Disclaimer: This post is particular to the author’s perspectives and opinions. It is not intended to be representative or indicative of any other member of the MLIS Admissions Committee and does not represent the official stance of the University of Washington or any of its faculty and staff.
Over the last two quarters I have had the privilege of being a student member of the MLIS Admissions Committee for the University of Washington’s Information School. I applied for the position and am one of several students who along with faculty review a group of applications after each round of deadlines. Without disclosing too much of the process and how applications are reviewed, I thought it might be helpful for any future MLIS students out there who may come across the HLS blog to provide some observations I’ve made and what makes a strong application in my opinion. Not every application is reviewed by every committee member so this in no way suggests that this advice applies to every possible application or applicant. Every applicant is unique and is treated as such.
Show your interest & do your research. Mention specifically the name of the school/program you are applying to, why it appeals to you specifically, and how an MLIS degree would further your education and career goals. This includes showing that you have an understanding of the LIS profession and how you might like to use your MLIS degree. Do you want to explore academic librarianship or a possible non-traditional LIS path? Explain that in your application. Know the school(s) you are applying to and do your research. Does your program specialize in a certain area? Are there staff who are pursuing research in an area you are interested in? Is the program likely to offer courses in archives for example? If they don’t, you may not want to mention in your application that the only LIS career path you’ve considered is one in archives. That will show the admissions committee that their program may not be right for you despite the quality of your application.
Talk with the people you’ve asked to write your letters of recommendation. There are several letters of recommendation I have read that seem like they did not speak with the applicant. The recommender did not mention why the program would be a good fit for this applicant and did not seem to be aware of the applicant’s career goals. Make sure you are on the same page and ensure that your recommender is going to “highly recommend” you. Aim for a variety of recommenders such as a current manager and a former professor. A strong letter (or two) of recommendation can really help an application that is lacking in other areas.
Don’t stress your undergrad GPA. Really, do not stress. A GPA at a certain level is required for the University of Washington but there can be exceptions and a GPA probably will not make or break an application as there are many circumstances that can lead to a lower GPA. Most admissions committee members understand this, and you should still apply for a program even if you are unsure your GPA is high enough to meet the bar.
PROOFREAD, PROOFREAD, PROOFREAD! This seems like it would go without saying for someone applying to the field of librarianship, but many applications have grammatical errors and are not written carefully. More than once I have also seen another school mentioned in the application, which shows the applicant did not carefully ensure each application they were submitting was unique. This can be hard to ignore as an admissions committee member! Have someone you trust read your application before submitting it, this is just good practice for any professional writing you may do in the future.
Keep an open mind. While it is a good idea to have some idea of how you may use your MLIS degree after graduation, it is also okay to indicate that you are not entirely sure of your future career path. This is actually a good sign in my opinion as my initial MLIS path has taken a 180-degree turn from when I first started the program to where I hope to end up working in the next several months. A strong MLIS program will provide a plethora of wonderful courses that may help you figure out what area is actually best for you and where your previous work and education skills may best match. Stay flexible!
In fact, the employment landscape for MLIS graduates is changing and many are finding themselves employed in “non-library” jobs post-graduation as job seekers navigate uncertain terrain. As noted in a May 2021, American Libraries Magazine article The Library Employment Landscape, the LIS job market remains a competitive one post COVID-19 and if you can envision yourself if a nontraditional LIS role, you may be more successful in the job market post-graduation.
Good luck with those MLIS applications to any future students out there! If you do decide to apply and commit to a program, I have a feeling you will not regret your decision and will ultimately find the experience wonderful and worthwhile.
By Erika Whinihan, third year online MLIS student, Information School, University of Washington (firstname.lastname@example.org)