Five Tips to Get Accepted to Your First Choice PhD Program


If you’re planning to go to graduate school, it’s important to start planning your strategy for getting accepted to your first choice Ph.D. program months or years before you actually send your applications. Graduate school is nothing like undergraduate studies – it’s more serious, focused, and competitive. To get into your first choice program, it’s essential for you to know what you want to achieve and present yourself in the best possible light. These five tips can help you beat out your competition and get into the Ph.D. program of your dreams.

1. Know why you want to go to graduate school.

It sounds obvious, but it’s critical to pin down your reasons for wanting to do a Ph.D. Many students go straight to grad school after earning a bachelor’s degree because they’re not sure what to do with their lives next, but this approach won’t impress admissions committees at prestigious universities. Regardless of whether you’re planning to start graduate studies straight out of undergrad or not, think about what you want out of your future education and why your first choice Ph.D. program is such a perfect fit for you. Then make this information the central focus of your application.

2. Get research experience before you apply.

Research experience is critical for getting into a good Ph.D. program, especially in psychology and other sciences that rely heavily on lab work. Your supervisor will want to know that they can rely on you to be a productive, responsible worker in their lab. In fact, research experience is even more important than your undergraduate grades (although you shouldn’t neglect those, either). If you’re serious about getting into your first choice program, start working on research as early in your undergraduate career as you can, or look for a job at a lab to build up some experience.

3. Cultivate good relationships with your undergraduate professors.

Networking is just as important in academia as it is in the business world. During your undergraduate years, work on making a good impression on your professors, particularly any you do research with. Experienced teachers will be able to advise you on your academic future and write you strong letters of recommendation, which are a crucial aspect of getting accepted to a top Ph.D. program.

4. Ask a mentor to look over your application.

You don’t want to submit your grad school application and then realize your essay has a typo in it – or, worse, realize you should have written it completely differently. Putting together an application that represents you well is challenging, even for strong students, so it’s a good idea to ask a professor or another mentor to take a look at it before you send it to your top choice school. They can point out any problems or flaws you may not have noticed.

5. Make sure your application shows your human side.

Your academic track record is important, but graduate programs care about who you are as a person, too – after all, they’ll be working with you for the next few years. Don’t be afraid to let your personality show through a little when you apply to your first choice Ph.D. program. Just keep it professional, and emphasize the ways your personal qualities are related to your research interests.

Applying to graduate school can be a nerve-wracking experience, but with the right approach, you can make a great impression on admissions committees and get into a program you love. Keep these five tips in mind to increase your chances of getting accepted to your first choice Ph.D. program.


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