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Applying to Graduate School

Once you have decided to attend graduate school, the next step is to apply. For graduate school, you need to apply to the specific program or department at the school(s). The application process can be time consuming, but if you do it thoroughly, you have a better chance of getting accepted to the program of your choice.

When to Start the Application Process

Most people begin the application process 1 1/2 years before the date they will start graduate school. Generally, application deadlines for fall semester are between January and March; however, some programs have early decision programs or rolling admissions policies so check with each prospective school's program for official deadlines.

Where to Obtain Application Materials. Write to the graduate school admissions office or specific program office for an application form and program bulletin. In addition, you may want to write to the department chair of your program about your background and interests in order to explore the possibility of an assistant-ship. Several sources should be written to for financial aid materials: the financial aid office of the graduate school, the program department, and other grant funding sponsors.

In a few professional fields, there are national services that provide assistance with some part of the application process. Examples of these services are the Law School Data Assembly Service (LSDAS) and the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS).

Admission Requirements

It is very important to know all admission requirements for each school to which you are applying. Requirements vary considerably for each school and program. Read each program's requirements carefully.

Graduate Admission Tests

Colleges and universities usually require a specific graduate admission test, and departments sometimes have their own requirements as well. These scores are used, along with other supporting information, to assess your ability to succeed in the program. Registration and information bulletins for the various tests are located in a display case outside of Schofield 226. After you have taken the required examination(s), request that the testing center sends a report of results to each prospective graduate/professional school.


A transcript of undergraduate grades is almost always a requirement for admission to graduate/professional programs. Your undergraduate GPA (as well as the rigor of your courses and the reputation of your undergraduate institution) is a strong indicator of your ability to do graduate work and is considered carefully by admission committees. You can have an official copy of your transcript sent by contacting the Registrar's Office, Schofield Hall 128.


Interviews for graduate/professional school are often required by programs especially medical and business schools. An interview is an important opportunity to persuade admissions personnel that you would be an excellent doctor, manager, etc. You should prepare for a graduate school interview as you would a job interview.

Portfolio and Auditions

Many graduate programs involving visual creativity such as art, architecture, creative writing and environmental design may require a portfolio as part of the application. The portfolio should show your skills and ability to do work in a particular field, using examples reflecting the scope of your training and experience.

Like a portfolio, the audition is a demonstration of your skills and talent, and it is often required by programs in music, theater, and dance. For a performance major, the audition is perhaps the most important element of the graduate application.

Parts of an Application

Application Form

The actual application form should be filled out clearly and accurately, should be typed, and should be professional in appearance. Follow directions carefully and be consistent in spelling your full, legal name on all forms.

Statement of Purpose

The statement of purpose is a very important part of the application because it gives the faculty assessing your application a distinct impression of you. They will assess your ability to write and communicate effectively, your educational and professional goals and interests, and your specials qualities. Tailor your statement to specific programs; requirements vary, but all programs will be interested in your motivation, commitment, expectations, and reasons for interest in their program.

Letters of Recommendation

Faculty members are excellent sources for letters of recommendation, and some professional programs may also consider non academic recommendations from professionals in the field. Some programs may require a specific type of reference (e.g. undergraduate adviser), so check the requirements of each school.

When choosing references, identify those people who have high opinions of you and your work, are familiar with the schools to which you are applying and the programs you are pursuing, can compare you to your peers, are respected as someone whose judgment is important, and have good written communication skills. Try to ask faculty members for recommendations early in the fall semester of your senior year. You should set up an appointment with those faculty members to discuss the recommendations; and, at this time, you should provide them with supporting materials that will assist them in writing a recommendation (resume, transcript, a copy of an application essay, a copy of a research paper, etc.) Be sure to provide addressed, stamped envelopes for the convenience of those writing recommendations.