At The Grad Cafe, we understand grad school requirements. Programs have different prerequisites, and you’ll need to know what to include when you submit your application. Here’s what you need to know about graduate school requirements.
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Grad School Requirements: What You Need
Some institutions may ask you for fewer requirements, while others may ask you for everything you could think of. Despite the different grad school requirements from school to school, chances are you’ll still need some if not all of the things in the list below.
This article includes the most common things requested from prospective graduate students.
So what do you need to apply to a graduate program? Here’s where to start.
1) Application Form
While the undergraduate application process involves submitting the Common Application, every grad school has its own application form. So you’ll need to submit a distinct form for every graduate program you apply for.
In most cases, you’ll submit this through an online portal. Though the exact information required varies from school to school, most include contact detail, basic academic history, proof of legal residency, and the names of your references.
2) Your Transcripts
Even though the requirements for graduate school won’t always be the same everywhere you apply to, one thing will remain constant: each will always ask you for your transcripts. There’s no denying that official transcripts are a requirement you can’t skip when trying to get into graduate school.
By official transcripts, we mean the ones you get from undergrad and any other graduate institutions you’ve received your degrees. It’s worth noting that you might not always need a master’s degree to get into a doctorate program. If you haven’t completed a master’s degree, you don’t need to submit your grad school transcripts. But you’ll almost always be asked for your undergrad records.
Most grad schools will require you to submit transcripts from all undergraduate and graduate programs you’ve attended. The selection committee will typically review all transcripts, though if you do have a grad school transcript, chances are your grad school GPA will be weighted more than your undergrad average. After all, your grad GPA is a more accurate depiction of your recent academic performance.
On occasion, you may be asked for other transcripts if you’ve acquired some during your non-degree programs. Some secondary transcripts you may be asked for are the ones you get from language-immersion schools, study abroad programs, and summer programs.
The main reason you’ll be asked for your transcript is that educational institutions are looking to gauge your aptitude and past academic performance. High grades and a high GPA show that you’re a dedicated student, and you have the potential to perform well if accepted to graduate school.
For this reason, there are often some GPA requirements for grad school. Some competitive programs will prefer you to have a higher GPA (minimum 3.2), though most other programs only require a minimum of 3.0.
If you don’t necessarily meet grad school GPA requirements, there’s no need to lose hope! It’s possible to contact admissions offices ahead of time to see whether they are willing to look past your GPA and make an exception. However, you should be prepared to address GPA dips and deficiencies in your application and during your interview.
2) Your Standardized Test Results
When you’re trying to get into grad school, your standardized test scores are often required. It’s a good idea to find out as much as you can about any tests you’ll need to take so that you can prepare as best you can ahead of time. Although some tests are repeatable, others should only be taken once — so it’s best to be ready!
We recommend a service like Magoosh to help prepare for these types of tests. They offer subject-matter expertise, and practice tests, and guarantee an improvement in your scorecard. Many graduate programs rely on standardized test scores for applicant evaluations.
That’s why you’ll need to include them with your graduate school application.
Here’s a deeper dive into the specific standardized tests you’ll need for admission to graduate programs.
GRE and Subject GREs
The GRE or Graduate Record Exam is a common requirement in many educational institutions. However, some graduate programs have started veering away from requiring your test results. In some cases, schools will not require the GRE, but they’ll still recommend you take it. If you can take a recommended test and provide high scores, do it anyway — as having high scores will boost your grad school applications.
Beyond providing your scores for your general GRE, in some cases, a subject GRE is a requirement for graduate school. GRE subject tests may be required on their own or as supplementary to your general GRE.
Letters of recommendation can surprisingly carry a lot of weight in your grad school application. They are so important that you’ll have to submit anywhere between two to four recommendation letters in some cases.
If you don’t know how many you’ll need, it’s a good idea to check with the admissions committee at your preferred school or program to be sure.
It’s also a good idea to remember that not all recommendation letters are created equal. Letters you acquire from current or former professors and mentors with whom you have strong professional relationships are often seen more favorably by admissions officers.
Unfortunately, if you have been out of school for a long time, it may be difficult for you to acquire this type of recommendation letter.
Beware, if you ask a professor who doesn’t remember you well or with whom you don’t have a strong relationship, you may end up with a lukewarm letter of recommendation. Lukewarm recommendations mention your grades and talk a little bit about your overall academic performance, but will most likely not say anything enlightening, appealing, or unique about you.
This isn’t necessarily bad, but this type of letter does nothing to make you more attractive to an admissions officer. In some cases, it might even reflect poorly upon you as a lack of effort to establish academic or professional relationships with your mentors.
Also, watch out for recommendation letters prepared with AI tools. These can be time-savers for busy professors, but they can also lead to less-than-perfect results for applicants. While recommendation letters may not seem like official documents, you’ll need to treat them as such. They’re a major admission consideration for some programs.
Other Types of Recommendation Letters
If you can’t ask your professors for letters of recommendation, an alternative is to ask your coworkers, employers, advisors, and any other mentors for them instead. Admission requirements may necessitate a specific type of recommendation letter, so be sure to check before you make your request.
Once you’re sure you know who can ask, it’s important to remember to observe proper etiquette when requesting a letter of recommendation.
Here are a few quick tips to help:
Ask for the letter in person, if possible. If you are unable to meet in person, ask through a phone call, or an e-mail.
Once they agree, you can then send your formal request.
Remember to provide as much information as possible, but don’t overload your recommenders with irrelevant info.
Ask early to give your references enough time to compose their letters. Two to three months is often enough.
Waive the right to see the letter. Not doing so makes it difficult for recommenders to be unbiased, which raises a red flag for grad schools. In some cases, your references may even back out of writing you a recommendation.
Have a few backups in mind in case one or more of your recommenders end up having to back out at any point.
Send a thank-you letter or token to show your appreciation.
When you were trying to get into undergrad, you probably had to write admissions essays and personal statements. It should come as no surprise that you’ll most likely also need to put a personal statement together for your grad school applications. Your personal statement carries a lot of weight, since it’s your best opportunity to demonstrate who you are and to show the school why you’re an ideal fit for admission.
You’ll need to compose a personal statement that’s one to three pages long, double-spaced.
Sometimes, the personal statement can also be called your “statement of purpose.” But, sometimes, a statement of purpose and a personal statement can be two different essays — so it’s always a good idea to clarify this with your program.
If two separate essays are requested, your personal statement should focus more on who you are, while your statement of purpose should focus more on your academic career and goals.
You can also use your personal statement as a platform to address major deficiencies you may have in your application, such as a dip in your GPA, unimpressive standardized test scores, problems or failures you’ve encountered, and more.
You can address these deficiencies and discuss how you intend to convert these negative experiences into possible successes when you’re a graduate student.
Some programs ask for a letter of intent in place of, or in addition to, a personal statement. Your letter of intent should focus more on your academic history and professional goals, rather than your personal background and passions.
Don’t forget to proofread your letters since your personal statement is most likely your only chance to showcase your writing abilities. It can be a good idea to ask someone else to read it over, too.
5) Resume or Curriculum Vitae — Which is Better?
Going into grad school, you’ll often be asked for your CV or resume. CVs and resumes are vital parts of any grad school or job application since they summarize your academic and professional careers. You might also want to list relevant experiences, achievements, activities, and awards or accolades in them.
Although they generally serve similar purposes, CVs and resumes are different. Resumes usually only have one page and are more geared toward job applications. Curriculum vitae, on the other hand, have multiple pages and are more geared towards displaying your academic career and related experiences. Because of this, it might be a better idea to use your CV when applying for grad school.
You can include things such as:
Your education history since high school, including any non-degree academic programs you’ve attended
Employment experience, including part-time, highlighting any notable awards and accomplishments
Research and lab work experience
Teaching experience, whether tutor, TA, or teacher
Extracurricular activities and volunteerism
Skills and certifications
6) Your Portfolio
Many graduate programs don’t require you to submit a portfolio. However, if you want to join an MFA or art-related doctorate program, your portfolio will be the most important part of your grad school application. In some cases, if your portfolio is incredibly well-received, admissions officers might even overlook your other grad school requirements, GPA included.
Ask your school or program about the type of content most desired in a portfolio before putting yours together.
Requirements to Get into Grad School: Masters vs PhD Admissions
Graduate admission requirements can vary depending on whether you’re applying to a master’s or doctoral program. Both types of programs aim to give students in-depth knowledge in their field and prepare them for expert roles. PhD degrees focus on advanced research, while master’s programs are generally based around coursework, though they may have a research component.
Given the greater focus on research, PhD applications often require a research proposal. Similarly, selection committees for doctoral programs will likely put greater emphasis on teaching experience, as well as research projects. On the other hand, your professional experience is usually more highly valued when seeking admission to a master’s program.
Doctoral programs are typically even more competitive than master’s programs. You’ll need a minimum GPA of around 2.5 to get into many master’s degrees, but many PhD programs are even tougher, demanding a minimum GPA of 3.0 or higher.
What do Grad Schools Look for in Applicants?
Beyond the actual requirements, other things can also make your application stand out more from the crowd. Considering how competitive some graduate programs can be, your main goal should be to make your application as appealing as possible.
Not all grad programs or schools will be looking for the same kinds of people. But, they’ll most likely want one or all of the below qualities in a candidate.
Certain Skills and Attributes
While graduate program requirements vary depending on the specific program, there are some general skills, as well as personal characteristics, that grad schools look for when admitting students.
Almost without exception, grad school selection committees look for applicants who are:
Excellent at writing: Not matter the field, all grad students need to complete written assignments, so this skill is crucial.
Strong at research: Graduate programs almost always have some kind of research component, so selection committees look for applicants with excellent research skills.
Skilled at building relationships: Interpersonal skills are another essential area for graduate students, as they need to work closely will their fellow students, supervisors, and other faculty members.
Motivated: Successful applicants can also demonstrate that they’re highly motivated. This is important, as graduate students need to be more independent and self-directed compared to undergrads.
Disciplined: Graduate schools also want students who will stick with the program to the end, and they know that this requires discipline.
Passion and Interests Aligned with the Program
Your passion for the specialty or field you want to study should be apparent. Passion demonstrates that you are motivated and have enough drive to become successful in grad school and in your career.
Likewise, showing that you have interests that align with the program is a great way to show that you’re a good candidate for admission.
Your personal statement is a great way to show your passion and interests in this regard. Additionally, having a high GPA, strong recommendation letters, and relevant work experience can all help demonstrate this.
Aside from your passion and interest, grad schools will still want to look for a proven record of good academic performance. This is where GPAs come in — and why your transcripts are important.
Grad schools will look at your previous academic success and use it to judge whether you’ll succeed during your graduate studies. And, truthfully, grad school classes can often be a lot more challenging when compared to undergrad-level classes.
Relevant Experience You May Have
When you’re trying to get into grad school, any relevant work or research experience you have might just increase your chances of getting an acceptance letter. Consider all your experience. This includes your first job (or any employment history), volunteer work, and participation in select extra-curricular programs.
That goes well beyond your bachelor’s degree and other academic achievements. Relevant experience is a great way to show real-world proof of your interest and passion for your field. It shows that you are committed enough to integrate this specialty into your day-to-day life.
If you’re not quite sure what relevant experience is, here’s what counts:
Other certifications or classes you may have attended related to the field
Essentially, anything you’ve experienced or done that’s relevant to your chosen field counts for prospective students.
Having a clear picture of your academic and professional goals might help you be more appealing to admissions committees. When you’re applying to grad school, it might be a good idea to be as upfront as you can about your plans and how a graduate degree can help you to achieve them.
Your goals also differentiate you from students with a similar academic history. They speak to your academic interests, certainly, but they also help express your passion for a particular program.
Test Requirements for Graduate School Admission
Though GRE scores are most commonly required, there are a few different tests that can be a part of graduate school admissions, including:
Graduate Record Exam (GRE): The GRE is a standardized exam conducted by Educational Testing Service (ETS) and tests students in math, vocabulary, problem-solving, and critical analysis.
Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT): This test is used by many business schools to assess applicants to MBA and other graduate business programs. It covers quantitative, verbal, and integrated reasoning, as well as including an analytical writing assessment.
Law School Admission Test (LSAT): The LSAT is used by many law schools, including all programs accredited by the American Bar Association. It’s designed to test students’ skills in logic reasoning, analytical reasoning, and reading comprehension.
Grad school requirements might seem confusing, but with enough research and preparation, you should be able to put your applications together easily enough. These applications can be time-consuming, especially when talking with multiple schools at once. Task-tracking tools can be extremely helpful for the application process – we particularly like ClickUp for email tracking.
The best part is, once you’ve gotten one application done, you can adapt it for other programs and schools to save time!
Do I Need to Take a Graduate School Entrance Exam?
Most grad school admissions require applicants to take some kind of independently-recognized entrance exam. The GRE is the most common test for grad school, but others require the GMAT or another type of standardized testing.
However, increasing numbers of grad schools are adopting a test-optional model, so you may not need to take a grad school entrance exam, depending on the schools you apply to. Be sure to check each program’s requirements with the admissions office, allowing plenty of time to prepare to prepare for the relevant exam.
Even if an entrance exam isn’t mandatory, sitting one can help to strengthen your application.
Are Graduate School Letters of Recommendation Required?
All grad school application requirements can vary depending on the school and the program, and this is also true when it comes to letters of recommendation. Most grad schools ask for two or three letters of recommendation as part of the application process, so be sure to check this well in advance of the deadline.
Typically, selection committees want to see letters of recommendation from professors, supervisors, and other academic or professional mentors. When asking for a letter of recommendation be sure to give your recommender all the info they’ll need to prepare a strong letter, such as the program requirements and things you’d like them to mention.
What if my GPA is Too Low for Grad School?
Most grad schools look for a minimum GPA of 2.5 for master’s programs and 3.0 for doctorates. However, these requirements vary from program to program. Furthermore, some programs may not have a set minimum GPA, but instead will consider any score along with the other part of the application.
Therefore, by applying to the right program and optimizing the other aspects of your application (such as having strong test scores and winning letters of recommendation) you may be able to overcome a lower GPA.