Monday, April 22, 2013
Tips for Applying to Graduate School
1. Understand why you want to go to graduate school.
Graduate school isn’t for everyone. Many are able to go straight into employment after their undergraduate education--maybe even out of high school if he or she is a very talented and business savvy individual. My reasoning was that I didn’t feel I had the resources and connections to go straight into the workforce. I would throw in experience in there, but really the only way to get experience is by doing. For me, going to graduate school would put me in an environment where I could get feedback on classwork and commissions from my peers and teachers. It would be more challenging, but not impossible to do this on my own. There are websites like Illustration Age that do a great job helping beginning professionals. Graduate school provides the extra pluses of face-to-face interaction and a critical eye at your beck and call granted you are sharing a studio. Become very familiar with the “why” because you will be writing it down in your applications and verbalizing it at potential interviews.
2. Research and organize your knowledge of potential schools.
There aren’t too many art schools that offer an illustration emphasis for an MFA, so I started with writing down a list of schools that did and went from there. I also looked at schools that didn’t explicitly list an “emphasis”, but had great faculty members and what looked like a well-developed graduate program. It is a title after all, but odds are schools that do offer an illustration emphasis have more illustration faculty and students as well as opportunities specifically aimed towards illustrator padawans.
After you make your list (I made mine digitally), expand it to include everything you find important about the school. This should include strengths and weaknesses. You can list everything from specific faculty members, curriculum, successful graduates from the school, and the financial aid they offer. This list will be helpful in determining which schools to apply for.
3. List your deadlines.
On the same list, or on your calendar, write down the admissions deadlines. Make a note if there are any parts of your admission package that need to be mailed. This may include your transcript, letters of recommendation, portfolio, or Statement of Intent depending on the school. You should move up the deadlines for those parts a week sooner to make sure those materials arrive on time once shipped. Now, you can prioritize which school you need to complete your admissions materials for first.
4. Notify your recommenders early and be informative.
Most schools call for two, some three. Look at what type of recommender the school is looking for. Make sure you are giving your recommender plenty of time to complete your letter of recommendation, especially if it is a mailed letter. Inform your recommender of the deadline and whether the letter needs to be mailed physically or emailed. Also, forward them a description of the recommendation letter from the school website if there is one. Remember to be patient and give a heads-up to your recommender if the deadline is fast-approaching. Send frequent, friendly reminders if need be.
5. Customize your Statements of Intent (a.k.a. Statement of Purpose), but make sure you follow the school’s guidelines.
I thought I was on fire getting all of my statements done first thing. I was very specific to each program, writing down who I wanted to study under, which courses I was looking forward to, and why I thought grad school would make me a better artist. Not a good idea. Whereas some schools are looking for this kind of statement, others are more interested in what exactly you would be doing in their program (building a portfolio aimed at x genre, for example), and still others, why their program is different from the other programs you are applying to. The best way to make a statement that stands out is not to be so formulaic. Answer clearly and specifically the “prompt” that the school provides on their website for the Statement of Intent. You can still get to the point while demonstrating your research of the school.
6. Get an opinion from the inside.
Find a way to contact recent graduates or current students in the program you are applying for. If it is a graduate it is important that it be a recent graduate since a program can change within a matter of years. They may surprise you and can often tell you things about the program that aren’t visible from the website or even a day visit to the campus of your dreams. It is also nice to get to know some of the folks you may be sharing a studio with and maybe even collaborating with in future jobs.
That’s it! Not really. There is much more, but this is is the advice on things I struggled with the most. I did not mention much about portfolios. Those are important, trust me, but I trust you have already developed yours extensively to be thinking about graduate school. I wish you the very best in your endeavors and don’t hesitate to ask me any more questions about the application process!