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I got into Dartmouth and Duke a year after I got rejected from every grad school I applied to. These are the 4 things I did differently.

  • Raman Dutt spent his undergraduate years preparing his résumé to ace grad-school applications.
  • He was rejected from every one he applied to. A year later, he had offers from Duke and Dartmouth. 
  • He shares four ways he changed his approach to be successful. 
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Throughout my undergraduate years at Shiv Nadar University in India, I published papers, won competitions, headed societies, and excelled in my studies to increase my chances of getting into graduate school.

When I applied to graduate programs at Georgia Tech, ETH Zurich, the University of Toronto, and UCLA, I was confident I had done everything right — until the rejections rolled in.

This year, I received offers from Duke and Dartmouth, and I accepted a fully funded integrated masters and doctoral program at the University of Edinburgh. 

These are the four main things I did differently the second time around.

Find your niche 

The competitive nature of the graduate-admissions process means it’s important for students to have a niche. In my first attempt, I indicated an interest in a number of topics on a superficial level, which was reflected in the broad scope of the programs I applied to. 

The next year, I narrowed my research areas. This meant I could delve deeper into my chosen subjects, publish high-quality papers, and most importantly, shortlist graduate schools and programs specific to my niche. The more specific the program, the smaller the applicant pool. 

Make your statement of purpose informative

Almost every other piece of advice I’d heard about writing my application’s statement of purpose was that it should contain “hooks” to make it sound interesting. 

But the problem is most applicants haven’t really thought through why they’re applying in the first place — a major mistake that I made initially as well.

I focused too much on making it creative rather than making it informative. The statement is where you communicate your goals and ambitions, explain what you did until now and what you plan to do next.

In my second attempt, I focused on justifying each aspect of my background, answering questions like, “Why was I interested in my chosen field of interest?,” “How did my prior experience align with my future goals and with the goals of this program?,” and “What motivates me to work with a certain faculty?”

Use LinkedIn and Twitter to your advantage 

Academics love advertising their research. Twitter and LinkedIn are the perfect places to engage with them, networking with prospective supervisors, learning more about open positions in their groups, and staying up-to-date about research coming out in your subject. 

In my first attempt, I was barely active on these platforms, so missed out on a ton of information I could have referenced in my statement of purpose.

For instance, a week before I applied, Duke University tweeted that they were setting up the Duke Center for Artificial Intelligence in Radiology. I included it in my statement of purpose. Sometimes just being informed can be a game changer. 

Research every program, then organize them to stay on top of the details

Organizing your applications is not just about noting down deadlines. On my first attempt, I noted only details like my GRE scores and English language requirement scores to each university and whether my letters of recommendation had been uploaded on time.

The following year, I did thorough research into every program I was interested in. I read about professors involved with the program, checking whether they were looking for new grad students and shortlisting their papers that aligned with my research.  

Being able to stay on top of all these details and transferring them effectively into your statement of purpose proves that you have gone the extra mile.

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