How Graduate Schools Analyze Applications

Graduate schools receive more applications than you could ever imagine. That’s no secret to anyone. So, grad school admissions committees (comprised of counselors, professors and sometimes even students) use a systematic process for filtering applications.

When admissions committees see your application, they are trying to answer one question: will this student be successful here and in his/her career?

This is the filter most grad schools drag applications through:

1. GPA/GRE screening: Typically, grad schools place a stronger emphasis on research and practical experience than test scores, assuming they are a better predictor of future success. But, to streamline the admissions process, many set minimum GPA/GRE requirements. Some schools may be flexible on their requirements. But, for GPA, top schools may place cutoffs at 3.0+, and at some elite schools, the cutoff may be as high 3.5+. If you don’t have those grades, you may not even be considered.

Grad schools will analyze GRE scores similarly. Top programs will require you to score at least at the 50 percentile mark, meaning you will need a 150+ on The Quantitative Reasoning Section and a 151+ on the Verbal Reasoning Section. Some elite schools may require applicants to score in the top 75th percentile, meaning you will need a 157+ on each section to be considered. Most grad schools will post their average scores online, but remember, those scores are not requirements and students will be accepted with scores below the average.

2. First pass: After you pass through initial screening, admissions committees will glance at your application to quickly determine if you have promise. Here, they want to see practical experience and knowledge outside of GPA/GRE credentials. If you meet the screening credentials but have not had any internships, practical experience or research experience, you may be rejected.

3. In-depth review: This is where committees start comparing students, and it may be the strictest phase. Depending on the school, this could be the last time your application is looked at on paper. In this stage, applicants are evaluated based on everything: GRE, GPA/transcripts, letters of recommendation, essay, research, practical experience, etc. Here, committees are comparing students holistically, trying to determine who has the most motivation and promise – and ultimately who will be the most successful at their school. If you are more well-rounded than other students in the applicant pool, you will pass this section.

4. Interview: Not all schools conduct interviews. Some may accept or reject students after the “In-depth review” phase. You may interview over-the-phone or in-person, either with a group of admissions counselors, faculty members or students – or individually with any of those. At this point, you have proven yourself on paper and your school is ready to admit you. Now, schools want to see if you are articulate and motivated. They want to see if you are genuinely interested and enthusiastic about your career, and you’re not just cranking out research and experience to make your application look better. They already know you’re a well-rounded student, but you need to prove you are a well-rounded individual.

5. Decision: There are a lot of people involved in the admissions process, and they all regroup in this phase to make final decisions. Here, your application and interview session will be compared to all other students. Committees will discuss whether you should be admitted or other students over you. Final decisions will be made as a group and may even be voted on. Again, admissions committees are looking for the students who will be the most successful at their school and during their career.

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