What is the Grad School Application Process?

Applying to grad school is a great time of anticipation as you look forward to the next step in your career. However, it can also be a daunting process, whether you’re a current undergrad or have been out in the working world for a year or more. The good news is that you’ve been through the undergrad application process before, which is similar, and you’re likely to have materials you can draw from to help you present the best grad school applications possible.

Not sure where to begin, however? Below is a breakdown of the grad school application process:

1. Researching prospective schools and requirements

The application cycle generally begins in the fall of the year before you’d want to attend, and it often extends through the spring. Starting in the summer—or even before—begin researching what kinds of programs and schools you’d like to attend. Browse schools’ websites and look up online forums, communities, or ranking lists, or visit campuses in person if you’re able to do so. Consider factors like faculty, course offerings, research or mentorship opportunities, and location. Check out funding packages and scholarships as well. Also, note that some programs require you to have already taken certain courses. If you’re missing a required course from your transcript thus far, consider enrolling in it at a local or community college.

In order to accomplish these things in the appropriate timeframe, you must be keeping yourself organized. Once you decide which and how many schools to apply to, create a spreadsheet that lists important deadlines, required application materials, fees, etc.

2. Scheduling admissions exams

Most grad schools require you to take standardized admissions exams, like the GRE, GMAT, MCAT, or LSAT, depending on the specialty you are pursuing. Once you figure out if you’ll be taking a particular test, register for a date that gives you ample time to study, as well as time to focus on the rest of your applications. Then, create a study plan. Some ideas include drills and full-length practice tests, checking out resources at your local library, looking into tutoring, or even just finding a study buddy.

3. Seeking recommenders

Depending on the school at hand, you may need to provide three or up to five letters from people who can vouch for you as a great grad school candidate. Choose professors or mentors in your intended field of study, often from undergrad. If you’ve been working, you could possibly ask current or previous supervisors. If they agree to this task, be prepared to send them your personal statement and/or resume to help them speak to your personal accomplishments and skills, as well as clear guidelines for how to submit letters and important due dates. Be sure to give your recommenders ample time to complete the letters (a month or more is generous). Don’t forget, afterwards, to keep them updated on where you choose to attend in the end and to send them a token of appreciation!

4. Writing personal statements and essays

Personal statements and essays are the meat and potatoes of the application package. They showcase your accomplishments and vision, let your personality shine through, and allow you to speak to any potential discrepancies in your academic career. Begin with a hook—often a personal anecdote that genuinely speaks to your interest in the field—and discuss experiences that showcase who you are as a person, as well as a potential student in their program. Keep your writing positive, personal, succinct, and snappy. Avoid jargon and flowery or extremely casual language. Have a friend or mentor read and edit your writing, and then you can revise as needed.

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5. Updating your resume

If you’ve used your resume recently for job applications, you may already have something on hand that you can easily upload to the application portal. Be sure, however, to update your resume with any recent awards, volunteer experiences, or job achievements. Also, you’ll want to tailor this resume toward your intended field of study and highlight any accomplishments in that specific field. After all, you’ll want to impress these admissions officers just as you’d want to impress potential employers!

6. Sending transcripts and test scores

This part of the application process is often tedious and can require fees. However, it’s a great activity that can help you feel productive in your application process and can give you a break from more mentally taxing activities. Consult your spreadsheet and school websites for when and how to submit undergrad (or any other post-secondary school) transcripts. Also, if you didn’t elect to send your test scores to all your schools when you took a certain exam, be sure to catch up on this if needed and do so by the application deadlines.

Besides the above list, schools may have a few other requirements depending on the type of program, like a writing sample or an in-person interview. Take note of these differences throughout the process so you’re ready for them as they come. Lastly, reach out to people in your social circles to see if anyone else is going through the application process; they can be a great source of support during this time!

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