There are many components that make up a competitive application and putting them altogether is not always a linear process. You might start out thinking you want to be a teacher. Then, as you continue to explore and find out the requirements or what kinds of positions are available if you obtain a credential, you may find that an MSW is more useful. Or you may think you want to get a degree in public policy, and find out that a dual degree that includes an MS in environmental science will give you the expertise you need and make you more employable. Exploring various programs will help you understand their distinctions and differences in terms of prerequisites and the curriculum offered. You will also need to familiarize yourself with the tests you need to take and if there is either a stated or an expected pre-professional requirement. And you will want to start talking with professors and supervisors who know your work and are available to write you supportive recommendations.

Many things can shift your thinking about your future. You may find the costs of some graduate school programs prohibitive or be stretched to consider a program in another state because of the curriculum or expertise of a particular professor. Taking time to explore options and continuing to talk with graduate students, professors and professionals will help guide you in the direction you want to go. You may discover you will be a more viable candidate if you take a year to work or re-take an important required exam to get a better score. Narrowing your focus to a particular area of study and/or program is progress towards your ultimate goal of applying to graduate school, but you will still have many decisions to consider.

Once you have assembled a possible list of programs you will want to organize them into a visual document that helps you easily see requirements in terms of essays, deadlines and required tests. This will help you compare programs and also allow you see overlaps in the types of essays that are required and when applications are due. You can also compare application costs and program tuitions. Some programs have fee waivers for application fees or make exceptions for certain populations. The number of programs you apply to will depend somewhat on the kind of degree you are applying for, but three to five is a reasonable number for most prospective students. (The law and healthcare fields have very different application protocols and applicants in these fields often apply to many more). If you are applying for a PhD or Master’s degree, submitting applications to multiple programs often gives you options and also some negotiating power for funding if you are accepted to more than one program. Many graduate school application deadlines are in the fall with some extending into the following spring, and some programs have priority and general deadlines. Medical school and other advanced degrees in the healthcare field have their own schedule.

We help California’s former foster youth apply to graduate programs and professional schools by providing the knowledge each applicant needs to create a competitive application and succeed.

MAPS is a California non-profit