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Be Like a Proton: challenges and takeaways when applying to graduate school

By: Fernando Antonio Rebolledo Uscanga - a Fulbright COMEXUS scholar from Mexico and a PhD fellow in Biomedical/Medical Engineering at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.

Speaking, writing and interacting in a language that is not your native one is definitely challenging. It is not easy to express yourself with the same freedom that you have when you speak in your first language. The words, phrases, expressions, are all different, and as you learn a new language you have to accept that there is nothing wrong with making mistakes.

Similarly, the process of applying to graduate programs is challenging. There is a long list or requirements to apply to schools. Academic transcripts, Curriculum Vitae (CV), Letters of Recommendation, the intricate Statement of Purpose and lastly, the terrifying standardized tests, which such as the TOEFL iBT and GRE or GMAT exams. These standardized tests are considered the most important part of your application. Well, I will counter this assumption, I think this is wrong. Why? Because graduate schools are looking for unique candidates. The admissions committee reviews the application materials for your candidacy as a whole, which demonstrate the kind of person you are, and what you are going to bring to the program and school. Through your application, the committee can identify your cultural background, your way of thinking, your reasoning and your diverse opinions about key global issues. Most of these characteristics may be conveyed through your Statement of Purpose and through it the admissions team could better understand who you are, how you think, and how you approach problems and solve them.

My recommendation for success in the application process to graduate school is to be yourself.

The standardized tests might seem frightening, but like any other required application component, they represent one part of a whole. The standardized exams do not necessarily measure your intelligence or capability, but rather your effort and how well you understood the rules of testing. Getting a high score does not equate to being qualified or being the right individual to pursue graduate studies. At the end of the day, standardized exams are tricky but a low score doesn’t mean that you would not be able to succeed in a graduate program. Getting a low score is in fact, fairly common. If the first time was a problem, then try it another time, and another and as many times as you need. One strategy I would recommend is to check out free resources that ETS offers online and watch a variety of lessons on YouTube. Remember to stay positive that the next time you take the exam it will be better. As one famous high school basketball coach in the U.S., Morgan Wootten, would say, “You learn more from losing than winning. You learn how to keep going”, so keep going. You are almost there. And yes… I took the exam more than once.

Another important factor during the application process is to be prepared with your university search. “Where are you going to apply?” is a common bottleneck for many applicants. “Where do you want to go for graduate studies? Is it feasible? What do you need to do in order to get accepted?” After thinking about all of these factors, it is essential to prepare yourself as best as you can and apply. Reach out to professors (also known as faculty advisors) that you want to work with, share with them your academic interests, ask them questions about the program, and make sure to carry your confidence along the way.

Confidence is so important during the application process to graduate programs because it demonstrates your capability that the admissions committee wants to see in you in order to make decision to whether accept or deny your candidacy to the program.

To restate my recommendation, confidence is shaped by how you present yourself to the committee, how unique you are, and how you can defend your ideas and goals.

Same recommendation goes to those interested in applying to highly competitive institutions. Although my GRE and TOEFL iBT scores were fair, I applied to some competitive graduate programs. I believed in myself and decided to apply even though some people advised me that I wouldn’t get accepted.

I was admitted. My overall application was strong enough to be considered.

Be positive, like a proton.

The process is certainly about how much effort you put in order to accomplish and reach your dreams. Every step that you are walking through is worthwhile. It is a road that will definitely lead you to success. My motto is to “Believe in you, believe in yourself deep down.”

Disclaimer: This blog is not an official Fulbright Program site. The views expressed on this site are entirely those of the author and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations.

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