Putting Together a Successful Application

A strong application is essential to be selected for a research opportunity. Make sure you allow sufficient time to create a competitive application. Rather than designating eight hours to do it right before the deadline, start with an hour on a very rough draft two to three weeks before, get feedback, and polish it before the deadline. Request your recommendations early. Faculty members and others want to help you with your application. Make it easier on both of you by making your requests early in the process.

Resumes, Cover Letters, Personal Statements, and Recommendations


Career Development Center
The Career Development Center has information about developing a resume. Select “Resume and Cover Letter” to get started.

Amanda Duffy, The Stem, Assistant Director and Career Counselor, can help with questions on your resume and letter, including  developing and reviewing. Make an appointment with Amanda through Handshake.

Cover Letters

The cover letter is the place that you can really tailor your application to each program, so you’ll want to craft a specific cover letter for each program or opportunity.  Amanda Duffy, The Stem, Assistant Director and Career Counselor, can help with questions on your resume and letter, including  developing and reviewing. Make an appointment with Amanda through Handshake. There are also drop-in appointments Monday-Friday from 2 to 4 p.m. at the CDC in Kagin Commons.

Personal Statements

Most applications ask for some kind of personal statement. You should always follow the word limit. Shorter is okay; longer is not. They may ask for your thoughts on any or all of the following:

  • Research interests
  • Career goals
  • Why you are interested in this program

Research interests

This is where you should tell the reader how you came by your interests—why you chose this topic. Anecdotes from childhood (Even before kindergarten, I loved to lie in the grass and look at the stars) may show an early predilection toward science, but generally you should write in terms of your current thinking and interests. Some things you might focus on in explaining your interest in this area:

  • Classes and projects you particularly enjoyed and professors who inspired you
  • Science classes that provided a set of tools you can use in your research
  • Time you spent in the lab or the field
  • Research experience or any experiments you designed, or helped design, are significant.
  • Describe conversations with professors outside of the classroom that piqued your interest in a research experience.
  • Other relevant opportunities such as research papers, volunteer opportunities, internships.

Generally this information should focus on your recent thoughts and accomplishments. Realize that it is unusual that one student has had all of these experiences and insights. Capitalize on the ones you have had, but most importantly, concentrate on your suitability for the research, desire to learn and participate, and how the experience is valuable to you at this time.

Career goals

You don’t have to have a specific goal or five-year plan.

  • If you can confidently say you want to go to grad school, then say so. But if you aren’t sure, it’s all right to say you have several possibilities in mind. You might discuss how this opportunity will help you further define your career goals and interests.
  • Describe and list your emerging interests and aspirations.
  • Again, this is a good place to tell the story of how you came by these interests.

Why you are interested in this program

Here, you want to say something specific about the program to which you are applying. Saying you want more lab experience isn’t enough. Take a close look at the program and talk about what specifically appeals to you:

  • Is it a good match with your research interests?
  • Does it provide a chance to work with someone in a field that interests you?
  • Is it a chance to gain skills you need, but don’t have?
  • Are you interested in graduate programs at that institution? Which ones? Why?

Other more biographical questions may come up—where did you grow up, what do you do in your spare time, etc. Be honest, but don’t worry too much about them—they are just there to help the reviewer get a more complete picture of you as an individual—the sort of markers that helps make your application unique.

Asking for a Letter of Recommendation

Don’t be shy about asking for letters of recommendation. Your professors understand that this is how the system works.

If you feel like you might not know a faculty member well enough yet, make an appointment with them and use this as an opportunity to get to know them better. Be clear about the number of programs and the deadlines. Letters from faculty members generally carry the most weight, but sometimes staff members, coaches or other supervisors can also provide a strong letter.

Mark Davis, professor of the Biology Department, offered this advice about letters of recommendation:

“The most important thing that I do as a faculty member is to support students in their academic, personal, and professional development. Often this assistance is in the form of letters of recommendation for jobs, off-campus study programs, and graduate and professional schools.

“The more information I have available to me, the better will be my letter of support for you. Thus, I ask that you provide me with specific materials, usually by email, so that I can write you the best letter possible.”

  • A copy of your cover letter, application, or statement of intent for the job or program. This does not need to be your final draft, but this is important because it tells me why you are interested in the job or program.
  • An updated copy of your resume.
  • A list of courses you have taken that are relevant to the desired job/program. Provide this information unless it is already included in your cover letter or application.
  • Your GPA, if it is not included on your resume. If it is good, I may mention it; if it is not so good, I probably will not mention it.
  • Any other information that would be useful to me, e.g., other relevant experiences or abilities, explanations of extenuating circumstances that might explain a low GPA during one year, etc.
  • Specifics regarding how the letter should be submitted, e.g., online or a hard copy. If the former, be sure to give me the link; if the latter, be sure to give me the address.
  • A note stating when each recommendation is due

A final note: if asked on the recommendation form, you should check the box withdrawing your right to see the recommendation. A confidentially written recommendation normally will carry more weight. If you have some doubts regarding the nature of the letter I might write, you should speak to me ahead of time.


To download your transcript go to 1600grand. 

  1. Log in to 1600grand
  2. Go to the Academics Tab
  3. Select Academic Transcript under Academic Records section (upper right corner)
  4. For Transcript level select Undergraduate
  5. For Transcript type select Web Transcript
  6. Highlight information starting with STUDENT INFORMATION (includes name and major) and INSTITUTION CREDIT (which includes classes, grades and GPA)
  7. Copy highlighted material into a word document
  8. Adjust side margins so headers (Attempt Hours, Passed Hours, Earned Hours and Quality Hours) fit on 2 lines
  9. Save as <YOUR NAME Transcript> as a PDF (example: Johnson Transcript)