Prepare a comprehensive list of the graduate schools in your area(s) of interest. The easiest way to do this is to consult such resources as Graduate School Finder, or Peterson’s Annual Guides to Graduate Study or the GRE/CGS Directory of Graduate Programs. In addition to these comprehensive listings, you may find directories for your field helpful, such as The Pre-Law Handbook or Graduate Study in Psychology.
Once you have obtained a comprehensive list of schools, begin trimming the list. Your undergraduate faculty advisor can be especially helpful in identifying programs that will be good matches for your interests and abilities. Also talk with a career counselor, practicing professionals; consult ratings; and use your criteria. Cut the list to ten or fifteen schools and telephone or send a post card to each school requesting a catalog, application material, and financial aid forms.
You are now ready to begin submitting applications to the schools of your choice. Most applications consist of six parts: the application form; transcripts of all past academic work; letters of reference; national examination scores; financial aid forms; and application fees.
The Application Form
You should either type or neatly print your responses to all questions. Black ink or black ribbon are best. If typing, avoid using “script” typeface. Make all corrections as neatly as possible. If the application form does not look good, you will not look good. Before you put anything on the application form, write out answers to each question on a separate sheet of paper.
In most instances the application for admission to graduate school is the only application needed, although some programs require a special departmental application. There also may be some departmental special requirements such as writing samples, portfolios, auditions or personal interviews. It makes sense to write or call the chair of the department or school to ask if there are any special requirements.
The Application Fee
This can range from $10.00 to $100.00. However, some colleges and universities do not require the application fee for ethnic applicants. Check with the admissions office for application fee waiver procedures. They will probably want a letter from the Financial Aid Office verifying that you are on aid.
The Statement of Purpose
The Statement of Purpose is an important part of the graduate application. It should be a concise essay about your educational background and goals for graduate study. Even if you are not sure about the specifics of your program, the essay gives the selection committee a sample of your ability to state and develop an idea in writing.
If you feel uncertain as to the contents or quality of your statement of purpose (and who doesn’t), ask a friendly faculty member or counselor for an expert opinion. They have seen plenty of applications, and can give you useful advice.
It is especially important for the Personal or Biographical Statement, Statement of Purpose, or a Statement of Career/Professional Goals to be carefully thought out and written well. These must be written with the utmost care. If you have done some career/life planning, these statements will not be difficult. Remember, essay statements can be “two edged swords.” They provide you with the opportunity to speak about important aspects of yourself which were not brought out by the regular questions. At the same time, however, essay statements magnify inconsistency, arrogance, shyness, etc., more than check-off and one word answers. It is always helpful to have someone critique your essay for you.
Transcripts and Grades
Transcripts must be requested through the Registrar’s Office of your undergraduate institution. Have the registrar’s office send an official transcript of your undergraduate work directly to the admissions office of the schools to which you are applying. Some schools, however, will provide you with mailing labels to give to the registrar. It is your responsibility to make sure the transcripts have been sent.
The minimum grade-point-average (GPA) required for admission at most universities is 3.0 on a scale where A = 4.0, i.e., a minimum B average. Grades are of overwhelming importance, but a GPA that does not quite meet that minimum can be offset with good letters of recommendation, high test scores and a well written statement of purpose.
Letters of Recommendation
Most graduate schools will want from two to five letters. Some schools may ask that you simply supply names and addresses. Most, however, will provide you with forms that you must give to the persons you wish to have write recommendations. The selection of references should always be in accord with the graduate school’s directions. To facilitate the reference person’s letter writing, you should provide them with three things:
- Information about you and why you want to attend graduate school.
- Information about the graduate school.
- A pre-addressed, stamped envelope.
In general, letters of recommendation (or letters of reference) should be written by faculty. If you are already employed in your proposed field of study, however, a letter from your employer would be appropriate. In either event, be sure to choose a faculty member or employer who thinks well enough of you to give you a good recommendation. A teacher who gave you a “C” in a course is not likely to consider you an outstanding candidate for graduate study, nor will a supervisor who fired you be enthusiastic in his or her recommendation. The use of your minister and family friends, no matter how long you have known them, cannot reliably testify to your academic excellence.
Note: For some seniors, it may be possible to use a credential file rather than asking faculty to write a number of different letters. Ask your advisor if a credential file will assist your graduate admissions process.
Following Up On Your Application
Though you may have already filed your application, there are still some tasks which can enhance the quality of your decision making. If, however, you have allowed enough time, these steps can be taken before submitting applications.
In graduate and/or professional school, you will be working very closely with your advisor. In many instances, advisors can inhibit or facilitate your progress. It may be helpful to conduct some background research on the faculty of your proposed places of study; identify those persons at each school who share your academic, professional, or personal interests.
There are several ways in which this may be accomplished. You may have gathered some of this information earlier in the process. If not, now is the time to do it.
- Check the publication records of the faculty. Are they doing research/writing in areas of interest to you?
- Check the various Who’s Who listings. Are faculty members involved in organizations or activities which give you a common background or interest?
- Talk with faculty members of your undergraduate institution to see what they know about the people at each of the prospective schools.
- Talk with alumni or current students at the schools to find out what the faculty are like.
- Check professional or scholastic journals in your field of study.
If possible, begin to develop personal and/or professional relationships with the persons you listed. Your goal is to have them know more about you than is conveyed through the application material.
Gaining admission to the graduate school of your choice takes time and effort. Using a thoughtful, systematic approach should increase your chances of getting into a program that is right for you!
This information was provided by:
The Career Development Center, Wartburg College
Waverly, Iowa 50677-0903