What to Know Before Applying to Grad Schools
These useful tips can help you understand the application process for graduate schools.
Deadlines for applications are usually six to nine months before the program begins.
Application fees range from $50 to more than $85.
The list of requirements typically includes transcripts, test scores, recommendation letters, a resume or CV, and a personal statement.
A statement of purpose, portfolio, interview, and writing sample may also be required.
Are you a recent college graduate or someone seeking to change careers? Do you plan on applying to grad schools? Choosing to pursue higher education through graduate school is a big decision that requires careful consideration and preparation.
In this article, we’ll elaborate on various requirements you need to know about before applying to graduate schools and share valuable insights to help you understand the application process.
Requirements You Should Know Before Applying to Grad Schools
You should know right from the start that application and admission requirements vary from university to university, and some schools may have more requirements than others.
For most graduate schools, the deadlines for admissions are six to nine months before the start of the program. On the other hand, some universities admit new students on a rolling basis. That means they review applications as they come, so it's advisable to apply as early as possible.
In the sections below, we'll provide more details about grad school requirements, including those relating to the application form, transcripts, test scores, recommendation letters, a resume/CV, and a personal statement.
It’s crucial to submit transcripts when applying, so you'll have to request official copies from the school where you studied for your undergraduate degree. A transcript usually costs from $15 to $20 per copy.
In most cases you must send a certificated copy of the transcript, but in some cases, you can submit non-certified copies at the beginning of the process and then provide the official documents later.
Your Grade Point Average (GPA) shows your overall performance in the undergraduate courses you took. The minimum GPA score required can vary depending on the institution.
To gain acceptance to graduate school, you may also need to get an acceptable grade on one of these standardized tests:
- GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) — Most grad schools require the GRE. It will show your verbal and writing skills and your math skills.
- GRE Subject — These specialized tests may be required for subjects such as English literature, chemistry, biology, mathematics, physics, and psychology.
- LSAT (Law School Admission Test) — Law schools require applicants to take the LSAT test because the results demonstrate reading comprehension, logical reasoning, and verbal skills.
- GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) — The GMAT may be required for business schools that do not accept GRE Scores. It tests your math and verbal skills.
- MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) — Medical students generally need to take the MCAT, which lasts up to 7.5 hours and tests your knowledge of biology, chemistry, and psychology. It also tests your verbal and reasoning skills.
For some specialties, you may have the option of taking more than one type of test, which can allow you to choose the one that will better show your skills.
Letters of recommendation are also an essential component of the application process, and you will probably need two or three of them. You can request letters of recommendation from current or past employers as well as from college professors who knew you well — particularly individuals in fields related to your graduate education goals.
Be sure to ask for letters of recommendation at least two to three months before applying, so those you request them from can have enough time to write them.
Grad schools will probably also ask for your CV or resume. A resume focuses more on your skills and work experience and should be one page long or two at the most. On the other hand, a CV can have more than one page, and it covers work experience and your skills as well as details about your academic career, publications, awards, and volunteering experiences.
You can find templates online for a resume or CV that might help you in this process.
Some graduate schools will also ask you to submit a personal statement, which is an essay about how your experiences led you to apply for a particular program. Usually, there are no set topics, but some schools may have guidelines about the length and other considerations.
In some cases, however, you may need to answer specific questions, such as:
● Why are you interested in this program?
● How can the program help you on your career path?
● What are your most significant academic and professional accomplishments so far?
Here are some tips to help you write a strong personal statement:
● Begin with something interesting that will grab the reader's attention.
● Explain your growth during your undergraduate studies and work experiences.
●Provide information about why you're interested in the field and the specific institution to which you’re applying. Be descriptive.
●Write about your career goals and how the program in question can help you progress along that path.
Personal statements are another part of the application process where your writing skills are essential. The goal is to be as well prepared, convincing, sincere, and knowledgeable as possible.
Personal statement requirements may vary from one graduate program to another, so you might need to create a new one for each program you plan to apply to.
Additional Documents You May Need
Some grad schools may require an interview or ask for additional documents, such as a statement of purpose, writing samples, or a portfolio.
Statement of Purpose
A statement of purpose, which is also in the form of an essay, describes your academic and personal background, academic and career goals, and reasons for applying. Also, you should explain why you're a good candidate for the program in question.
In the statement of purpose, it’s imperative to demonstrate strong writing skills. You should be descriptive and provide specific details about important formative lessons you learned during your studies, work experiences, or other relevant projects you participated in.
As with personal statements, you may need to write a unique statement of purpose for each application.
Some schools may conduct an interview as the last step of the application process.
To prepare, learn about the experiences of previous applicants and think about answers to frequently asked interview questions you may be asked.
At the end of the interview, you can ask questions of your own about topics such as using school resources, job opportunities at the school in question, and funding options. It's always good to ask questions — it shows your interest in the program.
If you're applying to a creative program, a portfolio will probably be the most crucial part of your application as it is a way to show your skills.
Sometimes grad schools ask for writing samples, such as an essay, a screenplay, or a poem.
With a writing sample, you have to prove that you can think critically, pay attention to details, and have a serious interest in the program in question.
Deadlines for applications at most schools are six to nine months before the start of the school year, leaving you enough time to prepare all documents you'll need and time to prepare for the exams.
Note that fees are a part of the application, ranging from $50 to more than $85.
It's good to start considering grad school around 18 months before the program begins; most application deadlines are six to nine months before the start of the program.
When choosing students, committees check academic records (e.g., GRE score and GPA), personal statements, letters of recommendation, and research experience. The ideal candidate is someone who is eager to learn, motivated, responsible, and hard-working.
Most students apply to between three and eight grad schools. How many you'll choose depends on your financial situation and the number of schools with a program you're interested in.