Undergrad and grad school applications are not that different after all

By Emma Horner

It’s that time of year where high school and college seniors anxiously wait to learn their fates: which university will they call “home” for the next three or four years?

The undergraduate and graduate school application processes have many similarities. Standout students maintained high GPA’s, impressive test scores, academic transcripts and wrote essays. Both application processes have elements that make students anxious. However, many students find the undergraduate school application is less stressful, mostly because it has less of a “rest of your life” focus.

“It’s more straightforward, simple for undergraduate majors,” said Simmons School of Education and Human Development adviser Kay Kuner.

Graduate school applications at SMU vary depending on which school students wish to attend. First-year Dedman Law School student Morgan Bufkin graduated from SMU in the spring of 2015. She saw many similarities in her undergraduate and graduate schools applications.

“You still have to write essays about how diverse you are, what makes you stand out, what is your most important life experience and why you want to study law,” Bufkin said.

This essay, at both levels, should make the student stand out.

“It should have some emotion in it. Some personality,” Kuner said. “But, it needs to be backed up with real experiences.”

Admission counselor Mackenzie Daniel agrees that both the undergraduate and graduate schools’ application processes are similar.

“I do believe that both sides utilize their applications as a tool to identify students who are incredibly well-rounded,” Daniel said. “Regardless of whether a student is looking to be an undergraduate or graduate member of the SMU community, there is still a desire for students to be academically engaged along with being involved within the collegiate community.”

However similar they may be, Daniel disagrees with Kuner that the undergraduate application is simpler than the graduate school application.

“Neither are simple,” Daniel said. “Both require sincere reflection and demonstration of personal goals and what students hope to gain from being part of the SMU community.”

Kuner thinks that graduate school requires a student to have his or her priorities in sight.

“If you’re going to do graduate school, you have to be pretty serious about it,” Kuner said.

Daniel said the graduate school application requires more forethought and planning from students.

“The graduate application is going to be looking for students to be more focused on their professional career goals,” Daniel said.

Bufkin’s experiences in applying to law schools required her to think about her life three years into the future. She had to consider what would happen after her graduation from law school.

“You really have to be strategic this time about where you want to go to law school, based on reputation, what kinds of courses and career/networking connections they may have access to — things you didn’t have to pay attention to so much when applying for undergraduate,” Bufkin said.

Though the undergraduate and graduate applications have many similarities, they have the one significant difference of four years. Students attend college to have new experiences and grow. Their four years attending an undergraduate university will have changed them, which will be reflected in their applications to graduate school.

“Each occurs during a different time in a student’s life, with the student facing different concerns, questions and priorities,” Daniel said.

When the student repeats the application process as a college senior, rather than a high school senior, only the process is generally the same. The person is not.

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