You’ve search far and wide and narrowed down your selection of PhD programs to a handy list: your safety, preferred and reach schools. Now how do you get into them? Gaining admittance to a PhD program is going to require just as much work as the steps you took to get here, so be ready for plenty of weekends spent compiling applications, making phone calls, sending out emails and even trying to get published!

Sound like a lot? No worries – just take everything one step at a time, starting with what you’ll need.

A pedigree
Beyond the applications themselves, what do you need to make yourself a prime candidate for your chosen PhD programs? To begin with, very good grades. If you hadn’t been scoring mostly As through college, make sure you’ve got some stellar GRE scores to back up your report card. You need to be able to sell yourself as a dedicated student with strong potential, not just a college kid trying to extend his or her education another few years.

Keep in mind, this is also a good place to tout your undergraduate degree. If you’re coming from a strong name school, don’t neglect to play that card. But pedigree doesn’t account for everything. It’s also important that your research potential stand out as exciting and promising.

It’s helpful to have a strong background in whatever you intend to study. If you can show yourself to have studied under respected individuals or in a well-known department during your undergrad years or while getting a M.A., that can be extremely advantageous. That being said, some programs are willing to accept students from outside backgrounds and disciplines, provided they show their proficiency in other ways.

The application essay
Many Phd programs do away with the undergraduate term “application essay” and call this essential bit of writing the “statement of purpose.” This new name should indicate that this essay isn’t like the ones you wrote in high school. In fact, it may be one of the more difficult things you ever write. It will be used by the program admission committee to decide whether you’re actually ready for a Ph.D., much less whether you’re a good fit for the school’s program. Following that, you can expect this piece of writing to be your guiding light through the program. It will help the committee assign you a supervisor and tract.

For that reason, you want your missions statement to be as clear and concise as possible. Do multiple drafts – whether that’s ten, 50 or 100 – and have a team or reliable readers who will help you with revisions and catching typos.

However, it’s also extremely important that your statement of purpose show real potential for not only you as a candidate but your area of research, as well. From a PhD in comparative literature to one in chemical engineering, retreading old ideas won’t draw attention to you. However, being on the cutting edge or showing an interest in reevaluation of old concepts could prove to be useful.

To heighten this appeal, you may want to describe some of the work you’ve already done in this field. Chances are, those with M​.A.s who are now pursuing PhDs will have an easier time with this than grads with B​.A.s only. But demonstrating your previous contributions, small and large, can offer programs compelling evidence to accept you, especially if you’ve been published.

Publishing and your PhD
Part of getting your doctorate is getting published. More often than not, this means having something you’ve written printed or placed online as part of a peer-reviewed journal, according to Next Scientist. If it hasn’t happened to you yet, have no worries, it will. However, being published before heading into a PhD is also helpful. You may only be a supporting author on an all-but-unknown medical study, but it’s experience!

Don’t get overwhelmed
It’s easy to feel as though a PhD is an elusive goal – after all, you’re attempting to surpass the degree that’s called a masters! But getting your doctorate isn’t impossible. Just look at the success stories – and handy advice – a few PhD grads offered at The Daily Muse. Despite diverse career goals and backgrounds, individuals find their ways into and through grad programs and succeed with flying colors!

Master your statement of purpose, make sure your GRE scores are up to snuff and even score yourself some letters of recommendation. But most importantly, know what it is that you want. When you can narrow down your research area crosshairs and be specific and excited about your chosen field, that enthusiasm will carry over to the admissions committee, and they’ll be more than happy to welcome you in.