Applying to Graduate School

Application Basics

Review and keep careful track of all application requirements and deadlines (these will vary from school to school). Be sure to complete all required applications. Some universities ask for an application to the graduate school office as well as another application to the specific graduate program.

Letters of Recommendation

Solicit letters of recommendation from those who know you and your abilities well. Most programs require at least three to sometimes five letters of recommendation. Your recommenders may be professors, research supervisors, or former employers depending on the type of graduate program you pursue.

Standardized Tests

If standardized test scores are part of the admission process, determine exactly which exams are required (i.e. GRE General, GRE Subject, LSAT, MCAT). Register well before the application deadline, ideally giving yourself time to retake the test(s) if necessary.

Review the test information for the appropriate exam and determine whether you want to take a preparation course or just study for the test on your own. There are study guides and workbooks available in the CDO Career Library, but you will probably want to purchase one to use as you prepare. Be sure that you take the appropriate exam well in advance so that your target programs will receive your scores before application deadlines.

Graduate School: The Graduate Record Examination (GRE)

Business School: The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT)

Medical School: Take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)

Law School: Take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT)

Apply Early

Many schools operate on rolling admissions, which means that they continually evaluate applicants and admit them. So, if you apply after this process has begun, the number of openings available to you will be fewer. Compile your documents and submit the complete package in a timely way, well ahead of the deadline. Be aware that some schools will not begin to review your application until all your materials are in, including your application, one or more essays, or a statement of purpose, letters of recommendation, test scores, if required, all academic transcripts, and perhaps a résumé or CV. Make sure to track your application materials carefully.

Networking with Graduate School Faculty

You can often improve your chances of graduate school admission by identifying and corresponding with graduate school faculty who are doing cutting-edge work in the field that interests you. Write to those professors and tell them that you are interested in their work, and that you plan to apply to their program. You can mention your specific areas of interest and possible research topics. Send them a copy of your thesis or research papers and tell them that you'd like to work for them if you are accepted. In many instances, faculty with whom you have networked will advocate on your behalf to the program admissions committee.

Personal Statements

Your personal statement or statement of purpose is the heart of most graduate program applications. It describes your intellectual interests and career goals. It highlights your academic background and work experience. It explains your interests in the program and details possible research topics. Your essay also gives a sense of who you are and your potential as a student and as a professional in the field.

The CDO has many books to assist and offers personal statement writing workshops throughout the year to help get you started. Be sure to work with your faculty advisors and the CDO for assistance and editing of your personal statements.


Graduate and professional school applications require official transcripts from each college or university you have attended. Contact each school’s registrar early; allow at least four weeks for your request(s) to be processed and sent out. A nominal fee is usually charged for transcript requests. Fees can sometimes be waived depending on financial situations and specific programs.

Funding Resources

How to fund graduate school is a key component of the selection and application process. Depending on the program, you will find a variety of funding options available. Key resources include:

Institutional or Departmental Funding

Learn about the types of funding for your program that might be available including institutional or departmental funding, state or federal aid, and any external grants or scholarships. Ask about teaching or research assistantships and internship or practicum opportunities. Be sure to complete all state and federal financial aid forms.

External Funding Sources

Research possible grants and scholarships available in your field of study. You can also search for funding using external databases at other institutions such as Harvard University or UCLA.

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA):

If you are studying within the U.S. and are eligible, fill out the FAFSA. Many states and colleges use your FAFSA data to determine your eligibility for state and school aid, and some private financial aid providers may use your FAFSA information to determine whether you qualify for their aid.