These factors are under your control:
- Your grades – good grades will not guarantee admission, but bad grades will almost certainly keep you out. Graduate admission is very competitive.
- An accurate, complete application plus fee. If you have missing or incomplete application materials, your chances of admission drop to zero.
- The quality of your Statement of Objectives.
- Letters from supportive faculty. Three strong letters are simply the minimum; a bad or even lukewarm recommendation can hurt your application. Only exceptional, glowing recommendations or those written to a colleague are likely to have a positive impact.
- Strong test scores.
These factors are not under your control:
- Faculty perception of your “fit” with their needs and directions. These might have changed or be undergoing change, for a variety of reasons.
- Sometimes, the faculty in your area of interest will be overloaded, retiring, or leaving, so there will be no one who can supervise your work.
- Sometimes the program will be overloaded with students and there are no seats available.
- There may have been budget cuts, reducing the program’s ability to accept new students.
- The competition.
- Sometimes the program will be swamped with applications the year you apply.
- Depending on who else applies, your GPA and other attributes, however strong, may not be competitive.
Timing of offers
Many programs conduct what is called “rolling admissions.” They first make offers to top applicants, usually within a month of their deadline. After hearing from the first group, they then make a second round of offers, and sometimes even a third. The timing of these subsequent offers is hard to predict, and you may have to respond to one offer before you have heard from all the schools.
- Prioritize your acceptance of offers; know ahead of time which programs you prefer. Most programs will give you a reasonable deadline by which to decide, but don’t wait too long or you risk losing the offer.
- If you get an offer from a program lower in priority, contact the programs higher on your list and ask them about your status. If they plan to make you an offer, they will want to know that you have been accepted elsewhere.
- You can ask for more time if you need it, but schools are not obligated to grant it. Requesting further information may keep the dialogue open longer.
If accepted, get it in writing
- If you are offered financial support, getting the offer in writing is doubly important.
- Be sure to submit the required deposit and/or statement of intent by the deadline. Failure to do so may mean losing the offer of acceptance.