Applying to Graduate School

The application process for graduate schools varies depending on the program you are applying to. Use these tips as a starting point to help you prepare for applying to graduate schools.

  1. Start your process by researching schools that interest you. Some resources that might help you narrow down your list are the US News Education Rankings,, Peterson’s, Accredited Schools Online, and StartClass.
  2. After deciding on schools, research their application process online. Each application has slight variations, but most require an official transcript, letters of recommendation, a personal statement, a copy of your resume, (link to resume page) and a score from a required admissions exam.
  3. Once you’ve made a list of each school’s requirements and gathered the documents you need to apply, you can begin filling out the application.

The following pages will help you be successful in the graduate school application process. Of course, if you still have questions or would like additional assistance, don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment with an advisor.

Writing a Personal Statement

Most graduate school applications require a personal statement, but each program varies in topic, length, and style. Some schools ask for you to discuss a certain topic or to address a question while others allow you to choose the content of your statement entirely. The personal statement is an opportunity to emphasize your interest and explain why you would be a good fit for the program.

What to Include

A personal statement allows you to share information that may not be easily conveyed in the rest of the application. Here are some key points you should consider including in your personal statement:

  • Demonstrate your eligibility and preparedness for graduate study
  • Explain why you are interested in the program and talk about what you hope to gain
  • Express how you would use the knowledge gained from the program in the future
  • Highlight previous experience and academic work
  • Point out specific faculty whose research and professional interests align with yours

Tips for Success

Remember to proofread your statement and have other people proofread it as well. Visit the writing center and ask someone to check for grammatical errors. You can also schedule an appointment with a career adviser to critique the content of your personal statement. The following tips will also help make your personal statement as strong as possible:

  • Create an outline to help you stay organized and make sure the flow of information is effective
  • Explain your points clearly and concisely
  • Include stories that reinforce your statements and display your personality
  • Form conclusions that explain the meaning of your experience
  • Show in your writing that you have knowledge of the prospective program, e.g., point out classes you would be excited to take and explain how they would help you reach your goals

Mistakes to Avoid

  • Too many “I” statments
  • Spelling and grammatical errors
  • Telling your life story: focus on your interests and goals instead
  • Writing one statement for all schools
  • Restating information from your resume or application
  • Discussing money as a motivating factor
  • Waiting until the last minute to write your personal statement

Letters of Recommendation

The letter of recomendation is a key component of your application because it gives the admission committee a better understanding of who you are as a person, covering information that might not be conveyed by your application.

Whom Should You Ask?

When thinking about whom to ask, first consider who knows you best. Think about professors, advisors, internship supervisors, or employers. The person writing your letter should be able to discuss the quality of your work, positively describe your character, know your educational and career-related goals, and produce a well-written letter. Make sure you are respectful of the person you are asking and ask for the letter well before the deadline. Writing good recommendation letters takes a significant amount of time.

How Should You Ask?

Try to set up an appointment with the person you have in mind. Ask them if they feel they know you well enough to write a letter of recommendation. If they seem hesitant, it might be a good idea to thank them and and ask someone else. If they agree, offer to provide them any documents that might assist them in writing the letter, such as your resume, transcripts, past assignments, or information on the program to which you are applying. Remember to ask for your letter of recommendation well in advance.

Following Up

Follow up with the people writing your recommendations as the application deadline nears. Many schools allow you to track submissions of letters online, but you can always contact the admissions committee for an update. Once you have confirmed that the recommendations have arrived, be sure to thank each person who wrote one.

Admissions Exams

Preparing for admissions exams is an important part of the application process for graduate school. Admissions officers often use exam scores as a method to sort out students they are interested in. They also often play a role in receiving a scholarship or financial aid. The type of test you might take varies depending on the degree you intend to pursue.

Common admissions exams include the GRE, GMAT, LSAT, and MCAT. Contact the admissions office of the prospective graduate program or review the school's website to find out if you need to take an admissions exam.

Worried about studying for your exam? When you know which exam you’ll be taking, you can take test preparation classes to help you prepare.

Interested in learning more about the application process? Schedule an appointment to meet with an advisor.