A graduate program application is much like a job application. Required documents can include a resume, letter of intent, writing sample, research topic, and the like. So how do you make your application shine? Here are a few insights on what the admission committee is looking for and tips on how you can make yourself stand out!
Demonstrate a Fit to Program
Demonstrate to the Admission Committee that you are passionate about the environment and want to make a positive impact and make sure to tailor your application to the program for which you are applying.
Your resume should highlight work and volunteer experience in environment-related fields and any other areas of interest for our program (science, policy, economics, law). If your undergraduate degree was in a less-relevant field, highlight environment electives that you took. Did you write for a school paper or work in a lab? Highlight items that exhibit strong research and writing skills. You should also highlight achievements that involved group or team work in your academic or professional experiences.
Did any of your term papers focus on environmental issues? If so – choose it for your writing sample. (That said, make sure it also demonstrates your ability to write clearly, transition from one thought to another, and present convincing arguments!).
The letter of intent is your chance to convince us that you are a great candidate and that you are passionate about the area in question. Explain how your background makes you an ideal student, clarify any discrepancies in your academic history, and then explain how your goals and ambitions can be achieved with the tools that the program will impart.
Lastly, make sure your statement of research interests is on a subject that reflects the program. Here’s a hint – ours is an interdisciplinary program – so choose a topic that intersects different disciplines and demonstrates a strong methodology.
Do your homework on the program
Would you go to a job interview without researching the company you are applying for? The same rule applies for your application. In your letter of intent, you should provide an overview of your academic interests and career goals, describe your relevant studies or experience, explain anything unusual in your academic history, and explain why you want to pursue this master’s degree. This last section allows you to demonstrate a clear understanding of the program and describe what about the program interests you (the interdisciplinary nature of the program, the co-op option, professors that you would be interested in working with, etc.). When you forget to include this, then it looks like you didn’t take the time to do your research. This can mean one of two things for an admission committee, either a) you aren’t that serious about our program, or b) you aren’t a very good researcher.
Learn how to write a Statement of Research Interest
Many programs will request a Statement of Research Interest. On our website (How to Apply – Required Documents), we provide guidance on what to include in your Statement of Research Interest. We also provide reference material for introductory empirical economics and public policy:
- Wooldridge, J.M. Introductory Econometrics. 4th ed. South-Western, 2009. (chapter 19)
- Weimer, D. and Vining, A. Policy Analysis: Concepts and Practice. 5th ed. Longman, 2010. (chapters 1, 9, 14, 15)
If you have never taken methodology courses, then read up on it! It will strengthen your application and provide some background that will help you wherever you go.
Some key items to keep in mind:
- Make sure that your topic is very specific, that data sources exist, and that the scope of the project is reasonable for the program you are applying to (one-year Research Paper option or the two-year Thesis option).
- Some potential sub-topics for the Methodology section:
- Literature Review
- Choosing Data Sets, or
- Collecting Raw Data (qualitative vs quantitative methods)
- Research potential supervisors ahead of time, you want to find a faculty member who shares your passion and area of interest, and is available to take on a student. See the list of our program’s faculty. To find professors with these research interests elsewhere at uOttawa, see uOttawa Experts. Enter keywords such as “environment” or “climate change” to find professors with these interests.
Best of luck in your application process!
Authored by Kaitlyn Innes, Assistant Director (Graduate Studies) at the Institute of the Environment.