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Applying to a Program

Choosing to apply to graduate school is a multi-step process that requires planning and active management. 

When to Apply

Each timeline is unique for application, but if you are considering graduate school try to plan ahead. If you start earlier or later than the recommended timeline simply verify that you've taken each step below.

During junior year
  • Research areas of interest, institutions, and programs

  • Talk to advisers and faculty about application requirements

  • Register and prepare for appropriate graduate admissions tests

  • Investigate national scholarships

  • If appropriate, begin to collect letters of recommendation

Summer after junior year
  • Take required graduate admissions tests

  • Work on your application materials

  • Visit institutions, if possible, that you are interested in

  • Write your application essay or personal statement

  • Check application deadlines and rolling admission policies

Fall of senior year
  • Obtain letters of recommendation from faculty

  • Take or retake, if needed, the graduate admissions test

  • Send in your completed applications

  • Complete the FAFSA, if required or applicable to your financial situation

Spring of senior year
  • Check with all institutions that your file is complete and additional materials are not needed

  • Visit with institutions that accept you. Send a deposit to your chosen school.

  • Notify other colleges and universities that have accepted you of your decision.

  • Send a thank-you to those that wrote a recommendation letter and let them know about your success!

Admissions Criteria

Each school or program requires different elements but you should be prepared for a variety of requirements.

Relevance of undergraduate coursework or degree

These do not need to be related to the graduate program but be prepared to strongly articulate why you want to study a new discipline. Never assume that you can't get into a graduate program based on your undergraduate degree.

Completed application form

Check the program website to see deadlines and application forms that need to be submitted.

School often list priority deadlines for applications. These are often used for consideration of scholarships, graduate assistantships, and fellowships. Graduate programs may also opt to accept students based on rolling admissions. Sending your materials in early gives you the best chance for acceptance, support, and shows a genuine interest in attending.

Graduate admissions test

Required tests vary based on the program and type of graduate study. Plan to take your exam approximately one year before your anticipated enrollment date.

Decide if you learn best independently or by instruction before studying for your exam. Study guides and resources are available through the company administering the exam. Private companies also provide group and individual instruction, and independent tutors can also be found on campus.

Career Services offers a GRE Prep Course once a semester and a discounted cost. Learn more about upcoming dates, costs, and registration deadlines.

Official Transcripts
Letters of Recommendation

Most graduate programs require that at least two letters are sent. Your references should be primarily faculty from your undergraduate program. If you had a job in a related field prior to applying a supervisor or workplace manager may also be an excellent reference. When asking for a recommendation letter make sure to be considerate and provide plenty of time for your reference to complete the request.

Application Essay or Personal Statement

Most schools will require that you write an essay or statement about your background and interests as they relate to your intended field of study. This is your opportunity to distinguish yourself and showcase your writing skills.

Be clear about your career goals and reasons for applying to that institution. Demonstrate your understanding of how that program will further your goals. Incorporate specific research being conducted or instructors that you are interested in working with.

Financial Aid

Many schools require the applicant submit the FAFSA. Financial aid can also be available in a variety of ways.

Work Programs

Usually offered in the form of graduate assistantships or college work study programs.

  • Graduate assistantships often pay tuition and provide a stipend for living expenses. Most involved 10-20 hours of work per week alongside participating in graduate classes.

  • Teaching assistantships involve working with faculty and assisting with grading, office hours, recitation sections, or teaching courses.

  • Research assistantships provide the opportunity to participate in ongoing research which can evolve into conducting your own research for a thesis.

Monetary Awards

Typically in the form of grants, scholarships, and fellowships.


Administered through banks, government, or the institution. Many schools require that the applicant submit the FAFSA.

Use Resources

Navigate the graduate and professional school world with confidence.

Explore in this Section
Applying to Graduate or Professional School


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