1. Research various programs. Keep an open mind -- you no doubt have preconceived notions. They might prove wrong. Test your assumptions.
There is an ocean of information on the Internet. Dig to find answers. Jot down the most common questions and the answers from each institution you are interested in. Check out chat rooms and blogs.
Other ways to get to know institutions: contact the Admissions Office and set up a time for a chat; visit the campus and sit in on a class, listen to a lecture, mingle with students; find out if you can contact an alumnus, a student and/or a faculty member. Attend a graduate school fair -- pick up the literature but also speak to the people at the programs that interest you the most.
(By the way, we at SAIS Bologna will be holding a series of information sessions -- in Bologna, elsewhere in Europe and online -- between now and the end of the calendar year. We'll be posting a schedule soon.)
Important: Try not to ask questions if the answers can be found on the web. Examples: deadlines for applications, number of students, academic requirements. Dig deeper. An obvious question: What sets your institution apart from University X? How do you see your program changing in the future?
Two blog posts you will want to read: First Steps and Why climb the graduate school mountain?
2. It's never too early to start putting together the application puzzle.
- Check out the SAIS application and the directions to our programs. You can browse the application without committing yourself, saving as you go along. The application does not go to SAIS until you press "submit".
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- If you are a non-native English speaker and want to apply to SAIS Bologna, you will have to take the TOEFL, IELTS or Cambridge exam. For chapter and verse on the English competence entrance requirements for SAIS Bologna, click here.
- SAIS Bologna does not require non-U.S. applicants to take the GRE or the GMAT. However, we strongly encourage applicants to take one or the other. However imperfect the exams may be, they provide a guide to both the applicant and the institution on your preparedness for a rigorous graduate program in English. U.S. citizens who apply to SAIS Bologna are required to take either the GRE or the GMAT.
- You may want to take the standardized tests more than once. In some cases, one has to wait some time between tests. The earlier you get started on these, the better.
- Letters of recommendation: The strongest letters will be written by people who have worked closely with you and know why you are applying to SAIS Bologna. Recommendations that read like form letters -- fill-in-the-blank templates that take the author a few minutes -- stand out like a sore thumb. Make sure your referees know about your motivations and aspirations. That takes time and effort.
Recommended reading: Letters of Recommendation.
- Transcripts: You'll need to submit an official transcript of all your college work. This is not so difficult to obtain from your undergraduate institution. Still, the earlier the better.
- Financial aid: If you are planning on requesting financial aid, you'll need to get some documents in order. For non-U.S. citizens, here is the form. Here is the form for U.S. citizens.
While you are thinking about financial aid, consider why an investment in graduate school makes sense for you. Even students who receive a chunk of aid have to contribute to their costs. In the end, everyone has to make some kind of investment.
Be sure to look at this webpage on financial aid and fellowships. While you're at it, try reading this blog post: Financial Aid.
- Deadlines: Here are the application deadlines for candidates wanting to enter SAIS Bologna in the Fall of 2012:
firstname.lastname@example.org. You can chat with us on Skype (our handle is jhubc.admissions). Our phone number is +39 051 29 17 811 (ask for Admissions).
And of course you can always leave a comment on this blog. We welcome feedback.