Graduate School Applications

Take the right steps to get into the graduate school of your choice

Be realistic in your college search and choose schools that you have a real chance of getting accepted to.
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If you are an undergraduate student finishing up your studies at a university or college, you might be deciding what to do after you graduate. Do you want to start your career, or is it time for another Campus Explorer college search to find a college where you can do further research in your major and obtain a graduate degree?

It may have been a few years since you worked on your college applications, and applying to graduate school is a bit different from undergraduate colleges and universities. How do you create an application that impresses graduate admissions officers? Here’s how to get you on the right track.

While getting into a prestigious school can help your career prospects, your degree will be just as valid if you earn it from a second-tier school.


What’s Included in Your Graduate School Application

No matter what kind of degree program you’re pursuing, be it an MFA, MBA, or PhD, you will at the very least be required to provide transcripts from each college or university you have attended, your GRE scores and an admissions essay, in addition to the school’s own admission form. Failure to provide any of these before the deadline and you’re out before you even get started. Here’s more information on what’s included in your graduate school application and how to manage each part:

College Transcript

The transcript will not be mailed by you directly, but will instead be sent by the schools you attended. Contact your school’s registrar and indicate where you want your transcripts sent. There will generally be a fee for this service, so be sure to factor that in to your graduate school application budget. Make this request as soon as you know where you plan to apply, as it can take a while for schools to send out all the transcripts.

Standardized Tests

While you will almost certainly be required to take the GRE, which is similar to the SAT for undergraduate colleges and universities, you will also often be asked to provide other test scores. If you are pursuing law, you will need to take the LSAT. If medical school is in your future, the MCAT will be required. If you’re going for a business degree, you’ll be taking the GMAT. Depending on your major, other disciplines may request a GRE subject test in that particular field of study.

Your GRE scores and other tests will come with forms you can fill out to indicate where you want the scores sent. You can always get more forms later if you realize you want the scores sent to additional schools. Once again, the earlier you can get this information out, the better.

Letters of Recommendation

The letters of recommendation allow the admissions committee to get a more complete picture of who you are, beyond just your grades. That is why it is so important to develop a good relationship with professors in your field of study while in undergraduate school. You are going to need them later when you ask for recommendations.

Be sure to ask for recommendations from professors who you are fairly confident will give you a positive review. A glowing recommendation from an introductory class professor is much better than a tepid recommendation from a very prestigious faculty member. The latter can even be damaging.

Letters of recommendation will usually be sent directly to the school from your recommenders, in an envelope you’ve provided them for this purpose. Check in with your recommenders regularly to make sure they don’t forget to send out your letter.

Admissions Essay

This is how you introduce yourself to the academic staff of the institution you wish to attend. You need to show your commitment to the discipline and what a dedicated student you are. Be specific about who you are and what you can contribute: how you came to your decision to apply to the school, what you can offer the program, what you expect it to offer you, and what role your education will play in your goals for the future.

The essay, as well as any other application information and application fees, will be sent by you directly. Usually, the application will come with a checklist of items you should include. Use this to make sure you have sent all the required materials.

Graduate School Types

Perhaps you know you’re ready for more education, but you’re not sure where your studies should take you. You can earn a masters degree or doctorate in virtually all subjects for which there are college majors. However, there are also specialized degrees in the medical, law and business fields. Here are some different types of graduate school options for you to consider and the kinds of degrees you can earn.

Medical

Those who earn degrees in the medical profession can go to medical school and become physicians (MD), dentists (DDS), pharmacists (MS) and medical researchers (PhD). Getting into medical school usually requires a bachelors degree from a 4-year institution and a satisfactory score on the MCAT exam. Students must take a pre-med curriculum in undergraduate school, including courses in biology, organic chemistry, general chemistry and physics. Students who do not have this curriculum as part of their bachelors degree must take post-baccalaureate courses before applying to medical school. Medical school is a 4-year program that is typically split between classroom and laboratory instruction and clinical instruction in teaching hospitals.

Mental Health

Those interested in a career in counseling or other aspects of the mental health field can pursue a master of social work degree (MSW), a degree in psychology (PsyD, PhD) or a degree to practice psychiatry (MD). Students interested in pursuing a PsyD or PhD will need at least a four-year undergraduate degree and satisfactory performance on the GRE. They will also probably be required to take the GRE subject test in psychology and in some cases the Miller Analogies Test as well. The doctoral program is typically a five-year program that includes classroom training, research, testing and, for clinical psychologists, an externship in a clinical setting like a hospital mental-health ward or a care center for a specific clinical population.

Law

Those who wish to become lawyers can attend law school programs and earn a Juris Doctor (JD) degree. Law school applicants must have completed a bachelors degree and shown satisfactory performance on the LSAT. The program is typically three years in length, which usually includes some kind of summer internship. In order to practice law, students must take and pass the bar exam for the state in which they want to practice.

Business

If the business or financial world is in your future, you can attend business school and earn a master of business administration (MBA). Though this is sufficient for most business and financial careers, you can also go on to earn a doctor of business administration (DBA). Admission to business school requires a bachelors degree and a satisfactory score on the GMAT exam.

Graduate School Admissions Tips & Tactics

  • You don’t necessarily need to jump right into a doctoral program if you’re not sure about it. Instead, find a college where you can start out with an MA, MS, MFA or MSW. You can start a career with these degrees if you decide to end your college education there, or you can use them as a springboard to a doctorate degree later.
  • While getting into a prestigious school can help your career prospects, your degree will be just as valid if you earn it from a second-tier school. Be realistic in your college search and choose schools that you have a real chance of getting accepted to. At least include one or two safety schools.
  • If you don’t get into any of the graduate schools of your choice, considering taking an internship for a year in the field you are attempting to pursue. This can help your chances when you reapply to graduate school and can improve your career prospects and networking opportunities when you graduate.
  • You don’t have to have attended a traditional 4-year university to get into graduate school. Students with online degrees earned through distance learning programs are eligible for admission to graduate school if they meet the other qualifications set by the school. However, you must have a bachelors degree to attend graduate school. If you have an associates degree from a community college, you will need to take additional courses before applying to graduate schools.

Related Graduate School: The World of Advanced Degrees Articles

Application Tips for Grad School
Timeline for Applying to Grad School
How to Write the Best Personal Statement for Graduate School
Asking For a Letter of Recommendation For Graduate School

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