Whether you’ve just finished your undergraduate degree or you want to pivot your career, grad school may be the next logical step in your educational and professional development.
But how do you apply to graduate school so you have the best chance at receiving that coveted acceptance letter? Read on to learn how to submit the perfect graduate school application to impress admissions officers. For information on due dates and a printable timeline, check out our grad school application checklist.
How Grad Schools Evaluate Your Application
The exact criteria for graduate school admissions vary depending on the school and program. Still, there are certain qualifications, including GPA and grades from specific undergraduate courses, that all admissions officers consider. Most graduate programs look for a minimum 3.0 GPA.
A Graduate Record Examination (GRE) score of at least 318 is considered strong and can help your application. A professional resume with work experience related to your program is often helpful or required. Programs typically ask for letters of recommendation and a graduate school admissions essay as well.
Are You a Good Fit for the Program?
Whichever program you apply for, you must first make sure it’s a good match. Consider the following questions before submitting your application:
- Do you love the field of study the program you’re applying to focuses on?
- Do you have an undergraduate degree or work experience in an area related to your graduate school program of choice?
- Will earning this degree help you advance your career or earning potential?
- Do you have the resources to pay for graduate school, either through your own funds or through loans, grants and scholarships? For more information about this, see our guide on how to pay for graduate school.
Taking time to reflect on these questions can help you decide whether graduate school is right for you. You can also reach out to professors, students and alumni to get a better feel for your prospective program. You might even schedule a tour of the campus before applying.
Do You Have Relevant Internship or Research Experience?
Internships and relevant work experience may not make or break your graduate school application, but they can help set your application apart from the rest. Once you’re in a graduate program, you may be required to complete an internship or research work to graduate.
What Does Your Statement of Purpose Demonstrate?
A statement of purpose or personal statement tells admissions committees more about you. This essay should touch on your interests, especially as they relate to the graduate school program. The statement of purpose should also describe what you can bring to the program and why you want to be a part of it.
What Do Your Letters of Recommendation Demonstrate?
Letters of recommendation are important for graduate school because they show that credible academics and professionals think highly of you and believe you would be a good asset to the program you’re applying to.
An effective letter of recommendation is written by someone who knows you well academically or professionally, such as a professor, mentor or work supervisor. It should include titles of relevant research articles you’ve written, academic awards and honors and relevant academic activities like projects, presentations or research studies.
What Do Your Undergraduate Transcripts Show?
Simply put, official undergraduate transcripts verify that you attended the school you said you did and maintained a GPA that’s consistent with the program’s requirements. Undergraduate transcripts also allow admissions officers to see whether you took courses relevant to your prospective course of study.
How Are Your GRE Scores?
Most graduate school programs require students to take the GRE as part of the application process. An overall score of 318 or higher is considered a good score, so you’ll want to give yourself plenty of time to study and retake the test if needed before your grad school application is due.
Is Your Prior Academic Experience Relevant?
While you don’t always need an undergraduate degree in the same field as the graduate program you’re applying to, admissions officers typically consider relevant undergraduate coursework, research projects and work experience when reviewing applications.
Statement of Purpose Tips
Your statement of purpose gives you the chance to show some individuality and let your personality shine through. You should aim to leave a memorable impression and craft a well-written, concise statement of purpose to boost your application. See our tips below for writing a statement of purpose.
Follow the Prompt Carefully
Be sure to answer all of the questions in the prompt to give admissions officers all the information they need. Additionally, make sure to follow any guidelines for things like style, font and file format. While these factors may seem small, incorrect formatting can lead to your application being disqualified.
This is your chance to tell your story. Write a statement of purpose that only you could write. Does your passion for medicine date back to an injury or illness you had as a child? Did you grow up watching Law & Order and feel inspired? These details remind graduate admission committees that you are a well rounded person with much to offer.
Discuss Your Goals
Aside from how your own personal and career goals relate to the program, you should also touch on how you can contribute to your school or program of choice. Do you plan on collaborating with colleagues or contributing to your institution’s research goals? Make this known in your statement of purpose.
Know Your Audience
What is the culture of the school or program you’re applying to? What does the institution value? Spend some time on its website and social media accounts to find out. You can even reach out to current students and alumni to get a better idea so you can tailor your statement of purpose accordingly.
Proofread and Revise as Needed
Don’t just write your first draft and send it off. After writing it, take some time to sleep on it, then come back and read and revise with fresh eyes. You should also have someone like a professor or tutor read your statement of purpose and provide feedback.
The interview is a big part of the graduate school application process if your program requires one. Make sure to come ready and prepared.
Do Your Research
Read up on the university and program you’re applying to so you can sound knowledgeable and interested during the interview. Answer questions such as, how big is the program or school? What have its graduates gone on to do? What are the program requirements?
You can also read up on any academic articles or research professors in your program have created.
Prepare Questions for Your Interviewer
Remember, this isn’t just about the school interviewing you. You’re also interviewing the program to determine if it’s a good fit for you. What career and network opportunities are available to students and alumni? What about grants and scholarships? Will you be paired with a mentor or an advisor?
Practice With Mock Interviews
Practice makes perfect. Look into common graduate school interview questions, and practice with a professor, classmate or friend. You can even practice solo using these 20 Graduate School Interview Questions.
Bring a Professional Portfolio
Depending on the nature of your work, it may be helpful to bring in a professional portfolio, such as if your speciality is print graphic design. Other subject areas like writing or research lend themselves to online portfolios, which you can send to your interviewers ahead of the scheduled interview.
What Does a Grad School Application Look Like?
In addition to your transcripts, test scores, statement of purpose and portfolio, your graduate school application will require some basic background information about you.
- Full legal name
- Any previous legal names used
- Age and date of birth
- Social Security number
Ethnicity information about applicants and current students is used by the university to see if it is meeting diversity quotas and to share with stakeholders. You may select one particular ethnicity, or choose options like “other,” “multiracial” or “decline to state.”
Scholarships, grants and special services can be available to active-duty and reserve military service members and veterans.
- Current mailing address
- Current phone number
- Current email
- The program you’re applying to
- Any speciality or concentrations available as part of your program
- Specialities in your program that you want to focus on
- Research topics or projects you want to pursue
History of Education
- Undergraduate degree and major
- Academic achievements and awards
Standardized Test Information
- *GRE scores (Check with your program as some may no longer require or accept GRE scores)
- Scores from any other required tests
Deadlines for financial aid often coincide with deadlines for admissions. Make sure to submit the FAFSA to ensure you qualify for as many financial aid resources as possible. Visit the Federal Student Aid website for more information, and check out our guide on how the FAFSA differs for graduate school.
- Relevant work history related to your program
- Internship or research experience related to your program
Do you speak the primary language spoken in the area where your campus is located? Do you speak more than one language? These are things admissions officers will want to know.
- Certifications or special licenses or training
- Special Awards
- Contact information, like phone numbers and emails, for professors, mentors and work supervisors who are willing to provide a reference
When submitting your online application, make sure to upload all required documents so your application will not be disqualified.
- Graduate school application fees can range from around $60 to more than $100. You must pay this fee before you can submit your application.
Confirm and Submit Form
- Finally, make sure to confirm that all your information is correct and all necessary documents are uploaded before you submit your application.
This article was originally published on Forbes.com on Feb. 3. 2023. Author is Ryah Cooley Cole, and Editor is Brenna Swanston.