Applying to Graduate School

Considering Graduate Studies? 

 Ask yourself: do I want to go to Grad School, and why?

  1. Try to determine whether graduate studies are for you by talking to professors, advisors, and grad students.
  2. Consider what your career goals are and research opportunities that may be available for you after completing your studies.
  3. Consider the length of time graduate programs take.
  4. Attend an information session at UFV or at institutions of interest to you.

Starting Early

  1. Researching the right grad school for you. Talk to people. Browse online. Take a look at resources available to you, such as Peterson's Guide to Graduate and Professional Programs or Manfred Szabo's, Graduate Student Success: The Canadian Guide. You can also check out this additional Grad Studies guide
    If you are interested in attending graduate school in the US, take a look at the US Graduate Program Index
  2. Amass application materials and instructions and any other useful information (graduate calendar, financial aid, student housing, etc.). Study the admission requirements.
  3. Write to prospective supervisors: professors who share your academic interests (let them know what they are) or whose publications you admire. Tell them what it is about their work that interests you. Let them know what you have been doing. Find out if they will be on campus or on sabbatical the year you wish to study with them. It will be advantageous to your application if the department knows that they have a member who is willing and able to supervise your work.  
  4. Determine if you need to write some kind of pre-testing exam such as the G.R.E. or the LSAT. Find out when and how, and seek advice on how to study for them. Take practice tests several times.
  5. Find out about funding sources you can apply to such as SSHRC, graduate or departmental fellowships, teaching assistantships, etc.
  6. Beware of deadlines: there are lots of them. There may be deadlines for applications, fee waivers, funding, pre-tests, etc. Keep in mind that departmental deadlines may differ from university deadlines.
  7. Build a timeline of obligations; move obligations four weeks early. Apply as early as possible.
  8. Keep in mind that the process may be difficult and expensive.

How to Complete an Application

  1. The Covering Letter:
    • Write a strong opening line.
    • Substantiate your interests; show why you are prepared.
    • State when you will complete your undergraduate degree.
    • State why you are interested in the department and the school.
    • Show that you are thoughtful, mature, well prepared, distinctive or unusual.
    • Show you have a vision of your future contributions or career.
    • Don't be too brief; show that you are serious.
    • Try to show that your choice of grad program is the natural result of all you have been doing.
    • Note your intended research question and topic.
    • Emphasize the positive: re-analyze your G.P.A. (for example: "during my last two-and-a-half years, my G.P.A. was..." or "in my major,..." or "my G.P.A. has increased every year").
    • Report if you worked while studying.
    • Report relevant work experience or personal events (e.g. deaths); indicate if you have overcome adversity.
  2. The Application Form:
    • Leave yourself enough time to fill out the application properly.
    • Leave nothing blank.
    • Mention extracurricular work, e.g.: editing/writing for student newspaper, UFV committees, student union work, student association work, research job.
  3. The Writing Sample:
    • Choose a piece of work that reflects your best. 
    • If you did a directed studies project and produced a large paper, submit that paper.
    • Generally, strong papers to submit demonstrate significant research using primary sources and a strong sense of historiography.
    • Send a clean copy; in otherwords, do not send the copy your instructor marked up! 
  4. The Proposal:
    • The most difficult part of your application is usually the proposal. Most institutions will ask you to write a maximum of 500 words outlining your desired research project. Here are some things to keep in mind.
    • Identify a clear, precise question.
    • Show that you have some knowledge of the topic ahead of time. This can include a very brief note about other work done in this area. If it is a new topic for you, do some reading before you write your proposal. Your future supervisor wants to know that you have a sense of where your topic will fit within the broader range of scholarship on the topic. This is the historiographical part of the proposal.
    • Consider method: how will you answer your questions? What tools will you use?
    • Consider your sources: what materials are available to you? is there a particularly useful archive? Is there a set of microfilms? What primary materials are available to support your research?
    • Consider the contribution you will make: of what importance is your research? Does it fill in a hole in research? Does it challenge existing research? Does it bridge opposing views?
    • Remember, your topic may change once you enter graduate school; this is perfectly normal! The committee and your potential supervisor need to see that you understand how to frame, articulate, and approach a research topic.
    • Finally, make use of the people around you. Ask an instructor or two at UFV to read and comment on your proposal. 
  5. Additional Materials:
    • Curriculum Vitae (your academic resume)
    • Official transcripts (be sure to order them early)
    • Letters of reference

Choosing Referees

  1. Make sure the referee is right for both you and the place you are applying to.
  2. Level with your prospective referee: ask if they can make a strong recommendation for you.
  3. If the Dean knows you, ask her/him.
  4. Give your referees plenty of advance notification and information; prepare things for them (transcripts, a copy of a paper you wrote for them or another instructor, a job resume or CV, confidentiality contracts instructors must sign, etc.).
  5. A diplomatic follow-up is wise. Make sure your referee is aware of the deadline.
  6. Thank them; you may need them again.

Application Follow-up

  1. Make sure all of your application materials have arrived.
  2. Ask if you are on a waitlist.
  3. Send more evidence of your superiority, if necessary. 
  4. Visit the school, if possible.
  5. Be polite, but persistent.

Funding for Grad School

  1. Check guides to Student Awards and Financial Aid Agencies.
  2. Apply for any internal awards available at the institutions where you are applying. Some include application forms for fellowships and awards on their graduate application pages.
  3. Consider applying for a SSHRC. Please note that UFV has an internal application process; current students should not send their materials directly to SSHRC. Please click here for available scholarships. Please click here for UFV information on applying for a SSHRC.

If You Don't Get In

  1. Apply to more schools.
  2. Take additional courses.
  3. Gain experience.
  4. Ask why you weren't admitted.
  5. Work on the weaknesses you've identified and try again the following year.
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