Tips for preparation of graduate school application in US

I have mentored two Taiwanese undergraduate students in U.S. graduate school applications through Project Tyra mentoring program. I believe that many students might have the same questions when they are preparing for the documents, so I would like to have an article about the tips for applying to U.S. graduate schools, especially in the STEM field (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). In graduate school applications, the most important documents are a statement of purpose (SOP) and curriculum vitae (CV). Here are some tips for SOP preparation and CV.

In the application materials for graduate school in the U.S., SOP is the most important document because it would allow the graduate committee to know more about you. For example, academic experience, research interest, academic performance, and motivation. In the educational background, you could write the concentrations in college and any award or scholarship you have received. Also, if you are top 5 % or better in class, you could mention this in the SOP. In the research experience and interest, you could list any related experience in academic research and your research interest in any potential lab you would like to join. Another critical element in the SOP is motivation which the committee wants to see from the applicant. The motivation includes the passion for science, the interest in academic research, and the future goal after the training from graduate school. Notably, in the U.S., the faculty has a significant influence in accepting graduate students because the faculty needs to pay tuition and living expenses/insurance for the graduate students. So, if you are interested in any faulty’s research, you could also mention the faculty in your SOP. Then you might have a chance to talk to the faculty. In the structure of SOP, I think it is similar to a cover letter for a job application. The first paragraph should be an abstract of the SOP because the committee member might decide if he/she wants to read the rest of the SOP by the first paragraph. In the following sections, we could have experiences in research, outreach education, and the motivation to pursue a graduate degree in applied school. Moreover, the most important part is the passion for science and motivation. Most of the faculties want to see the passion in applicants. Suppose there is a great story to describe the passion for science and research. In that case, this SOP will be a great document to persuade the committee/faculty to take you as a graduate student. On the other hand, a CV is also a very important document to highlight the applicant’s background, education experience, and research experience. In addition, the recruiting committee might use a CV as an initial screening to select the top candidate for potential interviews. In general, the length of the document is 1.5-2 pages for SOP and 1 page for CV. If you have many publications that list in the CV, you could extend it to 2 pages.

In sum, application documents, SOP and CV, should be simple and easy to read. More importantly, remember to highlight the critical information and list this information on top of the CV and the first paragraph to make sure the committee member read these.

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Jason(Yen-Chun) Lu, All right reserved.

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