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Graduate School

Applying to graduate school can be stressful. We’ve complied the following information for students who are planning on, or thinking about, pursuing graduate school:

Is Graduate School Right for You?

Wondering if graduate school is right for you? Use the following questions to help:

  • Do you have clearly defined goals that include graduate school?
  • Have you researched your desired career path to determine what graduate degree and program is best?
  • Do you have experience in the field? (Volunteer work and projects count.)
  • Is the degree necessary now?
  • Will gaining some additional experience maximize your competitiveness?
  • Is your GPA competitive for your graduate school goals?
  • Have you planned ahead or are you rushing through the application process?
  • Are you looking forward to continuing your education?
  • Have you thought about how you’ll pay for a graduate degree?

Interested in continuing your education in law or health? Check out the law school or health professions page.

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Identifying and Researching Degrees and Programs

There are two steps in identifying appropriate graduate programs. First, you want to identify what type of degree you should be pursuing. This will then help narrow down which programs you’ll research.


What degree is appropriate or necessary? If you know the industry, or type of position you ultimately want, try to find others in the field and see what their educational background is. You can also look at the education requirements in posted job description of the job you’d like to do.


After you’ve determined which degree you want to pursue, you can start researching programs. The following criteria can help you narrow down which schools to research:

  • Research areas
  • Geography
  • Reputation or rankings
  • Cost
  • Admissions criteria

Not sure where to start? Try talking to your department or academic advisor, or see one of the following websites:

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Most graduate schools have similar application requirements. Below is information on what applicants are usually asked to provide. However, it’s important that you always check the specific requirements for the programs to which you’re applying.

Standardized Tests

General Record Exam (GRE) – This test is required for most graduate schools. The GRE is offered locally on an ongoing basis throughout the year. Scores from the computer-delivered test are sent to the institutions you designated approximately 10–15 days after your test date, while paper-delivered test scores are sent about six weeks after your test date.

GRE Subject Test – There are seven different GRE subject tests:

  • Biochemistry, cell and molecular biology
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Literature in English
  • Mathematics
  • Physics
  • Psychology

Not all programs in these areas require a subject test, but many may be required or recommended by the department you’re applying to. Subject tests are offered once in September, October and April. Scores will be mailed to score recipients approximately six weeks after the subject test date.

Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) – This test is specialized for students looking to get a graduate degree in business. The test is offered weekly and costs $250.

Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) – This exam is one of the many requirements for getting into medical school. To learn about these requirements visit our medical school page.

Law School Admission Test (LSAT)– This exam is required for getting into law school. To learn more about this and other requirements visit our law school page.

The score you receive on these exams can have a big impact on whether or not you’re accepted into a program. This is why it is important to make sure you are adequately prepared for the exam.

In addition to traditional prep books, the sites below are great resources for preparing for these exams:


Letter of recommendation requirements can vary from school to school. It’s a good idea to review any guidelines posted on the website of the program you’re applying to before contacting your references.

You can set up an online account through Interfolio to store letters of recommendation.


Be sure to check your transcript for accuracy before submitting it. Information about requesting transcripts can be found on the Registrar’s transcript page.

Personal Statements, Statements of Purpose, and Essays

Graduate programs may refer to the type of statement they require using any of the above terms. In general, a personal statement may be a more comprehensive or broad essay on you, your story, and your qualifications for that program or field. A statement of purpose is usually more focused on the specific program.

Some general tips:

  • Be sure to answer the question or prompt clearly.
  • Highlight your main qualifications for the program.
  • Tell them what makes you unique; share your story, your experience or special qualifications.
  • Briefly state what you know about the field. Remember: This is a personal statement, not an academic paper.
  • Let them know what about their program is appealing to you and what criteria you used in selecting programs to apply to.
  • Your statement should stand alone, but also complement the rest of your application. Think about each part of your application as a spotlight, each clarifying why you are applying and why you are qualified for their program.
  • Have a writing tutor, faculty member, career advisor, or someone your trust review your statement. However, when incorporating edits remember that the voice should remain yours.
  • And finally, be sure to proof your document carefully. It’s important to provide a well-written and error-free document.

A special note on statements of purpose: If you’re asked to provide a statement of purpose, do your research on that specific program. You may want to explore individual courses, the program focus, research opportunities, faculty expertise, structure of the program (internship, field experience, etc.), location, or other factors that can help you to determine your fit for that program and that program’s fit for you.

There may be aspects of your application that you feel deserve, or need, an explanation. If this isn’t included in your other statements, you may opt to include an addendum. Addendums should be as brief and to the point as possible.


Interviewing is a critical step for graduate school applicants. Review the graduate school interview guide (PDF) either on your own or with a career advisor to help make sure you’re prepared.

We also suggest doing a mock interview, either with a friend, family member, WSAP speaking tutor or one of our career advisors.

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Define your career/degree goals and begin researching programs.

Determine what standardized tests are required and when they are offered. If possible, budget time to take tests twice just in case.

Think about and explore test prep options. Self study? Prep class?

Take standardized tests (if appropriate).


Prep, take, or retake (if necessary) standardized exams.

Request letters of recommendation.

Refine school list.

Contact faculty at target schools, if appropriate. Some PhD programs strongly encourage you to connect with faculty in their programs to discuss research opportunities.

Create or update your calendar with application deadlines and required materials.

Start work on personal statements, other essays, your resume and other required documents.


Finalize resume and essay(s).

Review the financial aid application process and fill out necessary forms.

Look for and apply for scholarships.

Check on recommendation status with your recommenders.

Request transcripts through the Registrar.

Complete and submit your applications.

Remember to submit your test scores!


Weigh options and make decisions.

Make alternative plans, if necessary.

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See the following sites for information on how to get funding for graduate school:

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