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Graduate School

Ways to get Ahead this Spring & Summer in Your Grad School Application Process

By: Alexa Lord, Ph.D.

Use Spring & Summer (1)

Each grad school application has many components. Multiply that out by however many schools you’ll be applying to, and it can be a dizzying amount of information to keep track of. If you plan to attend grad school, you typically need to apply in the fall/winter one year before the fall that you’d like to start school. So if you’re reading this as a current junior in college who would like to go straight from undergrad to grad school, now is the time to start the “application process.”

The application process is more than just filling out some forms and writing an essay or two. Once you’ve decided that grad school is a good route for you and you’ve narrowed down the type of degree/program you’d like to pursue, you’ll need to carefully curate the list of schools you’d like to apply to, do research on those schools to make sure they’re a good fit, write and revise (…and revise and revise….) your personal statement and/or statement of purpose, and more. Use this spring and summer to get ahead in the ways mentioned below. The more time you give yourself, the easier it will be to manage all of the application details, especially while still taking undegrad classes.


1. Create a list of schools that you’d like to apply to.

The number of schools you apply to depends on many factors, including the number of programs that exist for what you’d like to study (for some highly specialized degrees, there may not be that many schools to choose from), how competitive the type of degree/program is that you’d like to pursue, and the amount of money you have available to pay for application fees and the other costs of applying (although sometimes these can be waived). Consider asking current UM grad students in the field you’re interested in how many schools they applied to. For Ph.D. programs, 8-15 schools is a fairly reasonable amount. When you’re first curating your list, don’t worry about the amount, you can tailor the list as you go. That’s the benefit of starting to prepare in the spring/summer.

Look for schools that have renowned programs in the field of study that you’re most interested in. It’s not just about the school’s reputation as a whole. Talk to UM faculty in the field to get their take on a particular program’s reputation if you’re not sure.

Consider the program’s faculty. Quality of faculty and the number of whom are experts in your area of interest should be a deciding factor. For some programs, you’ll need to be prepared to identify which faculty you wish to study under as part of the application.

See if the program/campus meets your needs. Do they have adequate resources, labs, libraries, funding opportunities (e.g., assistantships, fellowships)? It can be somewhat difficult to tell just by looking online, hence #2….

2.  Do research! Email faculty AND graduate students of each program on your list.

This will help you narrow down your list a bit. For some programs, you’ll need to ask faculty if they’re going to be taking on any new students in the first place. If they are, you should be able to get in contact with their current students (or past ones) listed online. Conduct an informational interview with those students about why they chose that program, would they choose it again, and why. They are the experts.

Tip: Emails should be professional and make a good first impression. Clearly and concisely state who you are, what you’re interested in studying, and what questions you have. Remember, they’re doing you a favor by answering your questions.

3. Look at each program’s requirements and other qualifications you’ll need to be accepted.

Make sure you meet them and if you don’t, participate in additional experiences as soon as possible so that you can meet them in time to apply. For example, do they prefer that you’ve done independent research? Do you need a portfolio?

Consider taking time between undergrad and grad school to gain any additional experience needed. What that experience looks like depends on the field of study. For business school, you’ll likely need work experience to be a strong candidate. For doctoral programs, you’ll need research experience (e.g., posters, publications, research assistantships, independent study, thesis).

4. Keep track of the application requirements and deadlines in an organized way.

Spreadsheets are very helpful for this, and you can find some online that others have already created. One strategy is to have a separate row for each school/program and a separate column for each application item required (e.g., personal statement, statement of purpose, exam scores, number of recommendation letters, application fee, application deadline), putting a yes/no in the cell depending on if that item is required for that school. That way all of the information is in one document that you can easily refer to and update (adding additional columns where you keep track of whether you completed each requirement or not).

5. Prepare for any exams and take them early!

This will give you time if you need to retake the exam to boost your scores. Don’t underestimate the importance of regularly taking timed practice exams.

Obtaining high exam scores, along with a high GPA, is great and can help you “make the first cut” when grad schools are reviewing your application. However, high marks alone do not guarantee that you’ll be accepted into grad school. To make the second cut and get offered an interview, you’ll need strong application materials that demonstrate your fit with the program in other ways (e.g., relevant experience, passion for and knowledge of the field, desire to learn more).

6. Start writing/creating your other application materials (e.g., personal statement, statement of purpose, resume, transcript, portfolio).

Start drafting these early. Expect them to go through several rounds of edits to the point where the earlier draft is no longer recognizable. Good writers know that earlier drafts are often of poorer quality anyway.

Just start. It can be difficult to write about yourself. Get something on the page. Even if it is absolute garbage. Staring at a blank screen doesn’t get you anywhere. Let your thoughts flow onto the page — don’t worry about sounding smart or professional at first. You can revise that later.

Be yourself. The faculty reviewing your application materials don’t expect you to be an expert in the field — that’s why you’re applying to grad school to learn more — so don’t try to act like you are one. Instead, be honest about what you do know, what piqued your strong interest in this field, what you’d specifically like to learn/research more about while in grad school, and the overall impact you’d like to have with an advanced degree.

Get help. Ask people to proofread your documents. By people I mean professionals. Go to a professor’s office hours and ask if they can give you feedback on an essay or two. Schedule an appointment at the UM Toppel Career Center. We’ll help review your materials, including resumes. Read up on and attend workshops about writing application materials. Toppel hosts these every semester and a career advisor can help you determine whether certain resources or pieces of advice are legitimate or not. Maybe that blank screen has gotten the best of you and you’re not sure how to even start — Toppel can help with that!

7. Decide who you’d like to write recommendation letters for you.

Your letter writers should ideally be professionals in the field. Grad schools not only look at the content of the letters but also who wrote them. That said, you shouldn’t walk up to a professor you’ve never had, asking them to write you a letter just because they seem important. You want to choose people you have a relationship with, that can write you a strong letter. They don’t all have to be professors either. In their letters, these people will hopefully be vouching for your ability to do well in grad school. So choose people who can speak to that.

Reach out to these people early, asking them if they can write a strong letter for you by a specific date (a date that’s in advance of the application deadline but still gives them a couple months to write the letter).

If they agree to write you a letter, provide them with all of the information they’ll need (e.g., drafts of your essays and other application materials, school/program information, links for letter submission). Provide this information in a very organized fashion (remember, spreadsheets are your friend and theirs). You might also consider asking your writers to provide feedback on your essays. Send them gentle reminder emails as the deadline gets closer.

8. Come to Toppel!

No one said you have to do it alone. The Toppel Career Center is here for all UM students, at any point in the grad school application process. Perhaps you’re not 100% sure that grad school is the best route for you. A career advisor can help you see all of the options you have and discuss the best ways to get to where you want to go. You can also check-out the great assessment tools we have that show you the different career opportunities for your major/interests (click here to take the Sokanu test).


Overwhelmed? Even more of a reason to start earlier. Putting one foot in front of the other and breaking the application process down into more manageable pieces can help to ease that feeling of anxiety and keep you on track to meet the deadlines. Make the most of this spring/summer. You got this.


About Alexa:

Alexa is the Associate Director of Assessment & Communication at the University of Miami Toppel Career Center. She oversees the development and implementation of the Toppel’s stats and marketing.

Alexa earned a Ph.D. in psychological and brain sciences from Washington University in St. Louis and a Bachelor’s degree in psychology and political science from the University of Michigan. Her research focused on social-personality psychology, specifically on personality and achievement (e.g., how people’s self-perceptions and beliefs influence their coping, relationships, and goal attainment). Alexa’s background in statistical analyses and passion for personal and professional development brought her to where she is today—helping the Toppel Career Center and UM students reach their goals!

Pre-Med Students and the Gap Year

By Andrea Trespalacios, Peer Advisor

In recent years, there has been quite a shift in the demographics of medical school students. Ten years ago, 60% of Harvard Medical School students were coming straight out of college (The Harvard Crimson). Nowadays, their most recent statistics show that about 65% of admitted students have spent some time off between college and medical school. This data combined with the rising cost of education and the increase in competitiveness for top schools has prompted many students to take gap years.

Students choose to take time off between college and medical school to strengthen their academics by:

  1. Taking other classes to boost their GPA
  2. Studying for the MCAT
  3. Earning other degrees

Students also take their time off to prepare financially for the commitment of having to pay for another degree. With the average debt being around $183,000 (American Association of Medical Colleges), students spend their time:

  1. Working and saving money
  2. Applying for scholarships

Thirdly, pre-med students focus primarily on gaining relevant experience that will make them stand out from other applicants. They spend their time:

  1. Doing research
  2. Working as a medical scribe, EMT, or at a doctor’s office
  3. Interning at non-profit organizations
  4. Volunteering at local clinics or hospitals, Peace Corps, and hospices
  5. Shadowing doctors in a range of specialties

The video below does a great job of explaining why gap years should be considered if you are applying for medical school. But is also important to remember that gap years are not for everyone and ultimately, students should weigh all the elements and factors that go into this decision!

Good Luck, Canes!

Why Career Expo?

By Sterlie Achille, Peer Advisor



Career Expo will be the place NEXT WEEK on September 6th from 1pm to 5pm! Join us at the Watsco center to engage in an incredible chance to explore internship options, full-time job opportunities, and graduate programs. You absolutely DO NOT want to miss this event. There are several reasons why attending this career fair will be a great way to progress your job search.

1) Attending Career Expo allows you to meet directly with the hiring managers and or representatives who have an impact on hiring decisions. Career expo has nearly 100 registered employers that will be attending this year. These recruiters are from a variety of industries ranging from American Express, Carnival, Chewy, Maximus, Miami Heat, Stryker, Visa and so much more! What better way to learn which companies you might want to work for and which open positions would be most relevant to you, than in person?

2) Career Expo will be a less-formal setting to practice your elevator speech and get to know more about the company’s you are interested in. Even if you only get to communicate with them briefly, you will have the practice of talking about yourself and your strengths. Be bold. Take advantage of the fact that you can talk to a variety of people that could have a need for your skill set and experiences. You have so much to offer!

3) Attending this signature recruiting event would allow you to better align your resume with the company’s needs! Knowing what these companies are looking for sets you apart from the competition. So come join us and talk to employers, build your network (and your LinkedIn connections) and most importantly, practice your elevator speech! Make sure to come professionally dressed, bring your University of Miami Cane ID, and have at least 20 copies of your resume.

Are U  excited, yet!?

Dear College Graduate,

By Sterlie Achille, Peer Advisor

I hope this letter finds you well. First off, congratulations on accomplishing your goal of earning a college education! You came, you learned, you conquered. These 4 years as a Hurricane have flown by and formed a stronger and wiser version of your freshman identity. You’ve earned the degree, aced your job interviews, and landed that great job. You may be asking yourself: What’s next? Well, now a new journey awaits…the real world.

When you are out there living your best life, I hope you remember to:

1. Keep up with your fitness

Unlike in college where you walked to get to and from class, most workplaces involve a lot of sitting or limited mobility. As difficult as going to the gym may be, it might be essential for your body’s upkeep. If not through exercise, manage your fitness by eating better and removing unhealthy choices as often as you can.

2. Practice smart financial decisions

It can be as small limiting your eating out to 1x a week (put in the effort to bring your own lunch to work as much as you can since eating out can add up quickly), or creating a budget, or even removing the unnecessary bills like cable (especially if you’re never home).

3. Continue networking

So you found the perfect job? That’s great! However, it is still very crucial for you continue to build professional relationships and meaningful connections at your workplace. This isn’t only good practice to get a reference or referral when moving jobs. It can also benefit your advancement within the company.

4. Ask for help, when needed

In the real world, we don’t always get things right. This is perfectly normal and you are not alone. Whether you need help in your personal life, or in the professional world, there are many knowledgeable people who would be more than willing to help guide you. It may feel uncomfortable at first, but once you ask for help the first time, it gets easier. What’s more important than a few awkward minutes? Your confidence in your ability to tackle the problems you will face!


The real world may not only be all fun and games, but there is something exhilarating about making your own decisions and having the freedom to manage your time. In addition to the things above, I hope that you find everything you are looking for. I hope that you roll with the punches, never stop aiming for excellence and continue to show up, and never give up! Carpe diem graduate, and congratulations again!


Top Personal Statement Mistakes

By Kiera Adams, Peer Advisor

A personal statement is an extended essay about yourself used when applying to different types of programs. It’s the perfect way to highlight your experiences and thoughts to stand out among the pack. Here are 5 types of common personal statement mistakes that you should avoid:


Your personal statement should be a chance for you to stand out among all the other applicants. The people who review your personal statement have seen many statements before yours. Avoid common opening sentences like “From a young age…”or  “I’ve always been fascinated with…” These recur in hundreds of personal statement and don’t say anything unique about you.

Another cliché you should avoid would be single phrases such as, “I am a determined person” Use the personal statement to give specific examples that speaks for that quality itself.


Don’t use quotes from other people when opening up your personal statement. The people reading your personal statement want to hear your voice-not Einstein’s. You should only use quotes if you think it’s very necessary to convey a point. It can take up words that you can use to talk about something else.

Other people

In order to tell another about yourself, it is sometimes necessary to talk about other people. Avoid talking too much about friends, family or mentors as a personal statement is supposed to be about you.

Instead, You can talk about how these people have inspired you and then shift gears to talk about how you plan on channeling that inspiration yourself and to your future work.


It’s important to keep your personal statement positive. It is not necessary to make your personal statement only about a negative experience. But, if you decide to talk about negative experiences, make sure you can talk about how you overcame and learned from the experience.

Spelling and Grammar

Make sure to check your personal statement multiple times before sending it in. It’s also important to have someone else check it before in case you miss something.

Here’s a link to the University of Miami’s writing center where someone can review any writing concerns:

Your personal statement is the perfect way to highlight your strengths as a person. Avoid these mistakes and you’ll be on your way to a great personal statement!

Why You Should Have a Professional LinkedIn

By Jake Ducharme, Peer Advisor

LinkedIn isn’t like other social sites. While sites like Facebook and Twitter have more users, LinkedIn is a professional way for people to connect. With over 300 million users world-wide it is an incredible way to get into the business world. Even if you aren’t pursuing a business related field, it is great to have LinkedIn and stay connected.


Here are some of the main reasons you should have a professional LinkedIn:

  • It’s a quick and easy way to be found

Instead of looking for jobs, jobs can come looking for you with LinkedIn. There are millions of users on LinkedIn who are currently looking for their newest employee. By having a profile, they can reach out to you and potentially offer you a job.

  • You can easily find recruiters

Similarly to how recruiters can find you, you can easily search for open positions. Just by attending the U there are many positions recommended for me to look at because alumni work there. That is just one of the many filters that can be applied in the job search process.

  • Others can recommend and endorse you

When you hand a prospective employer your resume, it doesn’t come attached with recommendations and endorsements from past and present colleagues.  A great feature of LinkedIn is the ability to easily right a recommendation that can be found along with your work experience. In addition, people can “endorse” you. People you have connected with select things like “hard-working”, “public speaking”, and “leadership” which will appear under a skills section.


Additional information on how to make a great profile and personal brand can be found at

Explore the World Around U

By Jake Ducharme, Peer Advisor

With the Majors, Minors, & Study Abroad Fair coming up on Wednesday, September 28th from 3PM-6PM, what better time than now to start considering studying abroad to enhance your collegiate experience?

Studying abroad is a unique opportunity that every college student should take advantage of. Studying abroad has many benefits and few drawbacks. It’s an opportunity for you to jump out of your comfort zone and try new things. You will make new friends, learn in a different way, and likely have the time of your life.

Top reasons you should study abroad:

1) It looks great on a CV/ Resume and for graduate school

Studying abroad is an experience on your resume that will stand out to potential employers. It shows that you are willing to take on new challenges and step out of your comfort zone. According to, 90% of study abroad students got into their first or second choice grad school.

2) Gain a new level of independence and self-reliance

Immersing yourself into a new country will teach you to be independent and self-reliant like nothing else. Going off to college definitely increases independence, but not like living in a new country, being forced to try new things and navigate in an unfamiliar territory. It may be scary at first, but it will give you all the experience you need to be a self-sustaining adult for post-college life.

3) Pay lower tuition fees

Often times when studying abroad you pay the tuition of the university you are attending, rather than your own school’s tuition. For many schools, typically in European countries, those tuition rates are significantly cheaper than what you’re paying to attend your college or university.  Of course, airfare and living expenses can rack up, but lower tuition may be a talking point in convincing your parents!

4) Increase language skills

Studying abroad is an opportunity to take that language you “learned” in high school and transform it into full fledged fluency. Nothing will catch you up on the French language like spending a semester in Paris.

Common study abroad fears and why you shouldn’t worry:

1) Homesickness

Homesickness isn’t uncommon for someone thousand miles away from home. You probably have some experience dealing with homesickness from when you first moved on campus. If you can last from late August to thanksgiving break or winter break without your family, then you shouldn’t have to worry about a semester in another country. If that does seem like a problem, then focus on the new opportunities and adventures waiting to happen in your host country rather than browse through Facebook pictures and I’m sure you won’t want to go home.

2) Getting lost

You may get lost in your new home, but that is no reason not to give it a shot. Carry maps with you and you’ll make it out just fine. If anything, getting lost just adds to the adventure and excitement of studying abroad.

3) Language barrier

Immersing yourself in a new language is intimidating and confusing but it is a great chance to learn a new language. Have your dictionary ready and try your best communicating with locals! Or meet a local who can show you around when you’re away from the university. Worst case scenario study in an English speaking country!

Good luck, Canes!

Career Expo Follow-Up

By Josh Sussman, Peer Advisor

Congrats! Whether you’re an ambitious freshman or you’re a seasoned career fair attendee, you have taken a huge step to improve your networking skills if you attended Career Expo Fall 2016!

After talking with what seems like hundreds of potential employers, you must be pretty exhausted, but going to a career fair is just the first step. What you do to follow-up after Career Expo is just as important as what you did at Expo.


Here are a few steps you need to take after surviving Career Expo:

  1. This one might seem obvious, but Follow-Up With Employers!

Just like a friendship, you need to make sure you maintain the connection with employers. They met hundreds of other impressive students just like you and the only way they will remember you is by following up! This can be as simple as a short email thanking the employer for their time or connecting with them on LinkedIn and sending them a message. Be sure to send a follow-up message within 24 hours of Expo and make sure you include the following in your message:

  • Mention something specific from your conversation with them
  • Let them know that you are excited to pursue a position in their company
  • Thank them for their time and tell them you are looking forward to future communications


  1. Organize Yourself

After networking with so many different people at Expo, you should keep track of all your potential job leads. I recommend started a document that has all of the information (Name, email, phone, LinkedIn) that you gathered from each employer that you talked with. Make sure to also include any information you wrote down during your conversation, which you could use in a follow-up email.


  1. Reflect on Your Expo Experience

Like I said before, whether this was your first Expo experience or you have lots of career experience, there is always room for improvement.

Ask yourself:

  • How well did I prepare for Expo?
  • Did I feel like I networked well?
  • Did I give my 30-second “elevator speech”?
  • What would I do differently next time?
  • What did I learn about myself and about my career goals?


Congrats again on attending Career Expo! Just remember if you have any questions or doubts about how to best proceed after Career Expo, don’t hesitate to come into Toppel and we would love to help!

Get Career Expo Ready by Preparing an Elevator Pitch

By Tina Humphrey, Peer Advisor

An elevator pitch is a 3 to 5 minute persuasive speech of who you are, what you do, what you’re looking for, and how you would be the ideal candidate for a company.

Start off by thinking about the types of jobs you are looking for, pick your most significant job from your resume and how your experience could offer something to the company you are applying to.

For example, you decide you want to visit Abercrombie and Fitch’s booth. You researched that the company values diversity and unique customers and employers. You can state in your elevator speech that you are seeking a company that values diversity because in your previous job you learned how to communicate and work with effectively with people of various cultures. You believe your culture competence could be of value to Abercrombie’s unique culture. You could end by asking to have the recruiter’s business card and leave your resume to show them how you would be a great addition to Abercrombie’s culture.

Here is a great video on how to better prepare your pitch:


Take a deep breath, be confident and practice what you are going to say. Keep in mind you want your elevator pitch to be conversational instead of an infomercial.

The more you practice the more you will feel confident in your speech!

Good luck Canes!


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