Let us help you navigate the graduate school application process.

Graduate School

Graduate education delivers specialized knowledge in a concentrated area. As a graduate student, your education will have a narrower focus with greater depth through coursework, research and practical experience. Graduate study involves a significant commitment of time, money and energy, so it is important to pursue your path with a clear vision.

This section of our website provides information to help you prepare, apply and choose a graduate school or program. Schedule an appointment with Career Services so we can help you through each step of the process.

Here are the steps to follow if you are interested in pursuing graduate school:

  • Step 1: Decide if graduate school is right for you
  • Step 2: Research and discuss options
  • Step 3: Check admission requirements
  • Step 4: Compile and submit applications
  • Step 5: Choose a program
More information about each step can be found under the tabs below:

Step 1

Decide if Graduate School Is Right for You

Graduate school is a large commitment of both time and money. Be sure you are applying for the right reasons! You want to make sure that the program you are applying to is the program that will allow you to fulfill your long-term goals.  

Ask yourself:

  • What are my interests?    
  • What will I specialize in?    
  • Can I stay motivated for the next two to seven years (time varies depending on program length)?    
  • If you are planning on full-time graduate work, are you prepared to live on savings, student loans and/or stipends?    
  • Can I succeed in graduate school?    
  • Do I have a strong interest in the subject matter?    
  • Will it improve my career outlook and/or help me reach my career goals?
  • Do I need to attend right away?
  • Will I benefit more by gaining some practical experience before pursuing a graduate degree?

Step 2

Research & Discuss Options

In some cases, similar types of programs vary in coursework and degree conferred. For example, there may be slight differences between public policy programs and public administration programs. Likewise, a degree in counseling may not necessarily be found in the psychology department – it may fall within the realm of education. Be sure you investigate fully the type of program as well as the specific program itself.

Resources to help guide your research
Research links
Check out:
Factors to consider in researching graduate programs
  • Accreditation    
  • Admissions Standards    
  • Career Assistance    
  • Cost/Financial Aid    
  • Culture    
  • Degrees Offered    
  • Faculty    
  • Location    
  • Multicultural/Diversity Opportunities    
  • Facilities    
  • Reputation/Ranking   
  • Research/Academic Focus    
  • Size    
  • State Regulations/Residency Requirements    
  • Surrounding Community
Be sure you are applying to the programs that fit your long-term career goals. 

Step 3

Check Admission Requirements

Each school may have different application processes and deadlines. Be sure you look into each program individually for requirements such as:

1. Undergraduate/previous graduate coursework prerequisites

2. Graduate test
Prepare for a graduate admission test as if you are only going to be taking it one time. Do not go into a test to "wing it" or "see what it's like." If you take the exam more than once, each school treats those scores differently; some take the average, some take the lowest score, and some the highest. Take a free online practice test first to see how you do.
3. Letters of recommendation  
  • We recommend that you send only the number of letters requested. Admission committees do not have enough time to read extra credentials. 
  • The best letter writers are the people who have personally witnessed your academic and professional capabilities and who can provide an evaluation of your ability to perform and succeed at the graduate level.
  • Your field of study will play a large role in your choice of potential recommenders, as you will want to have at least one person who knows your work and the field quite well.
  • Schedule a meeting with your letter writers to discuss your request and give them a generous amount of time to draft your letter. Talk to them about your interests and plans for graduate study.
  • You can help your letter writers write enlightening letters by giving each of them a portfolio comprised of:
    •  A cover note that includes: information on how to contact you; what you would like emphasized in each letter; a list of schools to which you are applying; due dates, with the earliest due date at the top; any other information that is relevant. Open and close your note with thanks and acknowledgement that the letter writer’s time is valuable and that this letter is important to your professional future. Also include recommendation forms if they are required.
    • Your unofficial transcripts (note courses you took with them)
    • A draft of your statement of purpose 
    • A copy of your best work in the course (with instructor comments on it), lab evaluations, projects, etc. 
    • Your résumé 
    • Stamped and addressed envelopes to send letters and forms directly to the schools of your choice
  • In general, graduate programs prefer confidential letters.
4. Deadlines 
  • Deadlines and application instructions are non-negotiable. Applications received after the date they are due will most likely be disregarded.
  • To avoid being wait-listed, submit your application as early as possible. Schools may fill their programs prior to their published deadlines
  • Priority deadlines are used for consideration of scholarships, graduate assistantships, and fellowships (Send in your materials by this date if you need financial assistance).
  • Rolling admissions accept students on a continual basis until all acceptance slots are full. After this point, applications will no longer be accepted.
5. Personal statement
Personal statements are sometimes also called "application essays" or "statements of purpose." Whatever they are called, they are essentially essays which are written in response to a question or questions on a graduate or professional school application form. The personal statement is your chance to communicate something unique about yourself to the admissions committee, and is an extremely important component of your application. The admissions committee wants to know not only what interests you about the program, but also what you will contribute to their program in terms of research, seminar discussions, conferences and other collaborative opportunities. Its content should be geared toward your unique story, which might not come through in the data you otherwise provide on your application.  

From application to application, requested personal statements vary widely in length, ranging from a couple of paragraphs to a series of essays of a page or so each. There are two basic types of personal statements:
  • One type of personal statement requires you to respond to a very general question, such as, “Why are you interested in this particular program, and what makes you a qualified applicant?” 
  • A second type of personal statement involves responding to specific questions. In this case, you may be asked to answer more than one question as part of your personal statement.  
The personal statement must be well written with respect to issues of style and grammar. Note that programs may also request supplemental materials or personal interviews at other stages in the admissions process.  

The resources below will help you in beginning to craft your personal statement. In addition, visit the writing center for assistance in creating your draft or schedule an appointment with Career Services for help in brainstorming or reviewing your personal statement.

6. Financial aid information 
Talk to someone in each program/institution individually about financial aid, scholarships, fellowships, teaching assistantships and graduate assistantships. Schools may have specific programs that you may apply to in addition to outside grants and scholarships. Applying to programs early offers you a better chance of obtaining one of these packages.   

Step 4

Compile & Submit Applications

Apply early, or at the very least, on time. Applications received after the deadline will not be reviewed. Take the required graduate admission test(s) with enough time for scores to arrive before the deadline.

Have your personal statement proofread and be sure it meets the stated requirements. Double-check all materials and, if submitting a paper application, photocopy before mailing. If possible, send all materials together. If mailing your application, you may want to consider doing so via certified mail.

Confirm that your application has arrived and there are no missing documents. Inquire about the interview process, if applicable. Typically, candidates apply to five to 15 programs divided between "safe," "maybe" and "reach" programs.


Step 5

Choose a Program

Factors to consider in choosing a program:

  • Is the university's faculty diverse regarding research in the discipline?    
  • Does the program emphasize theory or practice?    
  • Does the program include an internship and/or practicum? 
  • If so, does the school help you obtain an internship/practicum?    
  • Are there fields to specialize in within the program/department?    
  • How long is the program and how many credits are required?    
  • Is there a final comprehensive exam or thesis?    
  • What is the reputation of the school/program? Is it accredited?    
  • What financial aid opportunities are available (teaching assistantships, resident assistantships, scholarships, grants, etc.)? This will vary from school to school.   
  • What do graduates typically do after completing the program?    
  • Are you comfortable with the location and size of the school?

Discuss your options with Career Services, graduate school advisers, faculty or mentors for help in selecting a program.