How to Apply for Graduate School

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated December 1, 2021

Published February 4, 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Once you've completed your undergraduate studies and have earned a bachelor's degree, you might consider advancing your education by earning a master's or doctorate degree. Doing so means you'll need to gain admittance into a graduate program. If grad school is something you're interested in, it's important to understand what it is and what the application process is like.

In this article, we will define graduate school and list the various steps it takes to successfully apply.

Related: Highest Paying Master's Degrees

What is graduate school?

Graduate school is an advanced academic program that awards advanced degrees including a master's or doctorate degree. In order tobe accepted into a grad school program, you'll need to have a bachelor's degree, a good grade point average from your undergraduate career and other necessary materials and qualifications. Whether or not you'll be attending grad school is not only dependent on your own personal preference, but also the requirements for your chosen career. This is because many higher-level positions require a master's degree.

Related: What Is a Professional Degree? Types and Career Benefits

How to apply for graduate school

If you're interested in pursuing graduate education, there are several steps you'll need to take. Here are the steps to consider:

  1. Research grad schools

  2. Take practice tests and courses

  3. Take the GRE

  4. Research financial aid

  5. Select the schools you'll apply to

  6. Write your personal statement

  7. Request letters of recommendation

  8. Request official transcripts

  9. Start applying

  10. Confirm your applications were submitted

1. Research grad schools

The first step in the grad school application process involves researching various universities and programs that pique your interest. Take into consideration the campus location, culture, cost and the overall institution. If this is a place where you can see yourself studying, add it to your prospects list. In general, it's a good idea to apply to a wide variety of schools, including your dream schools and your safety schools. For example, consider the schools that you'd love to attend, but might be out of reach academically. These would be your dream schools. It's also important to look into some safety schools that you have a good chance of getting accepted to. If there's a chance you're not accepted to your dream school, your safety schools provide you with a safety net—hence the name. In other words, this means you can rest assured that you'll be attending grad school for that given year.

2. Take practice tests and courses

Before you take the GRE, it's important to study in preparation for it. The more practice you get, the more prepared you'll be and the more comfortable you'll be on test day. In addition, knowing what to anticipate will help ease your nerves. The studying method you choose will depend on your own personal preferences. While you can take a class for the GRE, you can also study alone or hire a tutor. Depending on how well you score on the GRE practice test, you might need to adjust your study methods accordingly.

In addition, it's important to register for the exam with plenty of time. This means you'll want your scores to arrive at the various schools you've applied to before the application deadline.

Related: 11 Test-Taking Strategies To Help You Score Well an on Exam

3. Take the GRE

Once you feel adequately prepared for the GRE, it's time to take the test. Be mindful of the average GRE scores for your prospective grad programs. This will help you gauge where you need to score to gain admittance. If you take the GRE in August, you'll have time to retake it should you want to improve your score before it's sent off to the grad schools you're applying to. The better your score is, the greater your chance of admittance will be.

Related: GRE Score Range: Definition, Sections and How It Works

4. Research financial aid

Next, start looking into your financial aid options. Figure out how much money you'll need to cover tuition, housing, books and other expenses. Creating a budget will help you get an idea of how much money you'll be able to contribute to your education. Though you won't need to apply for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) until winter, it's important to get an idea of your potential financial situation. It's worth noting that grad students do not receive grants.

5. Select the schools you'll apply to

Once you've determined your financial aid opportunities, narrow down the list of schools you're interested in and select the ones you'd like to apply to. You can even visit the schools in person to get a better idea of whether or not you can picture yourself attending there. If you're unable to visit, be sure to research each school online so you get a feel for the faculty, curriculum, reputation and more.

It is also important to be aware of any requirements and deadlines throughout the application process. Making a checklist or having a calendar will help you stay organized and ensure you meet all the important dates. The better you're able to manage your time, the better chance you'll have at writing an impactful essay and a personal statement.

6. Write your personal statement

You'll most like be required to write essays for your chosen schools. During this time, begin writing your personal statement. Your personal statement is a crucial part of your application because it tells the office of admissions who you are. A strong personal statement will help you stand out from other candidates. Make sure your statement gives an accurate representation of who you are and your goals. Once you've finished writing it, allow a family member or friend to proofread it for any potential spelling or grammatical errors. This will ensure that your personal statement is polished and ready to be submitted.

7. Request letters of recommendation

Because your letters of recommendation are an important part of the application process, be sure to select the most appropriate individuals to write on your behalf. This can include faculty or employers that know your character and work ethic. You'll likely need three letters of recommendation so make sure to select recommenders that can speak to your various skills and expertise. In addition, they should be capable of writing a strong yet positive letter of recommendation.

Be sure to ask them for a letter of recommendation with as much advanced notice as possible. Two weeks before your application deadline should provide them with ample time to complete the letter. Set up a time to speak with them over the phone or in person when you ask them. It's also important that they know your career path and goals before they begin writing your letter of recommendation. In addition, provide them with any documents they'll need in the process.

Related: How To Ask for a Letter of Recommendation (With Examples)

8. Request official transcripts

Be sure to request your official transcripts ahead of the application deadline. You can request your transcripts from your undergraduate college or university's registrar office. Your transcript will need to be sent to every program you plan to apply to and will need to go directly from your undergraduate university to each grad school. Each transcript will cost you anywhere from $5-10.

9. Start applying

You can now start filling out your various grad school applications. Make sure that you stay organized so you can avoid sending an essay to one college that was meant for another. In addition, make sure to proofread all of your materials and the application and ensure that you've filled in all necessary fields. Perhaps the most important step is making sure you met all application deadlines. It can be helpful to prioritize your applications by the due dates to avoid applying anywhere late.

10. Confirm your applications were submitted

After you've submitted your application, make sure you receive confirmation from each school that they successfully received your application. If you don't hear back, you can contact the admissions office directly. Once you've confirmed that they've received everything they need from you, the waiting process has officially begun.

Related: How To Get Into Grad School (Plus 8 Benefits of Attending Grad School)

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