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As perfection is impossible, channel honesty and self-awareness in your graduate school application

As part of the Daniels graduate admissions team for more than five years, director Samantha Nesper has evaluated a broad spectrum of applications.

Although conventional wisdom—and so-called online experts—point to a pristine GPA and a perfect GMAT or GRE score as the golden ticket to admission, she’s quick to dispel such presumptions. Just as valuable is an individual’s emotional intelligence, or EQ.

“We’re not looking to fill classrooms with a bunch of drones with perfect metrics,” Nesper said. “We’re looking to fill Daniels with diverse perspectives and backgrounds. To do that, we have to understand that every student follows a different journey.”

And since each student’s distinct path to Daniels’ door invariably includes missteps and detours, an application should openly and earnestly address the low points as well as the highs.

Samantha Nesper

Samantha Nesper

A comprehensive assessment

Each application Daniels receives goes through at least four evaluations:

  • Admissions officers weigh academic evidence through core transcript components, such as GPA and test scores, and mine additional insight from trends, blips and extraneous factors.
  • The team reviews an applicant’s professional history to assess whether it’s relevant to the program and the applicant’s career goals.
  • They evaluate essays, resumes and emails for content, professionalism, personality and honesty.
  • The team gains deeper, face-to-face insight into the individual behind the application through the interview.

In addition, many applications are subject to one or two further reviews. For example, a career services representative or the director of a specific program may be invited to weigh in on the candidate before the entire package is sent to Nesper for the final decision.

“I know it’s a somewhat buzzy thing to say, but we honestly take a holistic view of each application because the reality is that metrics are never just metrics,” Nesper said. “We’re trying to discern the narrative of where the student has been, where they are and where they want to be.”

Address the bad with the good

As part of that foundational narrative, incorporating blemishes is understandably challenging, especially while avoiding oversharing. To navigate the fine lines, Nesper recommended stepping back and examining how less-than-ideal experiences changed your life.

“Share why it happened in the past, what you learned from it and why it won’t happen in the future,” she said. “Owning your flaws and turning that into an opportunity to explain how you want to grow is also an indicator that you’re seeing grad school as more than gaining some quantitative acumen or getting a promotion at work.”

Notably, Nesper looks for applicants to address subpar academic results, either overall or within a specific period, employment gaps, low test scores and specific incidents within an academic or criminal record.

Within the Daniels application, ideal venues to address such issues are the optional open-ended third essay or the interview.

“Use candor and be professional,” Nesper said. “But in no way sugarcoat things. We’ll see right through that, and it will be detrimental to your application.”

Ideally, you set the tone

Admission to Daniels is based on:

  • Evidence of academic capacity
  • Indicators of professional fit
  • EQ as reflected in a candidate’s likely contribution to the Daniels culture and fellow students’ success

Given the abundance of qualitative measures inherent in the admissions process, your ability to acknowledge and assess your personal journey’s twists and turns is essential.

“Such context humanizes the applicant, demonstrates integrity and prevents the graduate admissions team from using their imaginations to connect the dots,” Nesper said. “By leaving interpretation up to the reviewers, you risk wrong conclusions.”

Please visit DU’s COVID-19 website and subscribe to @uofdenver Twitter for updates regarding COVID-19.

Please visit DU’s COVID-19 website and subscribe to @uofdenver Twitter for updates regarding COVID-19.