A Guide to the Graduate School Admission Process
Here, you'll learn about the graduate school admission process, including what documents you need to prepare.
To apply for a graduate school program, you generally need an undergraduate degree, relevant work experience, and an acceptable GPA — usually 3.0 for a master's and 3.5 for a doctoral program.
You need to submit official transcripts and possibly test scores (GRE, GMAT, MCAT, or LSAT). Copies may be allowed initially, but you'll need to show originals eventually.
You generally need to write two essays for each program you're interested in — a personal statement and a statement of purpose.
Many schools hold individual interviews, but some hold them in groups. Interviews can be conducted online or in person.
Whether you're a student who plans on applying for graduate school right after undergraduate studies or a working individual returning to school, this article explains what the process entails.
The graduate school admission process can vary between universities and programs. First, you need to check each program’s deadlines and make a list of the documents you'll need to prepare for applying, including official transcripts, resume or CV, GPA, standardized test scores, recommendation letters, and essays.
When Should I Apply, and for How Many Programs?
Some schools admit students on a rolling (i.e., ongoing) basis, while others have firm deadlines for submitting applications.
- You should begin thinking about graduate school a year and a half before the program starts so you have enough time to prepare all documents and take exams.
- You may be required to take standardized tests (GRE, GMAT, LSAT, MCAT) eight or nine months before the grad school admission period ends. If you're unsatisfied with your score, you may be able to retake the exam, depending on the test.
- For recommendation letters, you'll need to wait two or three months for your references to have enough time to write compellingly and engagingly about your qualifications for grad school.
- You'll need time to write essays for each program you're interested in.
Once you have all of your required documents, transcripts and test scores, you can apply for a graduate program. Students generally apply to between four and six graduate programs.
What You Need to Prepare for the Graduate School Admission Process
After you find the programs you want to apply to, you have to learn about all the requirements. In the sections below, we discuss documents you'll need when applying, such as transcripts, bachelor's degree, statement of purpose, personal statement, recommendation letters, work experience, and standardized test scores.
To apply for a master's or doctoral program, you need to have a bachelor's degree in a relevant field from an accredited school or university.
Work or Volunteering Experience
Graduate schools require certain skills and knowledge, so one of your graduate school requirements may be relevant work or volunteering experience. Depending on the major, you'll need about one year of relevant work experience for a master’s program. For doctoral degree programs, you'll need two to three years of experience in teaching and research.
Colleges and universities evaluate candidates by looking at their GPA (Grade Point Average), which shows the overall academic performance of a student. Many schools in the US also require students to take the GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) test, which evaluates their quantitative reasoning, verbal reasoning, analytical, writing, and critical thinking skills.
Master's programs often require a minimum GPA of 3.0 (in rare cases, 2.5), while doctoral degree programs typically require a 3.5 GPA. Note that you'll need a good GPA to get a fellowship, an assistantship, or a scholarship.
Standardized Test Scores
Most graduate schools and universities in the US require applicants to submit GRE, GMAT, MCAT, or LSAT scores, depending on your field of study.
- GRE General — Verbal and math skills tests, essay writing
- GRE Subject — Psychology, mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, or literature
- GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) — Verbal and math skills
- MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) — Biology, chemistry, psychology, verbal reasoning
- LSAT (Law School Admission Test) — Logical and verbal reasoning, reading comprehension
Each grad school has its own application requirements, but you can expect to be asked for your contact information, academic background, proof of legal residency status, and references' names.
You need to submit all undergrad school transcripts. Some schools allow applicants to submit copies of transcripts to speed up the admission process, but you'll have to provide the originals eventually.
Generally, graduate schools require two to three letters of recommendation. You can ask your professors, mentor, or current or past employer for recommendation letters. A letter of recommendation should provide details about your personal characteristics and academic achievements.
There's no need to submit more than the required number of recommendation letters unless you feel that it will help you in the process.
Consider sending your academic transcripts, test scores, personal statements, and a resume or CV to the people providing your recommendation letters so they can write good ones.
A personal statement is an essay you write about yourself. Its purpose is to demonstrate your achievements and provide your reasons for wanting to attend a certain program. It should be two to three pages long (500 to 800 words).
Topics for personal statements can vary. Usually, you'll have to answer a question such as, "How will this program help you accomplish your career goals?" For doctoral programs, questions will be related to your research experience and how your skills and expertise can be beneficial for the school.
Even though schools may ask similar questions, you shouldn't send the same personal statements to multiple schools. Write each personal statement with a certain program in mind.
Statement of Purpose
A statement of purpose is an additional document in the form of an essay that some schools may require. A statement of purpose should explain your academic and personal background, goals, and reasons for applying. In addition, you should explain why you're a good candidate for a certain program.
Your personal statement and statement of purpose allow you to demonstrate your writing skills. You should point out the most crucial aspects of your undergraduate program and job roles that have pushed you toward a particular program.
Application fees vary between schools, so be sure to confirm how much you’ll need to pay to apply to each. If you cannot afford the application fee, find out whether you're eligible for a waiver.
Many graduate schools conduct an interview as a part of the admission process. Individual or group interviews, either of which last around 30 minutes, can take place in person or online.
In order to prepare for the interview, read examples of common (and uncommon) questions you may be asked, research the previous experiences of other applicants, and then formulate compelling answers. Also, you can prepare for the interview by writing responses to common questions related to your personal and academic background, professional experience, and personality.
Remember to learn as much as possible about the school before your interview. Ask relevant questions about the program, school culture, and possible funding options.
Graduate School Admission Process — Conclusion
If you plan on pursuing a master's or doctoral degree, you'll need to provide several documents to apply for the graduate program. First, you need to have a bachelor's degree relevant to master's program (or a bachelor's and master's degree for doctoral programs). Also, you need to submit official transcripts and standardized test scores (GRE, GMAT, MCAT, or LSAT).
Admission to graduate school admission requires applicants to have a minimum GPA. For master's programs, you usually need a minimum GPA of 3.0, while doctoral programs generally require a GPA of at least 3.5.
You may need to have one or two years of relevant work experience, depending on the academic program. Also, you’ll probably need to submit two to three letters of recommendation for each program. You can ask your former professors, a mentor, or a past or current employer.
Essays — including a personal statement and a statement of purpose — are a common grad school requirement. You should write unique, customized essays for each program. In your personal statement, point out your accomplishments and explain your motivation for attending the program in question. In a statement of purpose, you have to provide a more detailed look at your academic and personal backgrounds and reasons why you've decided to apply.
Lastly, graduate schools often conduct interviews as a part of the admission process. Depending on the school, an interview can be with a group or an individual, in person or online.
Get a head start on researching programs you're interested in so you can have enough time to prepare documentation, write essays, take tests, and ask for recommendation letters.
Graduate admission is a process where you, as an applicant, send all the necessary documents, such as official transcripts, an undergraduate diploma, test scores, letters of recommendation, personal statement, etc to the graduate school you hope to attend. You also need to fill out an application form and pay the application fees.
Many graduate schools in the US have admission on a rolling basis, which means that applications are reviewed as they come in. Other schools accept applications from September or October until January and, in some cases, even March. It's best to start preparing 12-18 months before the admission period starts.
Your ability to postpone admission to a graduate school depends on whether the school where you've been accepted gives students that option. Not all do.