Tips for Applying for Grad School

It’s nearing the end of January, which means that many colleges are either back for the spring semester or are about to begin the spring semester. It’s one of the times of year when returning to school for a graduate degree is considered. And, many states, New York State is one of them, require teachers to earn a Master’s Degree. If you are considering returning to the classroom to earn a Master’s Degree and another certification, there are a few things you should keep in mind as you are searching through colleges and their programs. 

  • What program should I apply to? This is a question that I am often asked by students who have earned their undergraduate degree and certification in Childhood or Elementary Education. I have many former students who were told during student teaching (often by a Principal or Assistant Principal) that they will only be hired if they earn their Master’s Degree in TESOL (Teaching English as a Second Language) or Special Education. However, some of these students may not want to teach in those specializations. I always tell students that they should earn another certification where they want to teach or in an area that would advance their current teaching. There are many options – Literacy, Special Education, TESOL, Administration, and others. Take a look around and see what program interests you the most. Apply for the programs and certifications that you are interested in – not what interests other people. 
  • Communicate with the director of coordinator of the program: Once you have a few schools and/or programs that you are interested in, I recommend you reach out to the director or the coordinator of the program. You should introduce yourself and if you are teaching, tell him/her your current teaching position. Explain that you are interested in applying to the program and ask a few questions you have. Some of the most frequent questions I receive are about the number of courses required for the program, how the program is structured, and how the classes are taught (online, hybrid, or in-person). I also am asked about admissions requirements. If you do email the program coordinator, be professional in your communication. For example, use a subject heading when sending the email, address the coordinator by his/her title (Dr./Ms. Mr.), and make sure your writing has been read over and edited for grammar. Finally, be clear about what information you want about the program and thank the coordinator for their time and help. It is always nice to receive an email from someone who is appreciative of my help! 
  • Letters of recommendation: Often graduate programs will ask for 2-3 letters of recommendation, and one of them is usually required to be from an academic source, such as a professor. In addition, you can (and should!) ask someone you have worked with in a classroom. For example, you can ask a cooperating teacher who observed your teaching when you student taught, a co-teacher who you work with on a daily basis, or another teacher who you collaborate with. When reading letters of recommendation, I like to hear classroom stories about the student who is applying for admission. It gives me a sense of who the person is as an educator and how she/she approaches teaching and the students in the classroom. I have read wonderful stories from principals about observed lessons and cooperating teachers have shared stories about unit studies that the applicant designed and taught during student teaching. So, before asking for a recommendation, consider who will highlight all of your amazing qualities and strengths as either a student or a classroom teacher! A word of caution about letters of recommendation – give the person time to write the letter. Only giving the person one week to write a letter is not very courteous or understanding of their time. When planning, try and give a few weeks notice so that the person writing your letter has time rather than feels rushed. Also, follow-up and say thank you to each person who wrote you a letter, and acknowledge the time they took to support your education and career goals. Here are a few suggestions about asking for letters of recommendation. 
  • Craft a clear admission’s essay: Often admissions essay topics are generic. The college and program are looking for you to explain in writing why you want to earn this degree. When writing your essay, be clear about why you want to attend this particular program at this college. Some questions to consider answering when writing your essay include: Why are you interested in this program and/or certification? Why are you a good fit for this program? How will this degree program support your current and future teaching? When possible, try and tell a story from your academic or teaching experiences that show why and how this is the right program for you. When I read admissions essays, I have more knowledge of the applicant when they include more than just the reasons they want to attend the program. Stories help humanize us so think about a story you can show how you are the perfect candidate for the program!