Application and Fee
In some cases, applicants may be required to submit two applications — one for the school itself and another for the specific graduate program or department. Most department’s websites have a section for prospective students. There you can find all of the application requirements and links to pertinent information. The department’s page should articulate whether you must submit a separate application to the school itself or if the departmental application only will suffice. If any of the application information is unclear online, contact the department directly to ensure you have accurate information before you start working on things or send anything in.
In addition to the application, there’s typically a one-time fee. Application fees vary but are often in the $50-150 range. Certain applicants, however, may be eligible for a fee waiver. To apply for a waiver, you may have to contact the department or bursar’s office. To qualify for a waiver, applicants usually need to demonstrate financial need, which sometimes includes unemployment verification, receipt of a previous GRE fee waiver, or other forms of financial hardship.
Graduate schools often require official transcripts from your undergraduate program(s) and, if applicable, any graduate work you have completed. Be sure to collect transcripts from all previously attended schools early on so that the documents are ready by the application deadline. It is best for admissions committees to have a full, official record of your academic history, including course titles. The documents should also show your GPA at each school. Some graduate schools require that your transcripts be sent directly from your undergraduate institution. In these cases, be sure that you give your school enough time to process your transcript request. Your application may be considered “incomplete” if your transcripts do not arrive by the specified deadline.
Depending on the program, you may have to submit standardized test scores for exams such as the GRE, GMAT or MCAT. According to the Educational Testing Service, the average score on the GRE is about 150 on verbal, 152.6 on quantitative and a 3.5 on analytical writing. On the GMAT, which is the common exam for business school applicants, the average score is 561.27. For the Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT, a perfect score is 528. The average score for students admitted to medical programs during 2017-2018 was between 510-511.
Most students prefer to take their standardized exams at least two months before their application deadline. This gives them a little buffer time to retake the exam if they are not satisfied with their score.
Letters of Recommendation
You should obtain letters of recommendation from professors, academic advisors, or any person you worked with in an academic or professional capacity that can speak to your likelihood of success as a graduate student. Avoid asking for letters from family and friends. The most effective letters come from professors with whom you have worked, particularly those who are widely known in their field. The content and length of these letters is up to your recommenders. Should they ask you what the letter should contain or how long it should be, a concise 1-2 page letter that articulates your admirable personal traits and academic abilities is ideal. Most schools require students to submit 3-4 letters of recommendation. You should give your recommenders enough time to write a thoughtful letter without worrying about a deadline. If possible, give them two months or more of lead time before the application is due. After all, they are doing you a favor so you will want to make the process as convenient as possible for them.
Personal Statement or Statement of Purpose
These 1-2 page documents are arguably the most important parts of the graduate school application. Schools rarely ask for applicants to submit both a personal statement and a statement of purpose. The necessary content for each of these documents is similar, but there are subtle differences applicants should be aware of. The personal statement is somewhat freeform, giving you the chance to talk about your academic trajectory more broadly and offer more insight into why you have chosen to pursue an advanced degree in your chosen field. You may have to respond to a prompt. These prompts are generally open-ended; examples include writing about a time you faced a challenge in your life, questioned a belief or idea, or experienced a moment of personal growth. Or you may be asked to describe in detail an idea or concept that sparked your desire to learn. A statement of purpose, on the other hand, needs to be more specific, academically-focused, and must outline your credentials and research ideas.
Resume or CV
The resume or CV provide a convenient location for the admissions committee to see all of your credentials, publications, awards, research interests, and academic and employment history all in one place. These details should be clearly organized, easy to read, and void of any non-essential verbiage. Resumes are often confined to one’s educational and employment history. CVs, or curriculum vitae, on the other hand usually entail a longer list of information including relevant awards and publications. Prospective students with only an undergraduate degree should keep their resume or CV that to one page. For advanced students, especially those with a master’s degree or substantial academic record, the CV or resume may extend into two pages. For general guidance on how to structure your CV, try reviewing faculty members’ departmental online profiles.
Portfolios may be an optional requirement, depending on the graduate program. Today’s portfolios are typically online, publicly available and are acceptable in a variety of formats. They are often extensive documents that provide supplemental information about one’s CV. Each part should highlight a specific skill or significant academic achievement. For example, advanced graduate students who already have teaching experience may have separate sections for their research interests and teaching history. Some may dedicate a section to showcasing standout work that they have completed, or to discuss extensive research projects that led to a thesis or dissertation. Portfolios also offer the chance to incorporate visuals. When starting a portfolio entirely from scratch, you should give yourself 3-6 months to complete a polished, online version — think of it as creating a highly personalized, articulate, personal website.
You may be required to participate in an in-person or webcam interview as part of the application process. Similar to your statement of purpose, application committees use these opportunities to assess how well you will fit into the department. The committee will ask you about your research interests and how you plan on pursuing those goals should you be admitted. Be sure to come up with concise but concrete ways of describing your work and goals. Do your best to remain calm and to-the-point.