Applying to graduate school may appear daunting, but it does not have to be. The entire procedure may be broken down into seven simple steps:

1. Select the programs for which you want to apply.

2. Make a schedule for your application.

3. Request transcripts and letters of recommendation.

4. Complete any standardized assessments required by the program.

5. Create your resume or curriculum vitae.

6. Write your personal statement and/or statement of purpose.

7. If necessary, prepare for interviews.

Specific graduate school application criteria may differ depending on the type of program and school, so check each school’s website carefully. The main steps, though, are usually the same.

deciding which programs to apply to

The initial stage in the procedure is to select a software. Start by speaking with graduates and current students of the programs you’re interested in, as well as professionals in the field you want to work in after graduation. Ask them the following questions:

• Do I really need a graduate degree? It’s possible that you may pursue this area with your current expertise and education.

• In this field, how important is school prestige? Prestige is incredibly crucial in disciplines like law, although it isn’t as important in many medical fields like nursing or physical therapy.

• Does this institution’s instructors and staff devote enough time to their students? The quality of supervision and teaching, particularly in research, impacts how much you get out of a program.

• Do I stand a chance of being accepted into this program? Aim high, but don’t squander your application money on schools that are out of reach, and make sure you have a few backup plans in mind.

• What is the cost of the program? Many graduate programs provide some form of financial aid, but most students are expected to cover the entire cost through loans and other means.

• How competitive is the employment market for graduates of this program? On their websites, several programs disclose the professional results of their graduates. If one does not exist, you should contact the program’s administrator and request one.

PhD vs. Master’s

One of the most important decisions you’ll have to make is whether to pursue a master’s or a doctoral degree. Master’s degrees, which take 1–2 years to finish, are normally used to build skills for a specific career, whereas PhDs, which take 4–7 years to complete, are used to prepare for a future in academia or research.

Master’s degrees are primarily focused on coursework, though they often include a semester-long thesis or capstone project. In the United States, most PhD programs contain master’s-level curriculum in the first two years. Following that, you’ll spend the majority of your time writing a dissertation, which is a lengthy piece of original research.

Both master’s and PhD programs offer a wage premium of 23 and 26 percent, respectively, above someone with only a high school certificate. Scholarships are occasionally available for master’s degrees, but they are uncommon. In exchange for being a teaching or research assistant, PhD schools frequently eliminate tuition fees and provide a living stipend.

Despite the fact that the master’s degree premium is lower and the upfront cost is usually higher, master’s programs allow you to enter the workforce—and receive the higher wage—much faster than PhD programs.

Making a schedule for your application

The most crucial piece of advice when applying to graduate school is to get started as soon as possible! Whatever type of school you’re applying to, you should start thinking about your plans about 18 months before you start.

Most programs have specific start dates, which are usually 6–9 months in advance. Others offer “rolling” deadlines, which means that the sooner you submit an application, the sooner you’ll hear back. In either case, you should try to submit all of your applications before the new year for a start date in September or October the following year.

Make sure you plan out your application timing thoroughly. Each stage will take longer than you expect, so give yourself lots of time! The chart below shows how much time you’ll need to complete the essential application tasks.

Time allotted for the task

Getting ready for standardized testing

2–5 months, depending on how many tries you require.

Requesting letters of recommendation

To give your recommenders enough time, start 6–8 months before the deadline.

Creating a mission statement

Begin the first draft at least a few months before the deadline, as you’ll need to rewrite and revise a lot. Start earlier if the program requires more than one essay.

Obtaining transcripts

Do this at least 1–2 months before deadlines, just in case something goes wrong.

completing the application forms

Allow at least a month for this—there will almost always be additional details to look up, so it will take longer than you think.

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Requesting transcripts and letters of endorsement

Most graduate school applications require you to provide 2–3 letters of recommendation from past instructors or supervisors in addition to your transcripts.

Transcripts

Even if you weren’t a full-time student, you’ll usually need to present transcripts from every postsecondary institution you attended. This includes time spent studying overseas or taking college classes while still in high school.

Make sure to check the transcripts’ language restrictions. If yours aren’t in English and you’re applying to a university in the United States or the United Kingdom, you’ll almost certainly need to have them professionally translated. Typically, you may post your transcript online and obtain a translated and certified copy within a few days.

Letters of recommendation

One of the most crucial aspects of an application is the letters of recommendation. Consider who you should ask and how you should go about it. These guidelines can help you identify the ideal letters for your application:

• Choose who you want to ask. This should ideally be a prior professor you know well outside of the classroom, but it might also be a manager or research supervisor who can attest to your potential to perform in graduate school.

• Make a meeting request. If at all feasible, discuss the recommendation letter in person. You can skip this step if you know your recommender well and move right to:

• Request a personal referral. Ask if they can produce a “strong” letter of recommendation, which gives them a way out if they can’t!

• Share a draft of your CV and statement of purpose. These can assist your recommender in writing a strong letter that complements the entire story of your application.

• Keep your recommenders informed about forthcoming deadlines. If you haven’t heard back within a few weeks of the deadline, send a courteous reminder.

Exams that are standardized

Most graduate schools in the United States require you to take a standardized exam, whereas most non-American institutions do not, however this has changed dramatically in recent years.

Exam

What exactly does it entail?

GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) • The GRE is required for most graduate school programs in the United States.

• Examines verbal and numerical skills, as well as the ability to produce a logical and well-argued essay.

• Usually given on a computer in a testing center, with the test taker receiving preliminary results at the conclusion of the session.

GRE Subject • Specialized exams that assess students’ knowledge in one of six disciplines: biology, chemistry, physics, psychology, mathematics, and English literature.

• Applicants to many graduate programs that demand a high level of arithmetic must take one of these exams.

• For law school admissions in the United States or Canada, the LSAT (Law School Admissions Test) is required.

• Assesses logical, verbal, and reading comprehension skills.

• Digitally administered, typically in a testing center with other pupils.

GMAT (Graduate Management Admissions Test) • A digitally administered exam for admission to business schools in the United States and Canada (although many now also accept the GRE).

• Assesses verbal and mathematical abilities.

• Adapts to the test taker, displaying harder questions as questions are correctly answered and simpler questions when questions are wrongly answered.

MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test) • Medical school admissions exam of choice.

• At 7.5 hours, this is one of the longest standardized exams.

• Includes questions in chemistry, biology, and psychology, as well as verbal reasoning skills.

Creating a resume

A resume or CV will almost certainly be required. Make careful you stick to the length restrictions. If none are provided, try to keep it to one page or two pages if required.

You don’t have to list every activity you’ve done, but you should include those that are relevant to the program you’re applying for.

You might want to include items like:

• Publications

• Honors and awards

• Expertise (such as computer programming or language skills)

• Professional background

• Volunteering knowledge

If you’re applying to a professional program, such as business school, you should emphasize your work experience. For other programs, you should emphasize your academic and research achievements.

Our resume templates are available as Word documents that you can customize.

1st Resume Template 2nd Resume Template

Creating a mission statement

Your statement of intent is a brief essay that should bring your application together. Make sure the admissions committee understands why you’d be a good fit for the program and why you’re applying.

Make sure you read the statement of purpose instructions thoroughly. Some programs provide you prompts to which you must react in your essay. If you’re applying to several programs, personalize your statement for each.

A strong statement of purpose should have the following elements:

• A summary of your academic and personal history

• Your qualifications and achievements

• Why did you decide to apply to this particular program?

• Your academic objectives for the program, including specific areas you want to research

• Your long-term career goals after completing the program

The statement of purpose should not simply be a paragraph version of your resume. Describe how you directly contributed to any projects or learned from any classes indicated on your resume to add value.

Finally, ensure that your statement is well-written and free of grammatical problems. Check it out with a friend, and don’t be hesitant to hire a professional proofreader if you need another set of eyes.

Personal statement writing

A personal statement is also required for some graduate school applications.

A personal statement is typically less formal than a statement of purpose, allowing more room for your personal history. It should tell a story about who you are and how your life has led you to seek graduate education.

Here are some pointers on how to write an effective personal statement:

• Get your audience’s attention right away.

• Describe your academic and personal growth over time.

• If you’ve encountered challenges in your academic career, explain how you overcame them.

• Explain why you’re interested in this field and how it relates to your previous experiences.

• Look ahead by discussing your professional goals and how this program will assist you in achieving them.

Interview preparation

The final phase in the process is the graduate school interview. Although not all schools hold interviews, if yours does, be prepared:

• Go over the program’s webpage before applying.

• Ask former students about their interviewing experiences.

• Write down responses to frequently asked questions.

• Research articles in the field of study that interests you.

Many interviews ask the same questions, so you should know how you’ll respond to them. Among the most often asked questions are:

• Why should we accept you and what would you add to this program?

• Tell us about the research you’ve done or helped with.

• What about this program appeals to you?

• In this program, who would you like to collaborate with?

• What do you intend to do after you finish this program?

You should also come prepared with some questions for your interviewers. You might wish to inquire about funding opportunities, advisor access, other resource access, and job placement following graduation.