Perhaps medical illustration is your graduate school niche?

Almost everybody who begins to explore their graduate school options eventually discovers the incredible diversity that exists out there. Graduate degrees are niche. Specializations exist that span a wide and colorful spectrum of opportunities. A world of options exist. People thinking about graduate school typically only apply to programs when they find ones that offer a match to their interests. Often times, they don’t know a niche even exists until they see it for the first time.

I recently exchanged a few emails with Professor John Daugherty, director of a graduate program in Biomedical Visualization at the University of Illinois-Chicago. His program recently renewed its subscription on Gradschoolmatch for another year with hopes of finding and attracting just the right students. That’s a problem every graduate program faces, irrespective of their niche.

And that’s exactly the problem Gradschoolmatch is designed to solve. Our aim is to reduce the friction out there for programs and students alike, to make it easier to find each other and then have an intelligent, high level exchange to decide on fit.

By coincidence, just today I ran across a great article in The Atlantic that describes the field of study in medical illustration and the work one can do. If you are someone with an aptitude for both art and biology, you should take a look at the article and then sign in on Gradschoolmatch to give Professor Daugherty a shout.

In fact, the article features Meredith Osborn, a graduate of UIC’s Master’s in Biomedical Visualization program. Here’s some examples the work by students in the program:


Gradschoolmatch is to guidance like the microwave is to cooking

radarange_so_newI’m not only old enough to remember the first microwave ovens, I’m old enough to remember that they were called radar ranges. Ack! But these machines have been on my mind since the early days of the Gradschoolmatch project.

Our goal was to do what we have done: create a space where guidance happens. The conceptual premise is based upon observations that interactions with someone knowledgeable is how most people end up choosing where to attend graduate school.

At one early point we were advised by an insightful businessman that in Gradschoolmatch we may have another microwave oven story on our hands.

Briefly, in the early days, people were reticent to adopt the microwave because they had perfectly good stoves and ovens with which to accomplish the same result. Sales only grew after the microwave manufacturers were able to convince consumers that microwave cooking could be effective, not to mention quick and convenient.

A similar friction probably exists in the graduate school recruiting space. The old way of doing things is to hope enough applications fly in over the transom and that enough of them are good. At the same time, everybody agrees the status quo is crappy. Really good prospects struggle to find the right place and need our help. Many of them end up in the wrong programs. Meanwhile, seats in really good programs go unfilled.

All of the evidence indicates that one-to-one engagement with prospective students is the driver of better matriculation rates. Still, there is a lot of skepticism that something novel and innovative, like Gradschoolmatch–which promotes one-to-one engagement between programs and prospects–can be a solution.

Here are the most common reactions we get from people, and our responses.

“I don’t know how to recruit.”

You don’t have to. Just offer guidance to someone considering an advanced degree in you specialty. That’s actually very effective recruiting because you know everything about what they are looking for.

“We have a perfectly good program website.”

Great program websites are only useful when the prospects you want find them. Still, they are no replacement for the human touch.

“We have plenty of applications.”

Matriculates are more important than applications. Meanwhile, how many do you lose to other programs in your specialty?

“I don’t have enough time.”

Think of guidance as immunization against dropoutitis. You’ll spend far more time on dealing with the latter.

“Our faculty won’t get involved in recruiting.”

Did they ever have a tool that makes engagement with prospects and offering guidance so easy?

“We just buy email lists.”

The people receiving your spam don’t like spam any more than you like spam.

“Does it work?”

Absolutely. When used the way it is designed.


You Should Know This to Write Your Best Grad School Application

things to know for the grad school applicationAre you applying to graduate school soon? Getting inside the mind of an admissions committee prior to writing up your grad school application can really help present yourself in the best possible light.

Speaking from a lot of direct experience I can distill the admissions committee mind as being pre-occupied mostly by only 3 problems. Address these questions proactively and you’ll make their job easier. Which means they’ll probably like you better. Use this insight in your narrative section, to better provide your value proposition to the committee.

Is the applicant qualified?

For most graduate programs the qualifications boil down to academic background, standardized exam scores, and relevant experiences. These take on different weights given the specialty and the level of degree. But most programs are “full packagers” or “holistic” and so all of them are important. Truly.

There is no getting around the fact that past accomplishments testify to future ability. Therefore, grades and test scores are used to evaluate if you can handle a rigorous curriculum. Work experience is used to assess how well you understand what you are about to start, your motivation, and the expertise you can bring to the table to enhance the overall program culture.

Perfect candidates have the the right undergraduate majors and coursework, high GPA’s in a challenging curriculum, high performance on the standardized exam, and have experiences that clearly express a passion for their chosen graduate specialization.

Everybody program wants the perfect candidate, but most applicants are not perfect.

Therefore, the narrative sections of your grad school application should deal head on with where you underperformed. Bad grades? Explain how you’ve grown responsible through your post-bac work experiences. Crappy exam score? Point out how hard you worked to earn your good grades. Don’t make excuses. Describe how you’ve learned and grown from mistakes.

Is the program a good fit for the applicant?

A surprising number of grad school applications are, in fact, misapplications. The application got to the right address, but the applicant doesn’t realize the program is a poor fit for them.

Why would people spend their valuable time and good money chasing after a slot in a program that doesn’t fit? Good question.

Sometimes it comes from shallow research (eg, thoughtlessly using someones “ranking” index as an application guide). Just not enough due diligence. Other times its more complex. For example, situations where a student feels obligated or even under pressure from others to pursue a degree that the program experts can clearly see the applicant really doesn’t want.

One important duty of the admissions committee is to figure that out for you. As a general rule, admissions committees at graduate programs attempt to avoid compounding a misapplication error by committing a misplacement error. But the system is far from perfect. About a quarter of all graduate students admit they ended up in the wrong programs. That’s a lot of mistakes.

When you are convinced you are a great fit, then you need to be prepared to state your case directly. Point out your qualifications explicitly. Demonstrate you’ve researched the program deeply. Describe how that program is important for the career trajectory you’ve mapped out for yourself. Be assertive. The less arrogant, naive, cliche or canned any of this reads, the better chance it comes off in your favor.

Will the applicant enroll if offered a slot?

Programs are generally careful in handing out admissions offers because graduate students actually cost money to educate. Most programs avoid over-subscribing, less they get in trouble with the university budget demons.

They have to balance that caution against making sure they get the students that they really want. Programs know that their best applicants often have other options.

Meanwhile, students hold off making decisions hoping to have all of their cards on the table before pulling the trigger.

Oftentimes, even the thought of this can lead to quirky, guessing game decision making. What I like to call “You go down there” moments; absurdities driven by uncertainty.

For example, a program may convince itself that you won’t enroll if offered, even though they want you, but they don’t make you an offer fearing it might be “wasted”. Meanwhile, they’ve misread you. You’re more open to going there than they realize…

Look, everybody should just play straight up. As an applicant, be honest about where you are leaning. Somewhere, someone anonymous on the internet wrongly advises this is a great time to play coy. Honestly, it really isn’t.

Remember, in musical chairs, there aren’t enough seats for everybody after the music stops. After you’ve started to get offers, keep in touch with the program to let them know where you stand. Send everybody your decision as soon as possible.


The Right Match

Please click here to go to Diverse Issues in Higher Education, to read Jamaal Abdul-Alim’s excellent article on the role Gradschoolmatch played in helping Alyssa Rodriguez find her fit at Vanderbilt University.

Trust me, this is a worthwhile read, whether you are looking for grad programs or for grad students.

Because this is how its done.


Find students and engage them on Gradschoolmatch

The Gradschoolmatch Director’s control panel

Most students have an influence network and start their graduate program search on the basis of word-of-mouth. That’s always been our key insight. As a result, Gradschoolmatch operates on two very simple premises. First, people in graduate programs are in the best position to guide prospects because they have incredible expertise to offer. Second, prospects benefit greatly when receiving expert guidance.

If word-of-mouth is how they find programs, the most effective way for graduate programs to recruit new students is to join their influence network. Simply find those with the proper backgrounds and interests for your program and offer them some guidance. Recruiting success lies on the human scale.

This is not at all complicated. Take these four simple steps to do that on Gradschoolmatch.

Step 1: Edit Your Profile

Why? Our search engine reads everything that you enter into your graduate program profile. Sure, you want prospects reading all of that. But we take your profile information and turn it into a sophisticated search query. Running automagically in the background, this delivers continuously to your program the prospects who fit best. That saves you from having to run search queries over and over.

How? Click on ‘Edit Profiles‘, then click on the green buttons with white pencils for each section. Fill out everything, find a save button and click it. Most especially, be sure to select a dozen or so academic fields to describe what your program offers. Do the same for the academic fields you like to see in your prospect’s backgrounds.

Step 2: Find Students

Why? Well, it seems obvious, but which is better? Hoping students discover your program, or finding students you’d like to see in your program?

How? After you’ve completed step 1, click on ‘Find Students‘. The students on this list are the output from that sophisticated, running-all-the-time search query I mentioned above.

These prospects in our system best match your program, from top to bottom. We think. If you don’t like who you see, go back and edit your profile until you start seeing the kinds of students you like. To search for others, click on the green button on the top right labeled ‘Search for specific criteria‘.

Step 3: Bookmark Students

Why? Now that you’ve found them, you want them to see you. Bookmark does that. To Bookmark a prospect is to say, “Hi, my program is interested in you!” Students notice that.

How? Open a student’s profile by clicking on their name. If you like who you see, click the big green ‘Bookmark‘ button. Two things follow that. First, Gradschoolmatch delivers an email notifying the student of your interest. Second, their profile automagically transports to your ‘My Prospects page‘, where you can track, sort and rate everybody you’ve Bookmarked…and who has Bookmarked you.

Some student profiles don’t have a lot of information. That just means they haven’t signed in. But they see those emails come in and open a lot of them. A Bookmark from you might be all it takes to get an engagement started.

The data are very clear. Bookmarking generates interest. The programs that pro-actively Bookmark prospects draw the most interest from prospects on the site. Passive programs receive less interest.
Step 4: Message Students

Why? Remember the part about word-of-mouth? Here’s where that really happens.

How? Click on ‘Message‘ on a student’s profile. Type your message and–after giving the Golden Rule some thought–hit the send button.

About that Golden Rule. Do you like spam? Neither do they. So please omit the canned, copy-and-pasted marketing message. Nobody reads that.

Just be yourself, which is undoubtedly personal, friendly, helpful, encouraging, sophisticated and even humorous. And if that is not your personality, then ask one of your grad students who has some to help out!

Provide some quick and to-the-point guidance, and please be sure to key off of something that impressed you in their profile. Then ask for a phone call, or a Skype, or for more information. That’s engagement.

And good grief, if you see enough information that you’d like to see their application, then tell them so!

Please remember that you’re offering to join their influence network. That’s a privileged space.