The founder of The Art of Applying shares her top tips for securing a spot in the country’s most coveted graduate programs.

By Hannah J. Phillips, Illustration by Madison Weakley

In the summer of 2009, Austin native Kaneisha Grayson was interning with Nestle USA and heading into her third year at Harvard Business School, working on her Master of Business Adminstration degree. With a Master of Public Administration degree already under her belt from Harvard University’s Kennedy School, Grayson remembers fielding questions from friends about how she got into grad school twice without high test scores. After hosting a conference call to share her strategies, she turned it into a business, and The Art of Applying was born. This month marks 10 years since she took on her first clients, growing her company from her own laptop into an international million-dollar business. In a decade, Grayson and her team have helped more than 1,000 clients get accepted and win more than a combined total of $12.3 million in scholarships to their dream schools. With application season in full swing, she sat down with Austin Woman to share her tips for getting into grad school.


“As women, we sometimes downplay our achievements or career ambitions because we don’t want to brag or sound unrealistic. I tell my clients, ‘Avoid we speak. Detail the contributions you made, not just your team.’ Describe your achievements using numbers to quantify the results of your efforts, then be specific about [what] you can do in [the] future. Help the school buy into a vivid, clear vision of what you can achieve with that education. Do they want to miss out on the next Sheryl Sandberg? No, so outline immediate, midterm and long-term career goals. Naming specific companies and specific roles gives the admissions committee an opportunity to buy into the greatest vision for your career.”


“You wouldn’t wait to apply for a dream job until you feel fully qualified, so don’t wait to apply for the best schools until you have every single box checked. Because they aren’t desperately clinging to their rankings, the most prestigious schools often take more risks on what I call wild-card or beauty-mark candidates. After getting several rejections, one client recently came to us with a low GRE [graduate-school entry exam]. Through our signature applicant accelerator, our team helped secure her a full scholarship to [the University of Texas]. She could have taken that initial rejection and applied to lower-ranking schools, but she just needed a different strategy.”


“Our flaws and weaknesses are what make us interesting, so rather than concealing that beauty mark, I encourage my clients to write the optional essay. Concisely and unapologetically address each weakness in your profile that may be a concern, proving what you learned from that misstep. Outline the challenge you faced and what support systems you’ve since set up for your success in grad school and beyond.”


“We have very little control over most parts of the application. We cannot change our GPA or the jobs we’ve had, but we can tell our story in a compelling and authentic way to stand out. Make sure your essay incorporates what I call the juicy-story framework, where characters have thoughts and feelings. Describe the alternatives you considered and why you chose the path you did, and give yourself time to write. Drafting your essays early gives time to reflect and get feedback during the process.”


“Create an application board of advisors, a group of people invested in your grad-school success, bearing in mind that this may not include your current supervisor if telling them would compromise your job. Choose people who know you professionally, personally and academically, who will read your essays, answer questions and cheer you on. Working with a professional can also make the difference between getting into a higher-ranked school. You’ll get a better return on your investment, which means you can command a higher salary after graduation.”



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