DEBUNKED: Myths About A Strong Graduate Application When Applying To Universities Abroad

Posted on April 1, 2014 in Education

By Ankita Nawalakha:

There is the girl I know who was applying to foreign universities for her MBA. She seemed like a pretty strong candidate with all her academic achievements and work experience and a strong CV. As the results came out, one by one she got rejected from all the universities she had applied to. I was shocked, confused also. After all, she had what we would call a ‘strong application’. It is only after doing a reality check that I realize the fact that we are guided by a lot of myths about applying to graduate schools abroad. So here, in this article I’ll try to debunk some very common myths about what constitutes a ‘strong application’ while applying to foreign universities for graduate level courses.


I have to get 3478374823 certificates to have a strong CV
Oh, this is my favourite. All around me I see students dying for ‘collecting’ as many certificates as they can. They go for weird seminars they have no idea about, they participate in literally all competitions, and some even make fake certificates. And what for? Most of us believe that the more certificates we’ve got the better chances we have of getting selected. I am sorry to break it to you, but people sitting there selecting applications are not naïve idiots. They know, they can actually feel what the intent behind having a zillion certificates is, they understand it is not humanly possible to do so many things. If anything, it actually decreases your chances of getting in, because it makes the selectors think that you are unfocussed and well… fake.

I am in my college’s dramatics society, dance society, sports society, music society, business society, Peace society, and yes I am the department president. Who can stop me now?
I know people who are at least in 5-6 college societies. Their Facebook work page looks something like this- Works at – Zyz Dramatics society, AISEC, xyz president, xyz coordinator, abz organization… And the list goes on and on. There was a time I used to get really intimidated by all this; I used to feel I am not working hard at all. However it’s now that I realize that they are messing up with themselves big time. It’s important to excel at that one thing. Dance all the way if you really like it. Debate all the way if you really like it. Play like crazy if you think that is your calling. Work for NGO’s if that’s what makes you happy. But please don’t do all of them together. It just makes you ‘Jack of all, master of none’. Universities look for people who are excellent at what they do; they don’t look for people who can do everything.

We must get a letter of recommendation from the most important person we know
Getting a recommendation from a MP, CEO, or an IAS Officer or well-connected college alumni or trustee is not going to guarantee acceptance to any school. Unless one of those people knows you very well, such a letter will not impress the admissions office. Rather, it could actually work against you. Letters should come from people who know you very well and should provide a unique in-depth perspective about you. The strongest recommendations include specific anecdotes that show why a particular student is an excellent candidate.

If I have a perfect GRE score and GPA, I will get in anywhere!
Yes, your percentage in college matters, your GRE scores also matter a lot, they help the examiners to screen out people on the basis of aptitude. But you’ve also got to understand that it’s not like Indian colleges and universities, where being a topper will guarantee you a seat. You will only get into programmes where the faculty thinks you ‘fit’. You’ve got to make your application interesting; you’ve got to be clear with ‘why do I want to do this?’ You have to make them want you.

My essays or personal statements are supposed to be general in nature!
No! You’re applying to the people who represent that graduate school. Remember that there are people reading your applications — people who can be charmed or bored, turned on or turned off, exasperated or thrilled. So do not write a generic personal statement that anybody could write. Make them interesting, make them personal. Make sure they know why you want to apply for a particular programme.

Internships? Do they really matter? After all, I have won so many competitions!
Guys, this is important. I understand winning competitions gives you a lot of thrill; they enhance a person’s self esteem. And yes, they definitely look good on your CV. But doing this at the cost of internships and other voluntary work is not great. Internships reflect your eagerness to learn, it tells the examiners that you went that extra mile; it shows that you’ve gone beyond college level stuff and stepped into the real world. Make sure that throughout your under graduation, you never miss an opportunity to work with the best of organizations, corporate and think tanks. You learn a lot more in good internships than in classrooms.

Yes, we all are in an exploratory phase, where we try out new and different thinks- organizing college fests, dancing, singing, debating, playing sports, working in NGO’s etc. All that randomness is and should be a part of your college life. But you’ve to realize that at some point, you’ve got to pick up that ONE thing that you like the most and dive deep in it. People reviewing your application will see the consistency of the work you’ve done with the program you are applying to. So for example, if you want to do your Masters in psychology, make sure you get involved with psychiatry centres, write research papers etc. Or if you want to do your Masters in Public Administrations, make sure you work with various NGO’s, public policy think tanks etc. You need to have passion for that one chosen field.

All I need is a strong CV
It takes weeks, if not months, to apply to grad school. All the random certificates you collect, the societies you join, if it’s just for building a CV, then you have got to do a reality check. Because a CV is not the only think you’ll need. A typical application involves many components: a personal statement or letter of intent, academic records, CV, research papers and letters of references. A personal statement is probably the most important thing in your application. So be clear with all your whys and hows.

The decision to go to graduate school can be scary. The process is even scarier. It takes a lot of time, effort and well…money. Make sure you don’t fall prey to these common myths, and work on a real strong application.