Now that the economy is finally rocking and rolling, you might be thinking about your next big career steps. Will you hop to a new employer, or will you try to muscle to the top in your current organization? Will you change careers, or will you commit to your current career path?

Regardless of your profession or industry, you might want to consider returning to school for a graduate degree. Though master’s degrees (and above) do take time and energy to earn – time and energy that you might want to devote to job experience in the real world – they can enhance your earning potential and qualify you for drastically better jobs in the future. Plus, in graduate school, you can network with professors and peers and gain contacts that can further improve your career prospects.

Still, no step of earning graduate credentials is easy. If you are eager to develop your credentials and boost your career, you first need to learn the mistakes to avoid when applying for graduate-level programs. Here is a quick list of the worst ways to go about graduate school applications that are sure to get you a mailbox full of reject letters.

job rejection

Apply Only to the First or Best Program You Find

You aren’t the only person who wants to improve their career prospects, so you better believe you aren’t the only person applying to graduate programs. Currently, there are more than 50 million students in graduate programs around the country, and that’s only a small fraction of the hordes who apply. At no time during the application process should you assume that you will get into your graduate program of choice – or any graduate program at all.

Instead, experts suggest you should apply to at least three programs and as many as eight. This mix should include your top choice as well as some comparable programs and at minimum one shoo-in school. Applying to more than one program almost guarantees you at least one acceptance and gives you some options should you get into more than one.

Neglect to Research Programs in Any Way

It is a waste of time and money applying to (let alone enrolling in and attending) programs that aren’t properly accredited. Accreditation ensures that the knowledge and skill you are gaining in graduate school are in line with other programs, ensuring you will be adequately prepared for your career after graduation. Recruiters and hiring managers who see unaccredited schools on your resume will throw your job applications in the trash immediately.

Even more than accreditation, you need to be sure that a program is a fit for you. You should be certain that your program will match your current lifestyle; for example, if you want to keep working, you should consider an online or part-time program. Additionally, you should look into the culture of the program to ensure you will feel comfortable amongst your prospective peers and professors. This minimal research will help you determine which graduate programs to apply to.

Ignore Application Guidelines

Creativity and out-of-the-box thinking can only get you so far. If you fail to adhere to critical application guidelines – especially necessary documents, format and deadlines – you can be certain you won’t see a single acceptance letter. Most graduate schools use online portals like ApplyWeb, which make applications faster and easier and make it clear what rules you must follow to apply. If there are any application guidelines you don’t understand, you shouldn’t be afraid to contact the program’s applications office.

Don’t Plan Your Personal Finances

Graduate school isn’t free – it isn’t even cheap. The average debt acquired from graduate-level education is $43,524, but if you plan to pursue extensive graduate education – like a doctorate degree – your expenses could run into the hundreds of thousands. Therefore, before you pursue graduate applications, you need a plan for how you’ll pay for it all.

Most schools are more than willing to help you figure that out. For example, William and Mary’s education counseling admissions office offers financial aid retargets for students, even during the application process. You should look at your current finances, talk to your prospective programs and develop a budget for graduate school and beyond.

Refuse to Tell Your Current Employer

Some people can juggle a full-time graduate program and full-time employment without your employer catching on – but you probably can’t. The extra energy required to learn new knowledge and skills will sap energy from your job, and your boss will eventually notice. That’s why you should tell your employer about your graduate school dreams before you apply. If your studies pertain to your current line of work, your employer might offer to pay for some of all of it. At the very least, they won’t be as hard on you when your work starts to slip.

Applying to graduate school is hard enough; you don’t need to make it harder by doing everything wrong. Follow the above tips, and you are more likely to succeed in a program – and succeed in your subsequent career.