There are many ways to learn more about graduate programs you might be interested in: online chat groups, on-campus information sessions, class visits, and – of course – the program website itself. But perhaps the greatest assets of a graduate program (and your most valuable resources) are the current students themselves! Current students have first-hand experience with the ins and outs of the program and possibly some insight into its admissions process. They have been in your shoes and are often passionate about sharing their experiences and giving advice to prospective students. Here are a few tips on how to connect with current students.
How can I find current students to talk to?
There are a few ways to find current students who can answer your questions about their program. Your first stop should be the program’s website. Some schools will have an “Ask a Student” page that features current students from various backgrounds, along with their contact information. Because these students have agreed to post their information online, they are likely more willing to reply to your email. If you don’t find student ambassadors listed online, reach out to the Admissions Office or Graduate Program Administrator (if a department) directly. They may have student workers whose specific job is to meet or speak with prospective applicants. The Career Center is another option to check out, as it may be able to put you in touch with recent alumni who are willing to help.
Another place to search for current students is the school’s student club directory. Some student clubs have their own websites and may list the names and contact information of their leaders. The benefit of using student clubs to reach out to current students is the ability to connect with someone who shares your personal and/or professional interests and can speak specifically to how that program has been a fit for him/her.
Lastly, LinkedIn is a great resource to search for students attending your dream program. You can filter your search by who might have attended your undergraduate institution as well as past work history to find students most similar to you. The more targeted you can be in your search, the better. If you reach out to someone with common backgrounds and interests, they may be more likely to reply to you.
How do I initiate contact with a current student?
To increase the likelihood of receiving a reply and more useful advice, you should personalize your outreach to current students rather than sending generic emails. Instead of emailing a random student at your target program, look for students who share your interests and background, and highlight those commonalities in your email. Additionally, ask for specific advice from the student. Students will be more willing to respond if you are clear about your intentions and expectations and can establish a connection with them.
How do I prepare for our conversation?
Remember the purpose behind your call. This is an opportunity to learn something beyond what is presented on the school’s website, so use your time wisely. Make a list of questions in advance that will provide value in the application and decision-making process and expose you to the student experience. This might include questions related to specific career opportunities, school culture, and application preparation tips. Start out with a brief introduction of your background, goals, and interest in the school (or program), and follow-up with targeted questions. This person may become an ongoing resource and mentor to you if you enroll. That said, do not expect a current student to review your application or put in a good word for you. Stay true to the intention of your call: to get more information.
What should I do after my call?
With all the commitments of graduate school, it’s important to acknowledge that the student took time out of his or her schedule to talk with you. Write a short thank you email, and make sure to mention what you found particularly helpful from the conversation. If you feel you established a strong connection with a student, ask if s/he would be willing to maintain the relationship during the application process. Students are typically more than willing to keep to answering questions, help you prepare for an interview, or even offer waitlist strategies. Don’t feel as though you should stop with one student’s perspective, however. Talking to multiple students at the same school can give you a more well-rounded picture of the program and present a variety of possible paths to follow.
Kristen received a BA from Boston College and an MS from Northeastern University. She worked at Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management. At MIT, Kristen evaluated applications to several programs, including MBA, M.Fin., M.B.An., MS Management Studies and MBA Early Admission.