How do I Apply for Graduate School?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 17 November 2018
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Graduate school provides numerous educational and professional opportunities to students. An advanced degree can make someone more employable, as it demonstrates that he or she has received additional training, and it can also be an opportunity for personal enrichment. The application process for graduate school can be involved and lengthy, and it pays to start preparing ahead of time if someone plans to apply for graduate school. The process usually involves meeting all program prerequisites; submitting an application, essay, and recommendations; completing any entrance exams; and supplying additional supporting material, such as a portfolio, if needed.

People who think that they want to attend graduate programs should start their research while still an undergraduate. Once they have chosen a field of interest, they should find several schools which offer advanced degrees, and get information from these schools about the specifics of the application procedure and any prerequisites. Advanced programs often have prerequisites to ensure that all students have the same basic level of knowledge when they enter the school, and many also have general knowledge requirements, such as experience with a foreign language.


It helps to assemble a list of programs you plan to apply to, along with the components of their applications and important dates. While researching programs, it pays to take notes about financial aid options, as financial aid applications are viewed more favorably when they are submitted early; there also may be special requirements for financial aid, such as submitting copies of recent tax returns. In some fields, a centralized agency collects application data from students, submitting it to schools by request, which may save a lot of time, although students will still need to submit supplementary data as directed to apply for graduate school at specific institutions.

At a minimum, a graduate school application usually includes the application itself, which has basic data about the applicant, along with an essay or essays in which the applicant demonstrates knowledge of the language used for instruction and the ability to communicate clearly. Students are also expected to submit letters of recommendation from instructors and people in their field, and they also usually need to take a standardized test. Some schools require generic examinations like the Graduate Record Exams (GREs), while others may request that students take specific tests to prove their knowledge in a particular field to apply for graduate school.

It may be necessary to submit a portfolio to apply for graduate school. This requirement is universal in applications for art schools, and it may be included in some other humanities schools as well. Students also may need to submit a curriculum vitae (CV) which details their work and life experience. Some schools accept video essays and other innovative forms of media for the primary essay and portfolio pieces, while others would prefer to see students sticking with formal written essays.

In the case of a student who wants to apply for graduate school to receive a doctoral degree, he or she must demonstrate satisfactory progress on the way to a master's degree. Some schools allow people to apply into combined master's/doctoral programs, which means that the student would earn a master's on the way to collecting a doctorate. Professional schools like medical schools and law schools have specialized applications with their own distinct requirements.



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