How to Apply for Graduate School

It’s not easy to go to high school. Neither is applying for it. There’s a lot you need to learn before you apply to a graduate program, from finding the right program to showing up for the first day of class. 

Despite the differences between graduate school programs and undergraduate degrees, some of the same senior academic staff and departments who teach undergraduate courses often teach graduate-level courses as well. In contrast to undergraduate programs, graduate students are less likely to take graduate or graduate entry-level courses outside their field of study.

What is a Graduate School?

A graduate school is a school that awards advanced academic degrees (e.g., master’s and doctoral degrees, with the general requirement that students must have earned a previous undergraduate degree. 

Graduate schools are distinguished from professional schools, which often offer specialized graduate degrees related to professions such as medicine, nursing, business, engineering, speech therapy, or law. 

Since many professional schools offer graduate degrees, and vice versa, the distinction between graduate schools and professional schools is not absolute.

How to Apply for Graduate School

Following the correct steps will ensure you are accepted to graduate school. The steps are as follows:

Step 1: Make an extensive list of your dream schools

As with applying to college or university when planning your bachelor’s degree, the first step in applying for graduate school is to create a list of schools. At least nine programs, split into target schools, dream schools, and safety schools, should appear on your graduate school list.

Dream schools

On your list, you should pick programs that are considered “dream schools,” meaning that they require high admission requirements and challenging educational programs; only top students are admitted.

Safety schools

In order for your list to be complete, you must list three graduate schools where you have an excellent chance of getting in. Schools classified as safety schools are those for which your grade point average and scores on standardized tests exceed the minimum requirements. Consider a college or university where you earned your bachelor’s degree that has a more competitive admissions process than one of the graduate schools on your list a safety school.

Target schools

You should include three graduate schools on your list that have a good chance of admitting you. It can be difficult to discern what separates a target school from a dream school or a safe school. In order to explain this a little more clearly, target schools are those in which:

  • Test scores (including GRE, GMAT) are in compliance with or exceed requirements for master’s programs.
  • You have an academic record that is equal to or better than the minimum GPA in college or university (AKA, your unofficial transcripts are authentic).
  • According to your letters of recommendation, you will be among the top candidates for admission to this degree program. A professor from the college or university where you earned your bachelor’s degree should write one of your recommendation letters. It is likely that the person knows you (as a student).
  • As you earned your bachelor’s degree, you developed meticulous writing skills.

Adding schools to your target schools should be your first choice from all these categories. The dream and safety don’t need more attention. Find out which graduate programs are right for your qualifications, budget, and interests.

Step 2: List the requirements for admission

Now that you’ve decided which graduate schools you want to attend, research the admissions processes for each. There are a lot of graduate school admission requirements that are similar. The same documents are required by almost all graduate schools, for example, transcripts, letters of recommendation, and GRE GMAT scores.

You will also be able to be more efficient as you go through your list if you create a spreadsheet or a checklist that contains the requirements for each school. In addition to the personal statement, each school will offer some prompts to help you complete that essay.

Many master’s programs offer similar prompts for writing personal statements. You can save your time by identifying the overlaps so you can devote your time to writing one or two great personal statements rather than ten mediocre ones.

Step 3: Ace your GRE exams

Make note of the average GRE or GMAT score required for each graduate program on your requirements list. Write in the 75th percentile and the 50th percentile averages.

It is possible to take the GMAT and/or GRE subject tests in a number of GMAT and GRE preparation courses. Using Kaplan or Princeton review’s free online GRE prep test is no problem. Because the real GMAT or GRE subject tests are on computers, it is important to take an online exam.

You should be able to get into the ‘fair chance’ schools if you are within the 75th percentile. If you’re not in the 75th percentile, what should you do? Keep studying! It is possible to study alone or to enrol in a GRE prep course or to hire a tutor. Practice is the only way to get to the scores you need to get admitted if you’re far from the mark you need.

Step 4: Write your Personal Statement

The personal statement you submit to get into the same master’s program as you are of paramount importance since it will make you stand out from all the other students applying. The following points should be considered when drafting your personal statement:

  • Attention-getter: Admissions reads tons of essays. It will not stand out if yours is boring or the same as all the others.
  • Position yourself in a way that shows how you’ll bring value to the school: You will need to adapt each one to the unique needs of each school, of course. Therefore, you should flatter the staff at the admissions office a bit. Working with a professor you admire is especially beneficial.
  • Share a copy of your personal statement with those whom you’ve asked to recommend you: Thus, they won’t repeat what you’ve said already. Before you send out your statements, ask others to read them. Having typos or errors in your work is inevitable. You can catch errors before submitting your writing by sharing it with others.

Step 5: Recommendation letters

Three letters of recommendation are generally required for graduate school admission which is typically submitted online. Recommendation letters present two challenges.

  • To start with, you’ll need to ensure that each recommendation is unique. It is therefore possible either to ask them what they will say or to suggest what other people will say. We have a difficult conversation to have here. Nevertheless, professors regularly write recommendations for students. Having a clear understanding of what you need from them makes their lives easier.
  • It is also challenging to get recommenders to write and submit letters of recommendation. The writers are doing this as a favor. Due to this, your recommendation letter is not of high priority. In order to make sure the letters arrive on time, you’ll probably need to pester them. Do this without fear. In order to ensure your recommenders have enough time to prepare, give them plenty of lead time. Don’t ask them just a few days ahead of time; give them several weeks (or even months), and give them a deadline.

Your application deadlines should be padded; ask for recommendations at least a couple of weeks before you need them.

Step 6: Obtain transcripts well before the deadline for applications

If you earned your bachelor’s degree from a college or university, you will need to request a transcript. Only official transcripts can be obtained in this way. Registrars’ offices can help you do it over the phone or online, as well as through schools’ websites. Depending on the length of the transcript, you can expect to pay from $5 to $10 per copy.

As your schools’ official transcripts will not be accepted by graduate schools if they have passed through you first, arrange for them to be sent directly to the master’s program you’re applying to. It can take months to gather all of your transcripts. Procrastination is not a good idea.

Step 7: Describe your work examples

Request the assistance of a college or university professor if you are required to submit examples of your work. Shining is essential. Additionally, it is highly likely that the admissions committee will mention this work during your graduate school interview. Know it well, and be ready to talk about it in more depth.

Step 8: Review each graduate school application requirement twice

Before submitting your application and other documents, review the admissions requirements for each master’s program on your list. Submit your graduate school applications at least a month before the deadline. 

Waiting is common. If you submit your application early, it will be read more carefully.

Step 9: Hurry up and wait

When you apply to graduate school, the hardest part is waiting to hear back from the admissions office. You’ll get notified when schools contact you. Your admissions office may contact you if you have been selected for an interview. Ask questions about the program during the interview or visit. In your questions, you need to demonstrate that you have researched the program and thought about how you can contribute. Prepare for your exam by practising with your professor or a friend.

Step 10: You got in! Now what?

In order to pay for graduate school, you should consider how you’re going to pay for it after you’ve been accepted to a school of your choice. In addition to scholarships, loans, and tuition reimbursement programs offered by employers, financial aid is available in several forms. However, the hard part has been accomplished. You’re awesome!


  1. Is it hard to get accepted to graduate school?

The circumstances for getting into grad school differ based on the college or program you are considering – just as they do for getting into undergrad. Ivy League and Ivy+ institutions will be hard to get into, so it is a good idea to focus on them.

  1. Why is grad school so hard?

There is a lot more information to learn in graduate school than there is in undergraduate school. Additionally, graduate school presents challenges due to the different quality of doctoral education from its predecessors. Many students find that surprising.


You are taking the first step into a new world of possibilities when you pursue your graduate degree. In a time of pandemics, this can cause stress and anxiety, especially for those who are on high alert.

Whenever possible, apply for graduate school programs that will allow you to graduate from one level of learning to the next. 


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