Applying to Graduate School

Ashley Mog, DO-IT Staff

So, you've decided that you want to continue your education after your undergraduate degree! You are in for quite a ride! Applying to graduate school is an expensive and time-consuming process. Before you apply, think carefully about the schools you are interested in and only apply to those that you can truly see yourself attending. The average application fee is around $60; if you apply to five schools at that rate, you will have paid $300! Many schools do not waive the fee during the application process at the graduate level. This is why you should only apply to schools that you feel are a good fit.

When I applied to graduate schools, I had to be strategic to finish all of my applications. Here are a few tips to get you on the right path:

  • Create a timeline of application deadlines.
  • Make a list of each school and what they want you to send (transcripts, writing samples, etc).
  • Note how many letters of recommendation the schools you are interested in require.
  • Note the method of submission (if you are to send in the materials by mail or submit them electronically).

Much like applying to college for an undergraduate degree, every school has different requirements, so pay attention to them. Your timeline and list of schools will be helpful in tracking all of the details.

Two important pieces to any graduate school application are your statement of purpose and curriculum vitae (C.V.).

A statement of purpose is the foundation for most applications. A strong statement of purpose can be just what you need to bump up your application if your grades or GRE (Graduate Record Examination, a standardized test required for some graduate schools) scores are not as high as you would like. Graduate schools are looking for passionate students who will care about what they learn, not necessarily the highest achievers, and your statement of purpose is the place to talk about this. Your C.V. is an academic resume that many schools ask for. I applied to gender studies and disability studies programs—they all wanted a copy of my C.V. When I was writing my C.V., I looked at examples from professors and current graduate students. Tailor your C.V. to your experience. For example, I included my education and work information, but I also had sections for scholarships, teaching experience, and publications, as those were things I had experienced and could highlight. If you were in clubs or volunteered while in college, include that information as well.

Many application deadlines are in December and January. It is a good idea to begin the whole process in September to give yourself plenty of time to collect all the materials you need and fill out all of the applications. Notify the people from whom you would like references early in the process. When I emailed three contacts asking if they would be willing to write me letters, I included my C.V. and a table of the schools I was applying to. In this table of schools, I included:

  • the school, type of program, application deadline
  • what form the letters were supposed to take (e.g. hard copy sent in by mail or electronic form)
  • program website
  • what I wanted the recommender to highlight in the letter (this is a good idea because every school has different requirements!)

I applied to two schools out of the country (one in the United Kingdom and one in Canada). This process was similar to applying to schools in the United States, but there were a few key differences. Each country has a different education system and you have to look at their guides to compare what your grades are with what they require. Additionally, if you are accepted into a school in a different country, you must apply for a visa to study there and will probably need to go through a different process to obtain financial aid. Check your school's website or call the admissions office for more information!

The graduate school process is hard but rewarding. I applied to seven schools and was accepted by three. This is a very high number to get accepted to! Don't be discouraged if you only get into one—that is quite an accomplishment! Graduate school is competitive and even if you are qualified for a program, you will only get chosen if the school feels you are a good fit for their program.

So, good luck in your application process. It will be worth all of the work in the end if you decide that graduate school is the right path for you.