Recently, we’ve been getting a lot of emails from high school and university students about how to get into law school, medical school, teachers college, and post-graduate programs. We surveyed 10 different students in different professional programs and collected their responses and combined them to give you some tips.
TIP # 1: Talk to Others / Use the People Around You as a Resource:
The number one tip all five students gave us had nothing to do with grades, or building a resume. The number one tip was for applicants to better use the people around as resources. Some of our tips came from students who hadn’t gotten in the first time they applied, but by talking to those who had gotten in, they had gained insight and adjusted their application to be more diversely appealing, resulting in an acceptance the second time around. “It always surprises me,” said one student, “when I talk to a high school student who says they are interested in medicine, and I give them my contact information so they can email me questions, and they never follow-up. What better way to gain insight into the process than to ask someone who has been through it successfully? There, right before you, you have someone who is living your dream – why would you not want to soak up all the knowledge and insight you could possibly get?”
We think this is an excellent point. Students often get insight into the career by talking to professionals in the field – in the same way, talking to a student who has successfully gotten in, and has completed a year or more, can give you incredible insight into submitting a successful application. We know it’s really hard to stroke someone’s ego, and listen to them brag about how awesome they are for getting in, while you are waiting so patiently, but put your pride aside, and make the most of the resource. People value their time carefully – if you have someone who is willing to sit there and email back answers to your questions, or meet you over lunch and share their knowledge, take that offer gratefully. They just might have that little something you are missing.
Another student talked about using people as a resource in a different way: “I always thought asking a current, academically strong law student to write you a reference letter would be a smart idea. For a current student to write ‘I’ve been through two years of law school at X school, and I can attest that this person would do wonderfully in law school, and would make an excellent addition to our student body’ – that would hold a lot of weight, I think, because it’s a person talking from current experience in the program. If you have to get three references anyways, why not get a friend or extended family member in law school to write you a character reference? They are sure to write you a strong reference, and will only be willing to do so if they think genuinely that you are a good candidate – after all, their reputation is on the line by recommending you.”
This is another great idea. On the Windsor Law application, for example, they have a question on each reference form that asked if the reference writer had been to law school themselves. We thought this was such a smart question – how can anyone who has never been through med school or law school attest to whether or not you would do well there? How would they know if they have never been themselves? Plus, there is no harm is getting a diverse set of references – from an employer, from an academic, but also someone who can attest to your character.
TIP # 2: Apply to a “Guaranteed In”/”Sure Thing” School – Even If Its Far Away
Some of the students we talked to applied to only a few schools during their first round, and regretted it deeply: “I was so sure I would get in the first time, that I didn’t apply to my back-up school. I was so shocked when I didn’t get in anywhere and so disappointed… but the second time, I applied everywhere and sure enough, I got in.”
Another student warned against this, though, stating “Applying everywhere is NOT the same as applying to a ‘guaranteed in’ school. My friend has applied to every med school across the province, but when you ask him where he think he is sure to get in, he shrugs, because he isn’t sure. If he really wanted to go to medical school, then he ought to apply to a guaranteed back-up somewhere outside the province, or outside the country.”
We really want to emphasize this point – applying everywhere isn’t the same as applying somewhere you are likely to get in. A lot of students become short-sighted, and worry about writing transfer exams back to Canada after they complete a professional degree in the US or UK (both of which are becoming increasingly competitive), or racking up a lot of student debt. Undoubtedly, those are real concerns (especially the latter) but the alternative is you might not get in anywhere at all. For those of you who haven’t applied to a “sure thing” back up, consider doing so now – many state schools still accept applications through the summer, and some will even let you apply for free. What could be the harm? You can always turn it down once you get accepted somewhere else. But do you really want to lose a year because you didn’t apply to a sure thing the first time?
There is another quick point we wanted to make – there isn’t any harm in spending a year to take extra courses to boost your GPA, or taking a year off to re-write the MCAT, LSAT, GMAT, etc. and get a really good score. Taking that time and improving your application might just be the thing you need to get in, and you could save yourself literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. But be realistic – if your chances are still looking bleak after trying to improve your application, there wouldn’t be any harm in applying to a few back-ups. As we pointed out – you can always turn down the school once you’ve gotten in … but as the famous Wayne Gretzky once said, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.
Part II is coming soon!
Got any tips of your own, or questions about surviving your studenthood experience? Leave a comment below, or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!