Graduate School Application Process
Somehow, they’ve done it. Universities found a way to create an application process possibly more complex and nerve-wracking than the regular undergraduate college application process. It’s called applying to grad school, and it can be enough to make you rethink your decision to attend. Deadlines are all over the place, requirements can vary wildly, and in some cases, students may find themselves taking multiple standardized tests to apply to similar programs. We’ve broken down the process below to put you more at ease, but remember to do your research on each program you apply to, as there may be more specific requirements we don’t touch on here.
Depending on the degree you plan to pursue, there are several different tests you may be required to take. Law students take the law school admission test, or LSAT. Medical students take the Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT. Business students may be asked to take the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test). Most other students will contend with the GRE (Graduate Record Examination), though the part of your score the program focuses on depends on your major. Some schools will only consider applicants who meet a certain minimum test score. Other programs may not require a test at all or may put very little weight on test scores, favoring an applicant’s other materials.
Your college transcript is also an important element of your graduate school admission packet, and the grades you boast from your undergraduate career are typically a good predictor for graduate school admissions officials on how you’d perform in a graduate program. Those admissions officials will also be looking at the college classes you took to arrive at that impressive GPA, if that’s the case. Well-rounded graduate school candidates don’t just look for the easy A’s; they excel in courses in their majors and challenge themselves in courses outside of their fields of study. The good news is the graduate school admission process is likely the last time you’ll be held accountable for your undergraduate GPA or the classes you took to arrive at it.
As a high school senior, you just had to write an essay in response to a random prompt to get into college. Now all of a sudden, you’re tasked with a “personal statement” or “letter of intent.” In less than two pages, you need to sum up your academic career, research interests, and fit for the program to which you’re applying. This is definitely no easy task, and admissions officials do place quite a bit of weight on what you provide here. Think long and hard about the question asked, and about how you will fit into the program you want to attend. How will you enhance their student body? How will the education they provide enhance your life and your career? This is also the place to address any of the little dings in your transcript or GRE score if you feel they may hold you back from acceptance without proper explanation.
Letters of Recommendation
In graduate school, you will participate in small classes that are heavy on student-faculty interaction. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that the admission committee will want to know what your undergraduate professors think of you as a student. Hopefully, you’ve developed a good relationship with at least three of your professors by your senior year of college, as the better they know you, the better the letter they’ll be able to write about you in a letter of recommendation. Think about who is most likely to have something good to say about you, as well as whose opinion the admission committee is likely to give weight.
Samples of Your Work
One of the main things the admission committee will be looking for is whether you can do the work required to receive a degree from their program. To that end, many graduate programs will require you to attach a sample or two of your undergraduate work, typically your strongest research or writing projects. If you’re applying for an arts degree, you may need to submit a portfolio of your creative work, go through an audition process, or both. Students who have undertaken a capstone project, such as a senior thesis, typically choose to attach a sample from that. For those of you who didn’t do such a project or did a project not particularly applicable to your graduate school application, you will want to go through your undergraduate assignments (hopefully you’ve kept some!) and choose either your strongest or most relevant works.
When applying to grad school, you may be invited to come in to campus for an interview, either as part of the formal application process, or on an informal “getting to know you” basis. Regardless of the tone the interview takes, maintain a level of professionalism, but try to let the college get to know you as a student. The interview is also your chance to find out about the program and the people in it, so think about what’s important to you and what questions you want to ask.