5 Tips for QTPOC applying to graduate school

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Graduate school applications are stressful for everyone, but they’re even more stressful if you’re a QTPOC*. At times it can feel like you have to balance who you are as an academic with who you are as a person, or that alone in the process. Below I’ve assembled 5 tips to help you through this process, drawing from my own experiences with grad school applications.

Find an advisor you trust

Grad school’s gonna be long and stressful, so it’s vital that you find someone who you believe will reallys support you and go to bat for you. Don’t be afraid to ask any questions to gauge where they stand politically. The last thing you want is to be stuck with an advisor who turns out to be in the #AllLivesMatter camp or really just doesn’t actively support all of who you are.

Also, make sure the advisor will support you in exactly the study you want to do, especially if it involves identity in any way. Don’t feel the need to settle for an advisor who isn’t the best fit; not only will this reduce the chances of you actually being admitted, but even if you are admitted your time won’t be as worthwhile. It might take some extra effort, but make sure to find an advisor you can fully support you both personally and academically.

Lay it all on the table

In my application essays, I decided to devote a couple sentences to listing out the entirety of my identities and backgrounds. This can be pretty risky, so don’t feel the need to do it. That said, once it’s all out there, there’s no longer the question of whether your advisor and program will support you as a person as well as you as an academic. There won’t be nearly as much anxiety after starting about whether you can be your full self.

Get a feel for the environment

Before you apply or accept an offer from any school, it might be a good idea to get a better understanding of the school and whether the area and campus are a good fit for you. Obviously in-person visits are the best way to do this, but they can also be incredibly expensive and time-consuming.

If you don’t have to ability to visit campuses in person, you can always contact people on campus via email or phone to ask about the area & campus culture. Contacting the community centers, as well as student representatives for different community groups on campus, is a great way to get a less filtered opinion on the area. Even if your potential program and advisor seem amazing, you don’t want to settle for an area that will be toxic, or even potentially dangerous, for you.

Donʻt be afraid to ask for help

If you’re in undergrad, chances are your undergrad institutions has someone who can help in the application process. Also, most graduate programs have someone designated for helping students through the application process. Additionally, you can reach out to your potential advisors, as well as current students in the programs you’re applying to.

There are countless people who there are willing and able to help you through this stressful process. It can feel weird or demanding to ask for so much help — it definitely did for me — but that’s what these people are here for. They all want you to succeed, and all you have to do is ask.

Take advantage of all the resources

One key resource I recommend for all QTPOC to take advantage of is the . This will help your name reach a long list of potential grad schools by only signing up in one place. Plus, when you do apply for grad school, having your name in the system shows that you’ve been taking initiative and are committed to going to grad school, helping your chances even more.

Also, apply to all of the scholarships and grants that you can. Most graduate program chairs will know of potential funding sources and lists of scholarships and grants you can apply to. It can be taxing filling out all of those applications, but having financial support figured out before even starting grad school will alleviate so much potential future stress.

The resources are there for a reason — it’s up to you to take advantage of them. Even if you don’t get any of the scholarships or grants you apply to, the process will give you experience in writing grant applications, which is a crucial skill to have in academia.

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The graduate school application process can be scary and uncertain, but you’re not alone in it all. There’s plenty of support, be it personal or financial, to help you through this process. Lastly, remember to breathe. The grad school application process can be a hectic period, so make sure to take time to actually support yourself as a person. You got this.

*QTPOC: Queer and/or Trans Person of Color

Boricua/Taíno via LBC | PhD student in NREM, UH Manoa | B.S. & M.S. in Earth Systems, Stanford ’17 | financially support at

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