In order to receive the greatest benefit from your time in graduate school, it is essential that you research, in some detail, the graduate program and the graduate faculty.
1. Do Your Homework
The process should begin with a critical examination of your motives and goals in attending graduate school, and your research interests. Productive graduate students are motivated by a keen sense of curiosity and a sincere desire to learn. If your motives for enrollment in graduate school are fear of unemployment, fear of the future, or simply because you earned a scholarship, you should reconsider. Depending on the degree sought, your research interests may be loosely defined (e.g., veterinary virology) or tightly focused (e.g. capsid proteins in EHV1 virus). An outstanding M.Sc. candidate will have a good idea of the research he/she wishes to pursue but, typically, an applicant to an M.Sc. program can be expected to be less focused and can expect more guidance from a thesis advisor in final topic selection, than a Ph.D. applicant whose experience should have focused their research interests.
2. Select Potential Advisors
A year before you want to come here, you should read the faculty profile document to decide which faculty have research interests aligned with yours, and you should read some recent papers by potential advisors and/or their graduate students.
3. Email Potential Advisors
At this point, you should contact potential advisors. You can make an impression by indicating that you actually know something about potential advisors, and indicate why their work interests you. Potential advisors will want to know about your grades and motivations. Indicate whether you currently hold, or expect to win a scholarship. Don't be shy about yourself, your talents, and your ambitions. Give potential advisors lots of time to find ways to fund your research costs and your stipend if this is required.
4. Interview Potential Advisors
After reviewing replies and narrowing the field, you should arrange to meet with faculty to discuss prospects for pursuing graduate work. At this time, you can ascertain the potential advisor's philosophy about graduate education, the potential and stability of research funding and so forth. Potential advisors, at this time, become more familiar with you, and will likely ask their own questions. You should also arrange to speak with your potential advisor's current (or former) graduate students and ask them their views about the advisor, the Department and the University. The selection of an advisor is the most critical step in ensuring a rewarding and happy career as a graduate student. Obviously, there will be some circumstances where applicants from long distances are unable to visit prior to applying for admission. In these cases, active correspondence is highly recommended. The Department or Advisor may have limited funds to defray the travel costs of well-qualified students. Regardless, the application will have the best chance of success if the points listed above are followed.