How to Apply for Graduate School

Most applicants become stressed when they realize that graduate school applications are quite different than college applications. The process of getting into graduate school can be confusing and overwhelming, but with the right guidance it shouldn’t be too difficult to submit an application. Almost all grad schools are consistent in their requirements and there are a few basic components.

Ensure that your grad school application covers all of the following components and you’ll be good to go. Bear in mind that failure to do so will result in automatic rejections:


Your transcript gives information on your academic background. Your grades and overall GPA, as well as your course choice, tell the admissions committee a great deal about who you are as a student. If your transcript is filled with straight A’s in easy subjects, you’ll likely rank lower than a student who has a lower GPA but whose transcript of courses in the hard sciences.

The transcript is not included in the application that you send to the graduate program you’re applying for. The registrar’s office at your school sends it. This requires that you visit the registrar’s office to request your transcript by completing forms for each graduate program to which you’d like to forward a copy. Get this out of the way early because schools require time to process all forms and send the transcripts (sometimes as long as 2-3 weeks). You don’t want your application to be rejected because of a simple delay in the submission of your transcript. Sometimes they never arrive, due to mailing errors. All of this means that you’ll want to submit your request for transcripts early to request them again in the unlikely event that you need to. Be sure to check that all transcripts have arrived for all of the programs you’ve applied to.

Graduate Record Exams (GREs) or Other Standardized Test Scores

Most graduate programs require standardized exams, like the GRE’s, for admission; but some law, medical, and business schools require different exams (the LSAT, MCAT, and GMAT). These are standardized exams, meaning that they allow students from different colleges to be compared fairly. The GRE is similar in structure to the SATs but explores your potential for graduate level work.

Some programs require the GRE Subject Test, a standardized test that covers the material in a single discipline (e.g., Psychology). Most graduate admissions committees deal with a large number of applications, which is why they consider only applications that have scores above the cut-off point. Some, but not all, reveal their average GRE scores in their admissions material and in graduate school admissions guides, so be sure to monitor those.

Take standardized tests as early as possible (ideally, the Spring or Summer before you apply) to guide your selection of programs as well as ensure your scores arrive to the programs before the deadline.

Letters of Recommendation

The letter of recommendation is the more personal aspect of the application. The quality of your letters attests to the quality of your relationships with professors. If you have made a good impression on your professors, they will help you stand out from other applicants.

Take care and choose carefully your references. A good recommendation letter helps your application tremendously and a bad or neutral letter will send your application into the rejection pile. Do not ask for a letter from a professor who doesn’t have a more personal insight into your capabilities other than that you’re a straight A student – such letters do not enhance your application. Be respectful in asking for letters and provide enough information for your professors to write it – after all they are doing you a favour.

Letters from employers are acceptable as well if they include information about your duties and aptitude relating to the field of study (or your motivation and quality of work). Examples of letters that are not acceptable are letters from: friends, spiritual leaders and public officials. These are a poor attempt to impress the committee members.

Admissions Essay

The admissions essay is the ideal opportunity to speak up for yourself. Carefully structure your thoughts. Be creative and informative, but don’t overdo it as you introduce yourself and explain why you want to attend graduate school and what you plan on getting out of each program.

Consider your qualities before you sit down writing. It’s good to ponder on who’s going to read your statement and what they are looking for in an essay. It’s not necessarily only committee members, but scholars who are searching for dedication and sincere interest for their respective field of study. Remember that they are looking for someone who will be productive and interested in their classes.

List your relevant skills, experiences, and accomplishments, focusing on the way your educational and occupational experiences led you to this program. Don’t rely too much on emotional motivation (such as “I want to make a difference” or “I want to learn a new skill”). Describe how you expect this program to benefit you as well as how your skills can benefit the faculty. Be specific: What do you have to offer? Some programs require students to complete r several admissions essays on specific topics, such as addressing questions to illustrate critical analysis skills. Always answer these question as failure to do so demonstrates inability (or unwillingness) to follow clear instructions and will automatically result in your application being rejected.


Although technically not part of the application, some programs use interviews for additional screening purposes. Sometimes the person doesn’t match the impression they’ve made for themselves on paper and an interview helps to weed out the candidates that have embellished their applications too much. If you’re invited to interview for a graduate program, remember that this is your opportunity to demonstrate how well a fit the program is for you. In other words, the process of screening is mutual

The process of applying to graduate school can seem stressful and overwhelming, regardless of your competences and preparation. By understanding the requirements and it as a series of tasks to complete you are breaking it into manageable steps that are easier to take control of.