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Thinking grad school? ‘Cluster’ your courses

Gerald Bradshaw

Gerald Bradshaw

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Updated: June 26, 2014 3:06PM



Dear Mr. Bradshaw,

I am a high school African-American female who will be applying to colleges this year. I hope to apply to Notre Dame and other top universities. Is there any advice you can offer me before I start the application process? I am interested in a long-range strategy.

Signed: Student

Dear Student,

If you were my client I would suggest that you emphasize your well-rounded education and extracurricular experiences in your application. Shoot for the image of a well-balanced student with many accomplishments who is eager to tackle all of the challenges that a top university has to offer. Your application should show your interest in all aspects of campus life: cultural, social, intellectual, political and sports. Leave no stone unturned.

Your resume indicated that you are undecided on a major academic concentration at present but that you are leaning toward biology as a major. You should also consider continuing your classes in French so that you can develop an even greater understanding of the language you were able to make use of in your rewarding summer in France.

An added bonus of focusing on your biology and French studies is that it prevents the admissions committee from stereotyping you as someone who has narrow interests. Remember this strategy is admission-oriented. You still have the option to change your academic concentration after getting in.

I highly recommend a double major — perhaps biology along with an allied science. Keep the majors as close together in content as possible. Harvard calls this “clustering.” Graduate schools want you to have mastered a particular subject area. They are not impressed with students who waste time taking unrelated classes. Focus your undergraduate curriculum on gaining all of the possible knowledge you can in your areas of concentration.

You might also consider a three-year degree. If you graduate in less than four years (think summer school and heavy class loads) you will find that this “fast-tracking” impresses graduate schools.

It is always a good idea to keep detailed information about all of the individuals you contact at each of the universities you apply to. Take good notes and save all emails.

You should assume that the admissions committee will verify each of your contacts. The committee may ask a faculty or staff member his or her opinion of you. Ask intelligent questions and always remember to thank the college rep at the end of your conversation.

These ideas should help you in your application process. Good luck!



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