Applying to Grad School: An overview

When I think about how uncertain and nervous I was about applying and beginning grad school this time last year, I always give out a loud laugh, brimming with relief. As an international student, I had to think about how many universities I need to apply to (the application fees are pretty high), whether I was qualified enough for each of those (the level of study/syllabi are completely different), and how I was going to manage my finances (I still convert prices from dollars to rupees and moan about how costly food is in Canada). Taking a loan is a pretty big deal, especially when the loan amount is huge and you’re unsure whether you’ll get a job right after grad school. In my case, since I wanted to get into a biological sciences field with the intention of doing a PhD after, I had to think twice. Do I take a loan of almost 40,000 USD for two years, and do a PhD after? How could I repay it on a PhD salary? More importantly, will I even get into a university?

The application process is a long and tedious one, followed by another long and equally tedious (but possibly more stress inducing) visa process. The main problem with university applications is that universities don’t exactly state their requirements; they don’t tell you whether they’ve got a GRE cut-off, a research requirement, or extra-curricular requirements. They merely state that you need an official GRE score, TOEFL score, statement of purpose, letters of recommendation, and a good GPA; which is all good, except each application costs around a hundred dollars. And that is one of the many reasons why you need to shortlist universities even before writing your GRE. Another reason is that at the end of your GRE, you’ll be asked to give the names of four universities that you’re going to be applying to. The same goes for TOEFL, except you’ll have to give university names when you register and pay for your TOEFL exam. Now that you’ve got two hurdles out of the way, you’ll probably want to apply to a few more universities, just in case. While shortlisting, it’s best to go through each university’s website, and their departmental website. For example, if you’re applying to the Human Genetics department at McGill University, it’s best to check both the requirements of the department as well as the general requirements to apply to the university. I say this because I was pretty surprised when I realized that one of the main requirements to get into a few programs at McGill was acceptance from a professor, while certain other programs did not have this requirement. Make sure you check your deadlines and get your undergrad professors to send in their letters of recommendation early. Also, submit your completed application on time. And then you wait… You think about all those times you’ve spent during your undergrad, without a single care in the world. About all those times you went out with your friends and had fun. And you curse yourself because you want to relive those four years of undergrad, minus the studying. You feel frustrated and annoyed because you fear you won’t get into any university… But lo and behold! You get an admit! (FINALLY!)

I'm worthy of grad school! From:

I’m worthy of grad school!

Now you go through the same process all over again, except this time you need to check the requirements on governmental websites for your visa application. You need to get a health check-up done, following which you’re free to worry about whether you’ve got a disease that renders you unfit for travel. And you need to make sure you’ve got documents stating that you’ve taken a legitimate loan, or have a bank statement that states that you have enough to help you survive your two years. You’ll need to keep your passport, a police verification form (sometimes), employment certificates (if you’ve been previously employed), undergrad degree certificate, undergrad transcript, and your acceptance letter all ready and scanned. For Quebec, you’ll also need to apply for a CAQ (Certificate of Acceptance Quebec) before your study permit. I’d recommend getting a medical check-up before submitting your study permit application (the process is faster that way). Also, I, for one, prefer the online application (for international students applying to study in Canada) because you submit fewer documents. Also because it’s less of a hassle. Apply for your CAQ/study permit right after you get the admit/letter of acceptance, because it takes different amounts of time for it to get approved in different countries. The earlier you apply, the lesser stress and uncertainty you feel.

All the best!

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