Top 6 practical things to know when preparing to apply to graduate school

So, you are thinking about applying to graduate school. Good for you! Graduate school is a fantastic way to build new knowledge and capabilities, dive deeply into a subject matter for which you’re passionate, and prepare for a high-skilled professional career.

A lot of time and planning goes into applying to graduate school. And, it would be a shame if you put forth a lot of energy (and money!) only to hit a roadblock at the eleventh hour. That’s where we come in. As you plan this next phase of your academic career, we’d like to recommend you keep in mind these 6 things so that you are confident and good-to-go when it comes time to hit “submit.”

1.  Start your applications early. Many competitive programs require letters of recommendation, transcripts from your undergraduate experience, resumes, reflective essays, and more. Additionally, you may have to take an exam such as the GREs or GMAT. Gathering all of the components of an application can be a time consuming process, and you definitely don’t want to wait until the last minute to get all of these pieces together.How early you ask? We recommend researching and selecting schools to apply to over a full year in advance of when you want to start.

For more details on timeline, see our guide to applying.

2.  It costs money to apply. Many graduate programs charge an application fee somewhere between $50 and $100 (our fee is $75). And, that’s not the only cost. Sometimes undergraduate institutions charge a fee for official transcripts. And, exams like the GRE or GMAT require some money too. In very limited cases, there may be fee waivers for applications and exams, but investigating these waivers will take some work.

3.  Be both specific about your goals AND prepared to change. Graduate school programs expect you to know what you want, but faculty and staff also hope you will be shaped by your experiences here. Sometimes this is a tough balance to strike. But, if you’re both enthusiastic about your career goals and eager to learn, you’ll fit in.

4.  Department staff and faculty want you to reach out. If you have a question or are interested in working with a particular faculty member, academic departments are eager to hear from you. Large Universities have many academic programs that sometimes overlap in content or seem really similar on the surface. Department staff can ask you the kinds of guiding questions to identify the programs you’re really looking for and help you find the right fit. That being said, be aware that…

5.  People develop impressions of you upon first contact. As you research programs, interact with advisers and staff, and begin connecting with faculty and current students, know that a graduate degree typically requires more maturity and self-motivation than an undergraduate degree, and people will be looking for signs of that maturity in you. Be yourself in your interactions; but also strive to be polite, friendly, honest, and on-time for scheduled meetings and phone calls.

6.  No single application detail will secure your admittance or eliminate you from consideration. Many graduate school programs review applications holistically. If your undergrad GPA or exam scores are not strong as you would like, don’t be too discouraged. Or, if you have fantastic exam scores or a letter of recommendation from a big name, don’t assume you will automatically get into your program on that alone. Be thorough when working through applications, and spend time crafting great personal statements.