Pitfalls of Admission

The number one reason why applicants are refused admission is because they simply do not meet the minimum requirements (i.e. prerequisite courses). Check the prerequisites of the program carefully. Do not assume that good grades or extracurricular activities can compensate for the lack of a prerequisite; they can’t. However, contact the admissions office and inquire if you can take the missing prerequisite the summer before the program starts. Some programs will grant offers of admission that are conditional upon the completion of a prerequisite prior to the commencement of classes. Be sure to send copies of your registration for the upcoming courses with your application material to prove you have made formal arrangements to enroll.

The number two reason why applicants are refused admission is because the program is not suited to the candidate’s expectations. Be aware of what the program you are applying for is known for and what its strengths are so you can choose a school that meets your needs. Many programs require the applicant to write a personal statement describing their expectations of the program. Please see the section below on personal statements for more detail.

Persons directly involved with the admission process are looking for evidence that an applicant can succeed in the program. Some of the factors they use to assess a candidate’s potential are grade point average, admissions test scores, statement of purpose, resume presentation, reference letters, and an interview. The number of factors used in the admission process varies with the school. For specific information on how you will be assessed and what each school is looking for, please consult the chapter on that particular program and school.

Grade Point Average

If your grade point average in your last two years is 80% or better, admissions personnel will probably not subject it to closer inspection. However, if your average is in the “grey zone,” a percentage or two below the average, it will be looked at more carefully. Please refer to the section “Improve Your Chances of Being Admitted” for advice in this area. If there is a medical reason for low grades, it is to your advantage to provide the admissions officer with an explanation and documented proof.

Remember that grades in the mid-70s with a lot of extracurricular activities are often better than grades in the 80s with no involvement. Also, GPAs that fall slightly below the average can be compensated for by a high admission test score.

For information on the average GPA score required by the various programs, please see the specific program chapters.

A Word About References

This is the one requirement that can probably hurt you more than help you. The admissions committee is expecting to see glowing reports since this is something you have control over. Therefore, nice letters are deadly. A poor reference letter looks even worse because it shows poor judgement on the part of the applicant for having chosen that person.

Do not assume everyone will give a good reference. Only choose people who you know will give you an excellent reference. After all, your references are supposed to be from people who are on your side. Help them to be as informed as possible about what your goals are and what the admissions committee is most interested in. Supply your references with a copy of your resume so they are well informed about all aspects of your background.

Good reference letters are specific and measure results or achievements. The best references are people who know you in a work or school environment. Work references can attest to your ability to get along with colleagues, presentation skills, achievements, initiative, and potential to succeed in the profession. Academic references can comment on leadership ability, working with others, thinking logically, and written and oral communication skills as well as other abilities specific to your situation.

The most powerful effect occurs when all the references comment positively on the same characteristics, and there is a common theme. References from people with powerful titles who do not know you well are less impressive than references from those who have worked closely with you and can accurately evaluate you.

If your teachers/professors only know you as the student who sits in the second row of their class and got a B+ on the last test, here are some suggestions that can help you prepare them to write an excellent reference for you.

  • Do not be intimidated. Teachers/Professors want you to succeed and the fact that you want to continue studying indicates that they must have done their job well. Most teachers/professors are open to getting to know you well enough to write a recommendation.

  • Before you approach a prospective referee, have some direction. Research your options and know what program(s) you want to apply to and why. You should be able to give them a “brief commercial message” that describes which programs you want to apply to and for what reasons.

  • Provide them with information that will help them write you a good reference letter. If writing skills are a criterion for admission (as in journalism), supply them with the best story/assignment/essay that you have ever written. Similarly, if communication skills are important, point out your active participation in the debating club, or that terrific seminar you gave in their class. Also, supply them with a resume that gives them a sense of who you are outside of school.

  • Allot ample time to yourself and to your referee. You might want to meet with your referee initially in September of your final year to let them know about your plans. Approach them again about a month before the application is due to provide them with the specifics and the date it is due. Supplying them with stamped and addressed envelopes makes their job easier. Always check on the status of your application to ensure that your references have been received.

  • When you have given them as much help as you can in getting a good picture of who you are and what you want, ask them if they feel comfortable writing you an excellent reference. Better to find out at this stage than having them send a mediocre letter. Remember that references go directly to the school you are applying to and you never see them. (Some programs will let you submit them as long as the referee has put them in the envelope provided, sealed it, and put their initials across the seal.)



An interview is the best method professional schools have of checking a candidate’s interpersonal and communication skills. Group work and team building are very important parts of some programs and, as a result, more schools are making interviews an integral part of their admission process.

An interview can also be used to answer questions the admissions committee may have about your background, to give marginal applicants another opportunity to present a stronger case, or, in the case of international students, to evaluate their command of the school’s working language. Be prepared. Interviews do not necessarily have to be conducted in person. A brief telephone call to ask a few questions is also an interview. You should be able to provide a concise explanation as to how the program fits into your career goal and how you will benefit.

The Presentation Of Your Resume

Your resume often gives the admissions officer his/her first impression of you and its presentation goes a long way in determining whether or not that impression is a favourable. Some practical suggestions are:

  • It is easier for someone with five or ten years work experience to create a one-page resume than it is for someone with little experience. The average length of a resume for a recent high school or university graduate is two pages since your experience is drawn from extracurricular activities, and interests as well as work experience. The farther back in time you go, the more relevant the experience should be to the program you are applying to. For example, participating in an academic exchange in Malaysia during your third year of university is still relevant when you are 30 and pursuing an international MBA.

  • It should be well organized, with no spelling or grammatical errors. Action verbs should be used to describe your transferable skills, such as “organized,” “initiated,” “supervised,” “implemented,” “surveyed needs,” etc. For programs that stress group work, evidence of interpersonal skills and people-oriented activities is important. Remember to outline your achievements whether they are related to the program or not.

  • Always try to make your resume inviting to read by choosing a legible sized font and by leaving adequate margins and space in between sections.

  • Group all your program-related experience together under one heading called “Related Experience.” By using the word “experience” in the headline, you can include paid or volunteer examples. Then group all unrelated experience under another heading called “Other Experience.” If possible, have your related experience section appear on the first page.
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