Guest Contributor: Patti Connor
When I first looked into postgraduate education, I knew it was important to take every advantage I could find in order to best position myself for admission into my programs of choice. There's no way around the fact that postgraduate admission is in most cases extraordinarily competitive. While I was fortunate enough to have compiled a strong undergraduate résumé, I was told by numerous advisors and professors that a postgraduate application can be more about structure and strategy than past academic performance.
Naturally, I started the process online, where there are endless sources of advice regarding choosing the right program and structuring an application. Frankly, an instant favorite was one of the simplest I came across. It was a 2012 tip list from U.S. News & World Report that can serve as a handy reminder of the basic considerations, such as attention to detail and the importance of being yourself (as opposed to embellishing positives or sugar-coating negatives). For the most part, however, online tips like these are somewhat limited. They're often helpful in pointing out strategic ideas and concepts, but actually helping you execute those ideas and concepts is a different story. It's when I realized the execution is the hard part that I decided to look into professional coaching for the postgraduate application process.
Here are some of the benefits I quickly discovered in seeking professional assistance with my application.
To begin with, information about which program is right for you can become far easier to come by when you're working with a professional. Many of us, when applying to both undergraduate and postgraduate programs, rely on national rankings and things of that nature to determine which programs best suit our needs and desires. And that's great for a first look. But when you're working with a professional, you can enjoy additional insight into the strengths and weaknesses of a program.
In my case, I ended up working closely with an undergraduate advisor who had experience in directing students to higher-education programs, but coaching can come from other places as well. There are even paid professionals who help to advise and craft applications. People in these positions have gained the experience and contacts necessary to have the latest helpful information on postgraduate programs. Therefore, they can help you target the right schools.
Next, you may find if you work with a coach or advisor that he or she can pull your best thoughts out of you when it comes to application essays and personal statements. Before I settled on an advisor to help with my own postgraduate applications, I came across a testimonial at the Menlo Coaching site in which a "Ms. K" pointed out her coach's ability to pick out seemingly trivial topics and details from their conversations together that were perfect essay topics. Ms. K also describes her coach's ability to inspire her essay answers without taking over the writing process, with the result that the words in the application were Ms. K's own, and her best.
Now to be clear, this sort of help only comes with a particularly skilled coach. However, it's exactly what you ought to be looking for if you feel you need help with your application. I ultimately found that I had a similar experience as Ms. K. A wise and experienced outside perspective can often find writing angles and experience-based responses that it's sometimes hard for us to find on our own.
Perhaps more important than either of those factors—for me, at least—was the ability to study and practice interview skills. Not every postgraduate admissions process involves an interview, but many do, and this is the step that many prospective students simply aren't properly prepared for.
Once again, tips are the easy part, and there is a lot of very sound advice at various sources online. Campus Explorer has, in my view, one of the best all-inclusive collections of postgraduate interview tips. It includes ideas like learning details about the program in advance, being honest about weaknesses, and much more. But studying up on tips like these is only half the battle. The real value is in having a coach or advisor who actually knows the sort of question to ask you and can help you practice for the interview.
All these things considered, I found coaching to be invaluable in my postgraduate application process. For many, there is simply so much work involved that it's tempting to do all this preparation alone; to hole up at home and work tirelessly on the application. But finding someone with the experience and ability to help with the process can be an altogether smarter use of time.