Carnegie Mellon University recently accepted me into their Heinz College MSISPM Master’s program. The MSISPM, a blend business concepts with information security, program creates leaders that will go on to develop and change the very fabric of technology. MSISPM, stands for; Master of Information Security Policy and Management. The degree will prepare me for high-level abstraction regarding security and management concepts that plague many fortune 500 companies. The acceptance rate for this program is extremely slim. Heinz College received 2,100 applications for the information systems department, 300 were for the MSISPM program. The MSISPM program received 300 applications but only 40-35, estimated for student withdrawals, Heinz College accepts into the program every year. Those are extremely difficult margins to squeeze through to make it to the other side. Therefore, I will discuss my experience, in much detail, for building a robust application that will aid to increase chances of admission. DISCLAIMER! I am not guaranteeing that if you follow what I did that you will be accepted into a program at Carnegie Mellon University. I am only recounting and passing on the various learning experiences I encountered during my journey through the application process. The four main ingredients to build a strong application are the following; Statement of Purpose, Resume, GRE, and References.
Statement of Purpose: Demonstrate Ability
The statement of purpose, a demonstrative piece of literature relating your undergraduate and professional career to graduate school, is the main source of material to showcase your intellectual abilities. Heinz College allotted no more than 1,000 words as the amount to accurately represent your experiences. The readers of this document do not know how smart you are; however, this document is a perfect way to express your talents in a manner that is not overly confident. Mention major projects, professional experiences, certifications, and courses that you have done during your undergraduate career. Do not appear extremely boastful about your successes, which can evoke negative emotion, as the reader traverses your thinking methodology regarding expression of one’s own talents.
Open a word document and start a very rough draft. Do not criticize too yourself too harshly as you begin the writing process. The point of this exercise is to get ideas flowing and to accurately convey your thoughts in the most appropriate manner. Rewrite and keep rewriting your draft until most of the grammar and spelling mistakes are removed from your document. You can also rewrite your draft in different ways, such as paragraph switching, sentence structure, or different ideas, to play around with the flow and tone of the paper. From personal experience, it is much harder to demonstrate your abilities if you only work on a statement of purpose once or twice.
This is what I did for my statement of purpose; I made a draft that was what I consider to be of “okay” quality. Then, I had my professor of which whom I trust closely to review the initial drafts to assist clarifying my ideas I was representing to the audience; however, the reader can be anyone who will give you the truth regarding the critique of your essential concepts you’re conveying. Fresh eyes on the document will aid you in spotting minor mistakes that you otherwise might have missed from too much familiarity with the paper. After my professor made his marks and improvements, I made a second draft out of the new concepts from the first draft and the ideas my professor put forward to maximize my statement of purpose. I compared the two drafts, both the original with updated concepts and corrections along with the second draft that was filled with new concepts and updated concepts, to identify which draft that accurately represented who I was.
I did this so that I could play around with different ideas and points that I wanted to convey. Later I sent another finished draft to my advisor and professor. My advisor made his final remarks, suggestions, and edits to the near-final draft. I took into consideration his view of how the statement of purpose should read. I applied the concepts that I thought would best fit the selection from my professor and me. The final draft was something that I was ultimately happy with. The main goal of this is to construct a draft that you are confident and satisfied with while simultaneously conveying that you are the individual that deserves a spot in the acceptance pool. In conclusion, write many drafts and play around with different concepts that applied to your life, to the program, and the university. Additionally, have someone or many people that you can count on to give you the truth to review your paper.
More curious about writing a statement of purpose? Check my blog focused primarily on writing a statement of purpose.
GRE: Start Now
For those who are genuinely interested in a subject and want to advance to a Master’s or a Ph.D. should start their plan right now. The earlier you start, the better off you will be in the long run. For instance, when I discovered that I wanted to pursue graduate school, I searched high and low for cybersecurity degree during the beginning of my junior year of college. In my estimation, this is a late start to the game. It’s a late start because there is a lot of preparatory work that needs to be done before starting applications. You need to build an all-star resume, statement of purpose, and GRE. A note on the GRE; the GRE is in flux within graduate schools, it is starting to become less sought after as a requisite for graduate applications. But that does not mean you should not try hard on the GRE if applications demand you submit scores! For example, Heinz College said that the GRE can be a good indicator for student performance; however, it is not an end-all for a student’s application. I digress, you will want to start preparing for the GRE and building your resume as soon as possible. The GRE is an intelligence test on topics of math, grammar, verbal, and writing. The test takes about four hours and costs $205.00 (General Test). It is best advised that you start studying or preparing for the test early. If it’s too late to start soon, then change all your gears towards obtaining the goal of getting a good score. As long as the GRE is required, it is smart to perform very well to demonstrate that you have what it takes to fit in the program. Also, the GRE can bolster your application in some areas where it may not be so strong. So when in doubt, study for the test.
Resume: Work Hard, Play Smart
The main goal of the undergraduate school is to leave with a degree in hand. However, for some, the goal is to use the degree to learn more deeply on a subject to which they are acutely passionate. Therefore, undergraduate school is the time to start building a solid resume that you can use for future jobs, or for this instance, a graduate program. The goal is to start building your resume as early as you can. Building a resume takes time and effort. Start by getting a job during the semester that is relevant to your goals. For example, I got a work-study position starting my freshman year and ending my senior year at my undergraduate university in the helpdesk department. The information technology position was an excellent opportunity for me to learn fundamental IT concepts while working towards a degree. Moving forward, I participated in projects on campus and had two internships during my undergraduate career.
You will have a demanding schedule while obtaining good grades. To keep your sanity during this challenging schedule, you should plan out times during the week to relax. You will, however, delay most of the events you want to participate in so that you can get all your work done. Also, get a minor or minors that also apply to your field of study. For example, I got management and entrepreneurship minors. My average credit hours per semester was 15 – 18 credit hours. Thus, I did not have many opportunities to have much time outside of class or work. This may sound overwhelming, but the result is much more satisfying than not obtaining your desired goals. Incorporate all your hard work into your resume to accurately represent everything you have done during your undergraduate career. Your resume and statement of purpose are the most fundamental pieces of material you have in your arsenal for building a great application. Do not put falsehoods into your application. Your references will help make you accountable for your character, ethics, and passions.
References: Connections, Connections, Connections
Establish a strong rapport with a professor/professors in your major of study so that when it comes time to start the application process you can count on a couple professors to mention great things about your work ethic, participation in class, and ability to learn then apply concepts in class. The importance of this factor cannot be stressed more. A useful reference can make or break an application more than the GRE. For example, given the opportunity to speak truthfully about an individual the professor had in class, given a strong rapport was established, the professor will regard you with very high esteem which will significantly benefit your chances of successfully completing your goal. Building a rapport will take time. It took me from sophomore to senior year to create a great rapport with my professor that helped me write my statement of purpose (refer above). After getting to know me and me him, I was able to learn his personal graduate school experiences and apply those to my application.
Not only is this an excellent opportunity for help, but it is a great avenue to learn a different perspective on a topic that is of high importance. The second professor was a new assistant professor that I only knew for around 1 year. This rapport, good but not great, was a way for me to ensure that another professor could express my talents truthfully to CMU. I had a handful of classes with this professor and spoke to him quite frequently. I ask this professor for help. Generally asking for help is always an excellent option for gaining insight as to what the graduate application should look like from experiences high education veterans.
Additionally, asking for help from professors that you admire shows them that you are taking this seriously and want to succeed. So, ask a professor if there is a day that they could sit down with you to discuss genuine questions you have about graduate school. Do not overlook your closest resources at your university for additional help. Lastly, ask a manager from an internship you participated in as a reference. Most, not all, applications ask for at least one professional recommendation. In the case of CMU, they asked for one professional reference to speak on my behalf. The same concept as applied to your professors should be used to professional networking; make significant and long-lasting connections. Great connections and friendships are wonderful ways to advance your career or get into graduate school.
A graduate application is a summarization of who you are in the form of words, experiences, and passions. Now that you know the fundamental values placed on your application material, you can begin the process. It matters not which content you start first, except the GRE. Start on the current document already in your possession and look at it objectively to see which parts can be improved upon. The most essential piece of advice I can give is that you are simply an artist creating a masterpiece for others to feel confident to choose you as a participant in a program. Make your application aesthetically, honestly, and accurately represent yourself in a manner that does not overcompensate in areas for which you may feel insecure. Do not send in an application that you do not 100% confidently believe it represents who you are as a unique individual that is deserving of a spot in a program. Lastly, after you submit the application, sit back relax, and move onto the next important thing in your life until the response arrives.
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