With autumn comes application season. Even though you’ve done this before, applications are stressful. Hopefully what I’ve learned will save you some time, anxiety, and, with any luck, some money too.
- Look at deadlines first
This is obvious. Still, if you’re like me, these due dates stress you out, so you tend to put them on the mental back burner. You know the due date is in January, but there’s a huge difference between the beginning and end of January in terms of time. Look these up FIRST. Put them on your calendar. Memorize them. If you’re fully aware of the deadline, your pacing for the entire application will be so much better, and that will help with the stress levels. This also applies if you’re trying for any additional financial aid, grants, or scholarships. If you’re applying to a school with rolling admissions, it still may benefit you to get your application in early. You’re more likely to get preferential treatment and less likely to get denied.
- Communicate with your recommenders
I used to be a teacher. I know first-hand what it’s like to write a recommendation. Being asked is a compliment, but it’s also a ton of responsibility and pressure. Plus, writing a *good* rec is very hard. Your recommenders want to do a good job for you – help them help you.
In terms of logistics, the first step is to ask early. You may think two weeks is enough time to write a good recommendation, but it is absolutely not. Be very clear about when applications are due and how to submit them. Politely follow through that they got emails/confirmations from your schools.
In terms of content and quality, you should have conversations with them. The best thing a recommender can include in their letter is not just statements of how wonderful you are, but illustrative examples of that fact. They need to show, not tell. The trouble is, it can be hard for recommenders to recall specific times that you were so amazing. You probably remember better than they do, so remind them of that challenging project you worked on or the successful event you coordinated. Another easy thing you can do to help your recommenders is to ask them if they’d like to see your resume and/or personal statement. That way, their rec can complement the other components of your application. It should go without saying that you should never tell them what to write! These conversations are just to spark ideas for them.
- Transcript fun
You’ll have to send transcripts from your undergrad and/or graduate institution(s) to every school you apply to. No surprises there. Each university has a different way of processing transcript requests. Some can be handled totally online, others are still done on paper. Get your transcript requests in early because, depending on the staffing at your undergraduate institution, it may take as many as a couple of weeks to get it sent out. Sometimes this application step gets left off until the deadline is near. Some universities allow for expedited processing, but, of course, there’s an additional fee for that. Don’t forget too that a lot of offices close for the winter holiday, around the time when applications start being due. Tackle this step early and you’ll never have to worry about it.
- Have you looked at scholarships and/or grants?
When I was applying for scholarships, I asked my recommender, someone who writes these regularly, what people had done in the past vis-à-vis scholarship applications. She said no one had ever applied for one before. What? I don’t think as many people as you think apply for scholarships. Just do it.
The American Library Association has a bunch of scholarships. The schools you’re applying to will also have internal scholarships, so make sure you look out for those. In addition, here’s an index with a long list of associations who offer funding for library students (Full disclosure – this website is old and hasn’t been updated, so links pull up a lot of 404s. However, many of the associations on the list still offer scholarships, just google individual associations for the latest information). The schools you’re applying to also probably have lists of places from whom you can seek funding (mine does). Finally, here’s another list of ALA scholarships plus various state library associations.
Research early. Make a list of all the scholarships for which you’re suitable that you plan to apply to. Determine deadlines. Then let your recommenders know as soon as possible.
There are other huge parts of the application that I haven’t even touched upon, like the personal statement, financial aid, or the GRE. If you have pearls of wisdom that you’d like to share that might be helpful for applicants, please let us know in the comments.
Image from Istockphoto.com/Yinyang
Melissa Grasso lives in Boston and began at Simmons University this fall. She works as a library assistant where she specializes in course reserves, copy cataloguing, and social media management. You can find her on Twitter @grassbro or LinkedIn.