Early in the month, I read through a huge stack of Yale graduate school applications for the anthropology department. During the first round, my main goal as a reader was to reject applications. Here are some do's and don'ts from that perspective:
- State why you want to be at our institution -- what resources, faculty, or departments or programs are you interested in working with? You might have a fantastic project, but often readers are concerned about whether you will have the appropriate resources. Take the initiative in allaying our fears.
- At least at this institution, do contact faculty that you're interested in ahead of time (before you send in your application). And let us know on your application that you've talked to them. At the very least, it'll mean that your application will be reviewed by them as well, which is usually a good thing. Once the application is sent in, however, best to leave us alone until we contact you.
- Include a writing sample that shows you at your best. Some poor statements of purpose are redeemed by good writing samples. Your writing sample should be related to your academic field of interest if at all possible. If not, include a paper that shows how theoretically adept you are.
- Give your life history in your statement of purpose. Use the space in your statement of purpose to talk about what you are interested in studying at graduate school.
- Write "Other: human" for your Ethnicity. Yes it's a stupid question but it doesn't deserve a stupid response. There's a "Prefer not to reply" option just for that purpose. If you're white, you might as well as be proud to be white.
- Misspell or mistake the names of faculty you want to work with. Professor Kathryn MacNacamyra is not pleased.
- Write that you'd like to looking forward to working with the "faculty at Harvard" when you're applying to Yale.
(some details are obscured to protect the egos of the innocent)
2nd round: It is more difficult to characterize who rises to the top and who doesn't in the second round discussions. Issues of best fit at the institution come into play and there is very little that you can do as a candidate to predict what will happen. Thus, most of your energy should be put into getting past the first round readers with a very polished application -- and then praying to the deity of your choice for the second round.