be in a particular graduate atmosphere. Ask them about the academic and social life. Plus, it’s always good to make friends.
3) CURRICULUM VITAE: If you have the option of submitting a CV, do it. Make sure you have a clear layout, and that everything has an appropriate heading. Every heading should correlate precisely with whatever it is that you’ve accomplished. For example, if you only have one award, don’t lump it up with another section. Just put in a heading “awards,” and then list that one award. Admissions committees go through them quickly, and you don’t want them to miss anything.
If you were nominated for an award, but didn’t receive it, do not list it. You’re just telling them you didn’t get an award—they don’t care.
Only list extracurriculars if it relates to your academic work. This isn’t a resume, it’s a summary of your academic career.
4) STATEMENT OF PURPOSE: A statement of purpose is different than a personal statement. A good statement of purpose should include the following:
- what drew you to the field
- what you’ve already studied
- what you’ve already done—have you attended conferences? were you an honors student? etc
- what you want to study
- who you want to work with
- why the institution is perfect for you—include specifics!
Try to not include spelling errors or misuse terminology in your statements (I am guilty of both of these, so I’m speaking from personal experience/embarrassment).
5) GRAD CAFE: DO NOT JOIN THIS WEBSITE. I don’t care what anyone says, but I’ve witnessed a few friends sign up for it. All it does is stress people out.
6) WRITING SAMPLE: follow the directions. If they want 10 pages max, make sure you submit a complete paper—intro/body/conclusion—that hits right under 10 pages. If they want 25 pages min, submit a paper that goes over 25 pages.
Papers with primary sources are key.
I’ll try to post more tips as they come to mind, but this is it for now. If you’re applying to the humanities or social sciences and have any questions, I’d be happy to try to help.