Tag Archives: Graduate application

What Makes a Good Graduate Program?

The most prominent factors I considered when looking at graduate school programs

By Audrey Balaska, Mechanical Engineering: Human-Robot Interaction Ph.D. Student

As you may have figured out, I am a graduate student at Tufts University. Specifically, I am a first-year student in the Mechanical Engineering and Human-Robot Interaction joint Ph.D. program. Before coming to Tufts, I received my B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of New Hampshire in May 2019.

Since I’m such a new student, the application process is still fresh in my mind. One of the steps I found the most challenging was deciding which schools to apply to and then which position to actually accept. I’m going to talk about my personal journey, and if this doesn’t resonate with you, that’s ok! There are many paths one can take to get to graduate school

Deciding where to apply to

When I was considering schools, I learned about them in a variety of ways. Some I found through online research on labs which had rehabilitation engineering as a research area. Others I remembered from my search for undergraduate programs. Some I learned about because faculty recommended them to me based on my research interests. And some, like Tufts, I learned about at a graduate school fair.

Rather than inundate you with further information regarding every school I looked at, I’m going to explain to you why I decided to apply to Tufts, and why I ultimately decided to come here for my graduate degree.

Like I said, I learned about Tufts University from a graduate school fair – specifically, the one at the Tau Beta Pi (the oldest engineering honors society in the United States) National Convention in Fall 2018. While a decent number of schools were represented at this fair, I did not apply to all of them. I first decided to look more into Tufts because the representative from Tufts University showed genuine enthusiasm for the school, and was able to tell me some specific aspects of Tufts University I might find interesting after I told her my research interests. Having someone so knowledgeable about the school at the fair reflected really well to me. Just because someone you meet from a school isn’t in your research area, doesn’t mean they don’t reflect the university’s community and environment.

Meeting someone from the graduate admissions staff wasn’t enough to get me to apply, though. That occurred when I researched the program more and found classes and research labs closely related to my own research interests.

Deciding to Attend Tufts

Then, I got into Tufts University, along with a couple of other schools. That was when I had to make the big decision of where to spend the next 4-6 years of my life.

One thing that I didn’t consider much when applying to schools, but definitely did at this stage, was the location. I realized after some thought that I really wanted to be close to a city, or even in one. That caused me to decline one school, and pushed Tufts even higher on my list.

Another thing that I really liked about Tufts was the graduate student environment. Tufts University has some awesome graduate student organizations, and hosts multiple professional and social events each semester. Not all universities have this, and it was something I was excited to see existed at Tufts.

Most importantly, however, was my advisor. I got to speak with him via Skype during my winter break after I applied, and then got to meet him in person once I had been accepted to the program. Both times I found that I liked his personality, his research, and his leadership style. Honestly, having met him, it became very easy to say yes to Tufts. If you are applying to doctoral programs, make sure you take the time to try and meet your potential advisors. I had other potential advisors whose research appealed to me, but found that when talking to them our personalities were not a great match.

Ultimately, when deciding on a graduate program it is crucial to decide what is most important to you. I realized I cared a lot more about my location than I initially thought, but some people I know really had not cared about where their school was. Before deciding on a school, take the time to decide what is actually important to you. Maybe, one day, the school that you pick will be Tufts!

Tips and Tricks for Your Grad School Application

Written by Ruaidhri Crofton, History & Museum Studies M.A. 2020

Anyone who as ever worked on an application, whether for a job, school, or scholarship, knows the mixed feelings that come along with it. On the one hand, you are excited to put your best foot forward and show the people who are reviewing your application the awesome person you are. On the other hand, there is the nervousness that comes with putting yourself in what may seem like a vulnerable position. Will they like me? Am I what they are looking for? How will I ever manage to get everything I need to do done for this application? For those who are considering applying to a graduate program at Tufts, or anywhere else for that matter, here are a few tips and tricks I found useful when completing my applications.

1. Map out the application requirements

Unlike applying for undergraduate programs where useful tools like the Common Application serve to guide you through a seemingly endless number of questions, requirements, and deadlines, applications for graduate programs mostly stand on their own. As a result, you will likely find yourself having to make separate application accounts for each of the schools to which you are applying and contending with a variety of different requirements that can quickly become difficult to keep track of. To stay on top of applications and deadlines, I found it helpful to make a list of each program I was applying to, the application deadline, and the various steps I needed to complete before I could submit it (completing writing samples, letters of recommendation, transcripts, etc.). As I completed steps in the process, it felt rewarding to be able to cross items off before moving on to the next one. Other systems might work better for different people. However, as long as you have some sort of system to organize what you need to do on time, that’s what’s important!

2. Identify recommenders early

Requesting letters of recommendation from professors or supervisors you have worked with is perhaps one of the most stressful parts of the application process because it is the one you have the least amount of control over completing. However, you can make things a lot easier on yourself and the person writing a recommendation for you by identifying recommenders who can best speak to your skills and requesting their assistance as soon as possible. Typically, a month or so should be the minimum amount of notice you give when requesting a letter of recommendation. In addition to simply being considerate of your recommender’s time, it also ensures that you have time to find another person to ask should a prospective recommender reject your request for whatever reason. Being clear in providing your recommenders with deadlines for each of your applications and any additional information that might help them write their letter (such as your resume or CV) can also make the process easier for you both.

3. Get thinking about the path you want to take

If you are considering applying to a graduate program, you are probably already pretty passionate about the field you want to spend your time studying in depth. However, you will likely find it useful to start thinking about what your specific area of focus within that field might be. Of course, there is no expectation that you will concretely decide exactly what you will be studying and how you will be studying it before you have even been accepted into a program. However, many programs request that you provide a bit of information about a potential area of focus in your application. Some may also ask you to identify a professor or two in the department who you think would best serve as an advisor to you based on similar research interests. Having at least begun to think about your focus can also help you to narrow down specific programs that might be best for you to spend your time applying to and will only serve to benefit you once you are accepted to a program and begin your studies.

4. Be yourself and don’t stress!

This is something I always make sure to emphasize. Many people seem to think that admissions committees are only looking for very specific things when making an admissions decision and that they need to somehow embellish their application in order to appeal to exactly what the committee is looking for. Of course, sell yourself as the awesome applicant you are, but at the same make sure to be yourself! Though the people reading applications are certainly looking for good students who will positively contribute to their community, this is all relative to the individual applicant and program. There isn’t a specific personal statement topic or GRE score that will automatically guarantee that you will be admitted, so why add extra stress to what is already a stressful process? That being said, make sure to put your best foot forward! Double and triple check your personal statement and maybe ask a friend to read it over too. Set aside some time to study and take some practice GRE tests. But remember, each item is just one part of your overall application.

5. Questions? Don’t Be Afraid to Ask!

There are so many aspects of applying to grad school that simply cannot be covered in a few quick “tips and tricks”, especially in regard to the specifics of each graduate program’s individual requirements. As a result, if you ever find yourself confused about application requirements or have other questions about applying to programs at Tufts, you should not hesitate to reach out to one of the wonderful staff members in the Office of Graduate Admissions via email at gradadmissions@tufts.edu or telephone at (617) 627-3395. You can also reach out to the department you are applying to directly using the contact information on their website.

How to get into the graduate school of your dreams and navigating the application process

Written by Karen Panetta

Associate Dean of the School of Engineering, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering


It’s application time and thousands of students are scrambling to figure out what to do with their lives. For those that decide to apply to graduate school, the race is on to find schools, decipher mounds of program information and determine where to spend your money applying too. This blog is to give you the inside scoop on how to apply, the most common mistakes and strategies for getting funding and aid.

What do I know? Well, I do review every application that comes in to the graduate engineering program at Tufts and get to see the spectrum of amazing candidates. Then again, I also see applications and requests from really good students who simply don’t know how to put their best foot forward and develop a strong and compelling application. This really makes me sad because if students just had a stronger understanding ofthe application process, they would be successful.   It is the latter students that inspired me to write this blog to help prevent the many faux pas that doom an application.

Making Contact and Researching Programs:

First of all, when searching on programs to apply too, it really does help to make contact with professor you wish to do research with. Please do this with sincerity and no fishing!  This means do not send email blasts of the same form letter to every faculty member in a department at tons of institutions. This “throw your resume at the wall to see what sticks” is a sure fire way to get your resume thrown into the spam folder. Also, please take the time to know who you are writing too. For example, consider the following example.

Dear Sir/Madam, I want to do research under your advisement.

Please use the professor’s name and take the time to figure out if who you are writing too is a “sir” or a “madam”. When I receive a “Dear Sir, I want to do research in your area of….” and then the letter lists the incorrect research area, I know that I am not really that special and that the student isn’t really aware of my lab’s research. The “Dear Sir” greeting also makes me review my online photos to see if I look so bad, that people confuse me with being a guy. Joking aside, this is another indicator that the student really didn’t spend anytime investigating who I am or what I do.

The best approach is to get connected to a professor from a conference you attended and/or spoke too, or a colleague of your current professors. Getting in contact with a current graduate student in a lab is also a good way to see if you would be a good match for that professor’s research.

When I get a call from one of my colleagues saying, “This student is awesome.” I go out of my way to look out for that application and share that knowledge with my nice colleagues. If I see a student present at a conference and I like their work or simply like the way the student presents themselves, I will approach them. I am just as happy when I am making a presentation and students approach me. The fact that students attend professional conferences in their discipline and have their work presented there, even if it’s a poster presentation, makes these students stand out above from even all the competing perfect grade point average(GPA),  standardized test scoring students.

This brings up another issue, what do you do if your GPA is not stellar?  Is this a death sentence? No!  So, you puked in math your freshman year, so what?  We all know that the life transitions from high school to college can be a punch in the face for many students. We look for growth and improvement and so should you! You should strive for this, rather than wasting your time on useless professor rating websites venting your frustrations or dwelling on that one lousy grade. It’s not a life!

The personal statement essay and application process:

Your application essay should take on issues like this head on and tell us how you have grown and learned about yourself. We review the official transcripts and want to see students take accountability for all aspects of their lives. This shows us you are open and willing to present an honest accounting of your past, which makes us think that the future aspirations you discuss in your essay are true and from the heart.

We ask, “why you want to go to graduate school?”

One response I have seen said, “I don’t like making deadlines, so I prefer not to get a real job.”

Yipes! Students in graduate school have plenty of deadlines and need to be adept at multitasking. We choose teaching assistants who exhibit a genuine desire to teach and mentor students and those who will know that timely feedback on graded assignments and laboratory reports is essential.

We look for students that aren’t afraid to try different research approaches, students who don’t give up and know trial and error is part of research and most importantly, students who manage their time well. Doing things last minute or spending a few minutes doing an assignment right before meeting with the Professor is not cool. Professors have eyes in the back of our heads. We know how much time and effort someone put into a task. This also applies to completing your applications. If you wait until the last minute to submit your application and expect letters of recommendation, you are stressing out your letter writers. How can they tell a story of how organized and professional you are, if you don’t even provide them enough notice to write a letter? Furthermore, your application will not make it to the reviewing department for the program you selected, until all your application materials are received by the admissions office. This means that your incomplete application sits idle, while the competition is running ahead and having their applications reach the hands of the faculty reviewers. No school will hold up the review process for a few applications sitting incomplete in a holding pattern.

Let’s talk about choosing letter writers. Having a professor write that you got an “A” in their class is not really useful. We can see that on the student’s transcript. Try to get people you worked for during internships, professors you have worked for, or professors that know you from your advanced coursework or senior capstone design. We want to hear about your interactions with others, your accomplishments, your ability to conduct independent tasks and your ability to seek out and utilize resources.

In your essay, tell us about what project, class or task sparked your interest to pursue graduate studies. Tell us about your personal interests and show us that you are more than just the classes you took. Tell us what new skills and competencies you gained throughout your adventures in academia and/or travels or volunteerism.  Give letter writers plenty of time to write their letters and supply them with both your CV and a copy of your research statement so they know what your plans are. This helps your letter writer focus on things that strengthen your case. Make sure when you fill in the letter writer’s information in the online reference forms that you try to supply as much information as possible, such as their title and contact information. Get their title correct! For instance, I am Dr., Professor, or Dean Panetta.  “Mrs. Panetta” is not me, she is my mother.

Filling in as much information for your letter writer saves her/him quite a bit of time filling in the online review forms. Make sure you don’t bombard the same letter writer with too many application reference requests. Ask the individual up front how many letters she/he will be willing to do. Remember, different schools may ask different questions for the reference writer, so it’s not as simple as uploading the same letter repeatedly. Please don’t forget to thank your letter writers. We don’t expect your first born, but it is nice to know that you appreciated us spending our holiday breaks sitting at a computer writing and submitting letters on your behalf.

Funding and Financial aid and Assistantship positions

Finally, there’s always the question of financial aid and support. Please be honest about your financial needs. Stating in the application that no funding or aid is required and then gambling on the chance that once on campus, the student can find funding is not a strategy!

There are three types of ways to be funded, a teaching assistantship(TA), usually paid by the department or school and a research assistantship(RA), paid by the faculty member out offer/his grant funding or a tuition scholarship. TA and RA positions come with full tuition scholarships and a stipend. If you receive a research assistantship, know that you are committing to work with the faculty member funding you. This means if a student really doesn’t want to work in that area or work with the faculty member giving them the offer, the student can not simply decide to change topics or advisers and keep the research position. It’s the faculty member’s money to support their research initiatives. They decide who receives it. Teaching assistant positions may be more flexible, so be sure to highlight courses you feel comfortable teaching in your essay. There are also tuition scholarships. These defer the costs of some portion of the tuition and may not necessarily include a stipend. If you have other funding awards like external fellowships or grants and scholarships for graduate studies, make sure you proudly convey this.

Finally, tell us your thoughts about your research directions and aspirations. Be honest about your accomplishments and learning experiences.  We don’t expect you to be experts, so go ahead and dream big. It’s our job to get you to become experts and help you make those big dreams a reality!

I look forward to seeing your application!

Dean Panetta