Saturday morning thoughts on grad school applications

There’s a huge amount of luck involved. Worry as much, if not more, about letters and your personal statement as you do about your GPA. Have a clear reason for wanting to go to the school/program that you’re applying for and communicate that throughout your application.

Rohan Alexander true


Grad school application season is mostly done. I wanted to quickly put together some general thoughts in case they’re helpful for undergraduates applying next year. Please keep in mind that I’m new and interested in applied statistics. This advice probably doesn’t apply for more-experienced, or less-applied, folks.

The main takeaways:

These thoughts are specific to me. You need to get advice from your own advisors, and in particular the faculty that are going to write you letters, but more on that later.

CV and personal statement

Be clear about why you’re applying, show evidence of your work, and weave that into your narrative. When you do sales, the key to everything is identifying a ‘champion’ in the firm that you want to sell to. Your job in sales is then to give that person the information they need to sell the rest of the firm on it. When you’re applying to grad school, it’s a similar situation. You don’t need all the faculty to love your application - you just need at least one of the reviewers to love it and for no one to hate it enough to veto. Your personal statement is a sales opportunity and will be when the faculty reviewers work out who they advocate for. It’s hard to recover from a bad personal statement. You should get your letter writers to review it before you send it.


The best letters are from folks that know you and your work. You need to spend a huge amount of effort getting decent letters. They’re as important, if not more, as your GPA.


Grades are important, but not everything. Your transcript needs to reflect the narrative that you’re telling in the rest of the application.

Concluding remarks

Getting in anywhere requires a healthy dose of luck. It’s not a reflection of your worth as an academic, and especially not as a person. You can’t control who reviews your application, or who has funding to take students that year, or the other students applying that year. There’s also just incredible competition for these spots. There’s an awful lot of chance involved. There’s nothing you can do about this other than not tie your self-worth to it.


Without wanting to implicate her in anything said here, thanks to Monica Alexander for reading many drafts of this.