Applications are typically due during the fall semester, about a year before you plan to attend the graduate program. Keep in mind that most application components require significant time to develop and you will need to begin preparing for your application process several months before your applications are actually due.
Every graduate program has its own set of application requirements. Even if you apply to two graduate programs at the same university, there may be slightly different materials requested. Make sure that you are well aware of all requirements ahead of time and plan accordingly. Follow the instructions carefully to ensure that you submit all of the application components in an accurate and timely manner.
Common application components include:
- Personal statement
- Resume or CV
- Letters of recommendation or references
- Entrance exam
- Program-specific requirements
This guide will outline each of these components in more detail.
Maintain an awareness of application timelines and selection processes. If applying to multiple programs, employ a system (e.g., spreadsheets, email labels, calendar reminder alerts, cloud drive folders) that aligns with your organizational style to manage and track application components throughout the application process.
Many graduate school programs require applicants to submit a personal statement as part of the application process. Personal statements typically consist of questions related to how you became interested in a field, your professional goals, or aspects of your character and background that make you a qualified candidate. A personal statement may also be referred to as a letter of intent, statement of purpose, or other name that represents a narrative essay. Regardless of the name, be sure that you carefully follow any writing prompt specifications that are outlined by the graduate institution.
For assistance with personal statement writing, you can schedule an appointment with your career advisor at the Career Planning & Development Center or at the Writing Center within the Academic Resource Center. Additional personal statement resources include the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) and the University of Alberta Personal Statement Guidebook.
Resumes and CVs
Many graduate school programs require applicants to submit a resume or curriculum vitae (CV). Ensure that your application materials are reflective of the skills, experiences, and pieces of information that would highlight your likelihood for success in your field of study. If applying to multiple programs, adjust your resume or CV with each application to accentuate skills and experiences relevant to that program.
Meet with your career advisor for assistance with crafting your resume or CV. Additionally, you can utilize the CPDC's online resources such as Guidelines for Resume Writing and Preparing a Curriculum Vitae (CV) for further information.
References and Letters of Recommendation
You may be asked to provide a list of references or one or more letters of recommendation as part of the application process for admittance to graduate school. When determining who to select as a reference or to write letters of recommendation, consider the following:
- Have you interacted with this individual over time?
- Has this individual had opportunity to observe your academic/professional growth?
- Would this individual be able to describe your academic/professional strengths?
- Would this individual be able to speak to your ability to succeed in your intended graduate program?
Common examples of references or sources of letters of recommendation include current or former instructors, advisers, or job/internship supervisors.
Requesting a Letter of Recommendation
Reach out to request letters of recommendation well in advance of the application deadline, leaving plenty of time (six weeks or more) for your prospective recommender to craft their letter. You should include information in your request to remind them of your relationship and your background, the deadline for the letter to be submitted, and instructions for submission. You might also provide a resume or CV so that they have information about the breadth of your skills and experience, some of which they might not have had the opportunity to observe.
Sample Request Letter
Dear Professor Gorlok,
I'm reaching out to share the exciting news that I am in the process of applying for graduate study in public policy. As part of the application process, I've been asked to submit letters of recommendation.
When enrolled in your American National Institutions, Comparative Politics, and Advanced Studies in International Politics courses, I believe you had an opportunity to evaluate my educational capabilities and could comment on my suitability to complete a graduate program in public policy. Would you be willing to write a recommendation letter on my behalf?
I'll be applying to three programs, so I've attached a document outlining the deadlines for each and instructions provided by each institution for submitting a letter. I've also attached my resume so that you can understand how my coursework pairs with my extra-curricular activities and work experience. If you're unable to write a recommendation, please let me know by September 1.
Feel free to let me know if you have any questions. I very much appreciate your consideration and time.
Many graduate programs require entrance exams and each school will have a deadline for when your test scores are due. Plan to take the exam earlier than the school deadline because many exams can take between 4-6 weeks to return your scores. You can find out when tests are offered on the individual entrance exam websites. Common exams requested are:
- GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) and GRE Subject Tests: The most common graduate school exam used for entrance to a wide range of graduate school programs.
- GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test): Most often required for entrance to business school graduate programs.
- LSAT (Law School Admission Test): Offered four time a year, this exam is used primarily for admittance to law school.
- MCAT (Medical College Admission Test): Generally required for applications to medical school and other health related occupations.
Many of these exams require extensive preparation and will necessitate a significant amount of time to study in order to be prepared. Factor this exam preparation time into your graduate school application plans and timeline. You may consider taking practice exams to identify the specific content areas in which you could develop more knowledge. Additionally, factor in enough time to retake an exam in the event that you are dissatisfied with the original score.
Some graduate schools may require candidates to participate in an in-person, phone, or technology-based interview. Prepare for an interview by reviewing the application requirements and essay prompts to discern the types of questions that might be asked. Develop and practice potential responses ahead of time so that you can be prepared to answer them confidently and effectively. You may also want to consult with faculty members or students familiar with the program in order to prepare and discuss questions to ask the interviewer(s).
Consider scheduling a mock interview appointment with your career advisor to practice for your graduate school admissions interviews.
In addition to the common application components outlined above, some programs may have specific requirements such as:
- Academic transcripts
- A portfolio or work samples
- Observation/shadowing hours
- Other application requirements specific to the field of study
Research the application requirements carefully to identify the components you need to prepare.