Every year, hundreds of thousands of students across the United States earn a graduate degree. Many of these are small business owners just like you.

Some people go down this path because it allows them to chase their dream job. Others do so because they’re interested in being better business owners. And of course, there are people who simply enjoy being a student.

While a growing number of people believe that you don’t need a college degree to succeed, that’s not necessarily true. There are certain career fields that require a bachelor’s and master’s degree (if not more).

So, here’s the million-dollar question: what can you do to improve your chances of gaining admission to a graduate program?

With so many students applying to these programs every year, competition is fierce. And for that reason, you need to take steps that put you in the best position to receive an approval letter.

There’s no way of knowing what will happen when you apply to a graduate program, but that shouldn’t stop you from doing all you can to position yourself for success.

Here are five steps you definitely need to take:

Know Your Options

This is where it all starts. You need to know your options, as this will give you a clear idea of where to start.

For example, if you’re interested in MFT programs in California, make a list of each and every one. Leave no stone unturned.

Once you know your options, you can go through them one at a time to compare the pros, cons, and finer details.

Soon enough, you’ll find that some programs are exactly what you’re looking for while others come up short. 

It’s okay to spend as much time as necessary on this step. This will put you on the right path early on, which will only help you in the long run. 

Keep an Open Mind

This is where many people make their first mistake. They turn all their attention to one program. While you may have good reasons for wanting to be part of a particular program, you shouldn’t overlook other options.

Keep an open mind, as you never know when you’ll have to pivot.

Tip: list your top choices in order from most interested to least interested. This will help you prioritize your search, hopefully leading you to one of the programs at or near the top. 

Go Above and Beyond

It’s one thing to apply to a graduate program. It’s another thing entirely to convince the school that you’re a good fit. 

This is why you need to go above and beyond during the application and interview process. 

For example, if the program states that it’s optional to submit an essay with your application, you should absolutely do so. You can rest assured that not every applicant will do this. That immediately puts you in a better position.

Anything you can do, within reason, to stand out from the crowd is something you should consider. You don’t want your application to get lost in the shuffle. You want it to stand out. 

Obtain Top-Notch References 

This is one of those details that can sway the decision committee in one direction or another. 

Some people take the easy way out by asking friends and family for references. This may be okay for one reference, but not all of them.

Think long and hard about who can provide you with a killer reference. Examples include college professors, local business professionals, and current and former employers. 

Once again, this is your opportunity to go above and beyond. If you’re asked for three references, provide five. 

This one detail can make or break the application process, so don’t let it go as an afterthought. Put as much time as necessary into obtaining the best possible references. 

Start Early 

In addition to a list of potential graduate programs, include the application deadline for each one. This is generally the same for most schools, but you should double-check to be sure.

If you don’t apply early enough in the process, you risk the program filling up before you have a chance to do so. As soon as the program begins to accept applications is the date that you should take action.

Not only does this put you at the front of the line, but it also shows the school that you’re engaged and excited about applying. 

Furthermore, if your first choice turns you down, you don’t want to get stuck without a backup plan. 

Important Questions to Answer

Now that you know how to improve your chances of gaining admission to a graduate program, you can turn your attention to any questions weighing on your mind.

Here are some of the most important to address:

  • If you had a choice of any graduate program, which one would it be?
  • How comfortable are you with the costs associated with the programs you’re most interested in?
  • Do you have everything you need to complete the application process?
  • What will you do if you receive a denial from your top choice? Your top three choices?
  • Do you have anyone you can turn to for guidance and advice as you navigate the application process?
  • Are you familiar with the most common mistakes associated with applying to a graduate program?

By addressing these questions, you’ll come to better understand the process as a whole as well as what you can do to put yourself in a position to succeed.

Sweeping your questions and concerns under the rug is a risk you shouldn’t be willing to take. You’re much better off addressing these head-on so that there are no surprises down the road. 

Final Thoughts

So, there you have it. If you take these basic steps, you’ll improve your odds of gaining admission to the graduate program of your choice.

It’s a big step in your life, but you’re sure to have a smile on your face when you finally have a diploma in your hands. Good luck with the application process!