Pursuing a graduate degree is a lofty goal, but it will set you apart from others. In 2017, the U.S. Census Bureau indicated that earning a graduate degree will almost quadruple your earning potential.

Don’t be deterred by the application process. You can expect to submit academic transcripts, a personal essay and references. It’s best to apply early, but some institutions won’t make a final decision until six months prior to the start of the program. Once you’re notified of the application decision, it’s important to respond to an offer as soon as possible.

Take Note of Admission Deadlines

Most graduate schools encourage early application. You’ll also find that accredited institutions follow the resolution regarding graduate scholars, fellows, trainees and assistants policy indicated by the Council of Graduate Schools.

This recommendation suggests that prospective graduate students accept an admission invitation by April 15. If the school to which you’re applying follows this direction, your admission selection can be rescinded if you don’t accept by this deadline.

Accepting an Offer

If you’re offered admission to a graduate school program, you’ll need to follow the directions for acceptance outlined by the institution. You’ll likely be accepting an offer through an electronic portal.

You should also consider emailing the graduate program director to indicate your enthusiasm and gratitude for the admission decision. This is your first opportunity to establish a connection with the program faculty. You can begin asking questions about course selection deadlines and other opportunities that may be available to you as an admitted graduate student.

Make the Right Choice for Your Future

Usually, you’ll apply to several graduate schools. If this is the case, you should decline admission decisions that you don’t want to pursue. Your decision to decline admission will open up a spot for the next person on the waiting list. Most institutions have a process for declining an offer that is similar to the one for accepting an offer.

Since higher education is a tightly knit field, it’s important to follow through with all of the admission decisions that you receive. You may have an opportunity to apply for a professional position at one of these institutions in the future. Managing your graduate applications in a timely fashion will establish your professionalism as a candidate.

Look Into Deferment Options

If you’ve decided that you would like to delay your admission to a graduate program, it’s best to contact the program department directly. Most academic departments have discretion over deferment of graduate admission.

Craft an email that explains why you aren’t accepting an offer at this time. Include a request for an ideal start date and ask to meet to further discuss your situation. A phone call or an in-person meeting may make the difference in their decision to grant the deferment.

Leverage Your Admission Status

After accepting an offer to graduate school, look into other opportunities reserved for admitted graduate students. Contact your academic department and ask about research opportunities and graduate assistantships. You can also look on the human resources webpage to find graduate assistantships in other departments.

A graduate assistantship may pay for part or all of your tuition and provide a modest living stipend. You’ll need to be admitted to a graduate program prior to applying for graduate assistantships.

Don’t Give Up

If you receive a grad school letter that indicates that you’ve been denied admission, don’t give up. You may have to wait one or two semesters to reapply, but it’s still possible that you will be successful.

Ask for feedback about what you can do to enhance your application. Use the waiting period to work on your application and provide additional documentation about your candidacy.

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About the Author

Dr. Kelly Meier earned her doctorate from Minnesota State Mankato in Educational Leadership. She is the author and co-author of 12 books and serves as a consultant in K-12 and higher education. Dr. Meier is is a regular contributor for The Equity Network and has worked in education for more than 30 years.