Graduate school is challenging, and applying to graduate school is also difficult. However, as with most other things in life, preparation is the key to success. Read our guide to applying to graduate school and learn how to ace the application process.
Definition: Graduate school
The term grad school refers to a higher education institution which can award post-graduate degrees – typically master’s and doctorate (PhD) programs. Graduate school students are usually required to complete an undergraduate (bachelor’s) degree before gaining acceptance to a graduate school.
Choosing a graduate school program
Choosing the right graduate school and program for you requires a not-inconsiderable amount of time and energy. You can start by creating a list of schools and courses that appeal to you. Think about deadlines and timescales in advance – ideally when you are in your final year of study. If you plan to apply to a foreign graduate school, remember you will need a student visa!1
Before applying to a graduate school, here are three things to consider:
- Can you afford it?
- Do you have the right qualifications?
- How relevant is the course to your chosen profession/academic career?2
- Is a graduate degree needed?
- What is the job market?
- Is this school prestigious in this field?
- What are the faculty and staff like?
A Master’s degree or a PhD?
In short, a PhD is a higher qualification than a master’s degree. A master’s degree (MA or MSC) involves an intensive year of academic study, mainly through lectures and a final dissertation. A doctorate (PhD) is a three-year commitment to original and independent research on a particular subject.
You may need to have a master’s degree before being accepted to a PhD. Funding is another difference – a PhD takes three years to complete, so unsurprisingly will cost three times as much as an MA or MSC as far as university fees are concerned. However, there are scholarships and various funding options available which are well worth exploring.
Planning the graduate school application
It typically takes a few years to apply to a graduate school program. This may seem lengthy but remember that it includes application deadlines, studying for standardized tests, collecting documents, etc.
|Two years beforehand
||• Decide on the degree program
• Research programs
• Research finance options
• Complete undergraduate studies
|One year beforehand
||• Take the GRE (Graduate Record Examination) is based in the USA or Canada
• Prepare the application in the fall - note deadlines typically fall from December to January
• Attend interviews in the spring
• Accept any offers
Requesting documents for graduate school
When applying for grad school, it is vital to include important documents that may prove your experiences and competencies.
A transcript is an official synopsis of your academic progress and performance to date. It only includes final marks confirmed by the appropriate Examination Board. A transcript may be demanded by the educational institutions you are applying to.
You need to do three things regarding your transcripts:
- Request them – From all tertiary educational institutions you have attended
- Submit them
- Prepare to explain any negatives they may contain
You may need to translate your transcripts if you are applying to an international program. Using the services of a professional company is highly recommended. Costs vary, but $23 per page is a typical cost.3
In this context, a letter of recommendation is written by someone qualified to recommend your academic performance. Then, it’s sent to an admissions officer to decide whether to admit a candidate or not:
- Deciding whom to ask: This should ideally be your tutor.
- Organizing a meeting: Out of politeness, arranging a meeting to request a recommendation letter in person is good practice.
- Asking for a letter of recommendation: Explain your reasons for needing a letter, i.e. it is a requirement of your post-graduate program.
- Share important documents: Sending copies of exam results may be necessary if the letter is from someone outside your university.
- Follow up with the recommenders and remind them of the deadlines: Schedules can be tight, and people are busy, so don’t be afraid to check for progress updates.
Graduate school standardized tests
Most graduate schools require candidates to pass a standardized test:
|GRE General:||The GRE General Test checks your Analytical Writing, Verbal Reasoning, and Quantitative Aptitude skills.4|
|GRE Subject:||The GRE Subject Test assesses your domain-specific knowledge.|
|GMAT:||The Graduate Management Admission Test is a computerized test for assessing analytical, writing, verbal, quantitative, and reading skills in written English.|
|MCAT:||The MCAT is a multiple-choice exam to test your basic knowledge of scientific concepts before admission to a medical college.|
|LSAT:||The Law School Admission Test is a multiple-choice standardized exam for candidates wishing to study law.|
Writing a resume
The maximum standard length for a graduate school resume is two pages of A4.
It should include the following:
- Details of your undergraduate degree
- Relevant work experience
- Any awards, honors, memberships, publications, or other relevant achievements
Statement of purpose for graduate school
A statement of purpose sometimes referred to as a personal statement is an essential part of a graduate school application. It should be between 500 and 1,000 words and:
- Inform the admissions committees who you are
- Detail your academic and professional interests
- Explain how you’ll provide added value to your chosen graduate school program
Preparing for graduate school interviews
The graduate school interview is one of the most nerve-wracking parts of the process. Students can prepare for graduate school interviews by reading the program website and preparing answers to common questions, such as:
- Tell us about an achievement of which you are proud.
- Why did you choose to apply to our program?
- How will you contribute to our school?
It might be the best option if your future career requires it; you want to earn more money and can cope with the workload and intellectual demands.
Managing finances and a heavy workload are two of the most commonly cited challenges faced by grad school students.
Research the reputation of the program and the institution. Look into the faculty’s research interests and accessibility. Data pertaining to the career paths of the program’s graduates are also worth investigating.
1 Frot, Mathilde. “US Grad School Admission in 7 Steps.” University of Glasgow. April 20, 2021. https://www.topuniversities.com/student-info/admissions-advice/us-grad-school-admissions-7-steps.
2 Valdez, Lauren. “3 Factors to Consider Before Applying to Grad School.” ProFellow. October 31, 2019. https://www.profellow.com/tips/3-factors-to-consider-before-applying-to-grad-school/.
3 TranslateDay. “What is a Transcript?” Accessed January 3, 2023. https://www.translateday.com/transcripts-translation/.