It is best for you to apply to programs that are at your competitive level, measured by your grades, your GRE or other entrance examinations, and your academic record. If your grades or test scores are not in the higher percentiles, you may not be admitted to the highest-ranked programs. This does not mean that you should not go to graduate school. It simply means you should find a program that is better suited to your academic ability. Make sure you are aware of admission requirements before submitting the application. Admission requirements are often posted on schools’ websites or can be learned by calling or emailing the school’s graduate admissions office.
Certain application material tend to be standard from program to program. These include:
- An essay or personal statement
- Standardized test scores
- Letters of recommendation
- Undergraduate transcripts
Some programs might also ask for supplementary material such as a writing sample, portfolio, resume or audition. Make sure you understand what is required and prepare accordingly.
When completing your application, you will likely be asked to submit an admissions essay. Of course, the essay will be about you in some way, but the topics may vary. For example, law and medical schools often ask for a general personal statement. Business or other graduate schools are more likely to be specific in wanting to know why you chose a certain field, what you intend to do when you graduate and why you are applying to their school.
No matter what the essay topic is, keep in mind that the admissions committee members will want to know two things:
- Are you realistic about the field in general? For example, the applicant that wants to earn a master’s in Social Work to “help rid the world of poverty,” or the education student who wants to “mold the minds of youth for the 21st century” are not being realistic. Someone who does not have a clear view of their field of study is probably not very realistic about the demands and rigors of a graduate program. Most schools look for students who are aware of the challenges of graduate school.
- Are you articulate? Can you write well? Graduate schools want students who can express themselves in an intelligent way, using proper logic, form, grammar and punctuation. The essay is important not only for what you write but for how you write it. If the directions say to write your essay in a specific place on the application, use that spot and that spot only. Even if the directions allow you to attach additional paper to continue your essay, think carefully about extending your statement. Admissions committees must read hundreds of essays. The more concise yours is the better.
|Test name||Admission sought|
|GRE General Test||Masters & Doctoral programs in arts & sciences|
|GRE Subject Test||Masters & Doctoral programs in arts & sciences|
|MAT||Masters & Doctoral programs in arts & sciences|
|GMAT||Masters & Doctoral programs in management and business (MBA)|
Most graduate schools require letters of recommendation. These will generally be sent to the graduate admissions office either by you (as part of your application) or directly by the people who write them. Choose people who know you and your work, not acquaintances such as friends of your parents, no matter how influential they might be. Members of the clergy or physicians are usually not strong references, even though they may have known you for a long time.
- Know what kind of student you are and how you work in an academic setting.
- Be familiar with graduate schools in general and specifically the one to which you are applying.
- Work with many students and will be able to compare you favorably to them.
- Be articulate and have excellent written communication skills.
- Think highly of you and be willing to put that opinion on paper.
You most likely will not know many people that meet all of these criteria, but you can choose people that come close. Pick people who can attest to the kind of student you are. If you are returning to school after having worked, you may not be able to contact any professors who can address your performance as a student. In that case, graduate schools may accept the recommendation of your employer or a previous employer.
Once you have decided whom to ask for recommendations, talk with them about giving you a good, meaningful reference. If they are not exactly sure what to say about you, give suggestions; remind them of a special project you did, a problem you solved, a good grade they gave you in a course or anything else that would indicate you will be a successful graduate student. You should also give them a list of your completed coursework and a copy of your resume.
In general, references should address your academic skills, communication skills, maturity, intellect and motivation. Ask for reference letters early in the fall of your senior year before many other students have thought of it. If the people who write letters are to mail them directly to the graduate schools, be sure to provide them with addressed, stamped envelopes as a courtesy. Then make sure they actually mail them!
Learn how to request an official transcript through NEST.