When you apply for grad school, what you need may vary since not all schools require the same things. Some institutions may ask you for fewer requirements, while others may ask you for everything you could think of — and more.
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.
1) Your Transcripts
Even though the requirements won’t always be the same at every school you apply to, one thing will remain constant: each school 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 grad school.
By official transcripts, we mean the ones you get from undergrad and any other graduate institutions you’ve received your degrees from. 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.
Oh, and here’s something to remember — 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 grad 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!
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.
There are six subject GREs, namely:
- Literature in English
Specialized Standardized Tests
There are some special standardized tests that you may need to take if you’re looking to go into a specialized field, such as:
- GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test)
- LSAT (Law School Admission Test)
- MCAT (Medical College Admission Test)
Related: The Ultimate Grad School Test Guide: Which Exams Do You Need?
3) Recommendation Letters
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 your schools/programs just 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.
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.
Of course, 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.
Related: How to Ask a Professor for a Letter of Recommendation for Grad School
4) Your Personal Statement
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.
Don’t forget to proofread your letters since your personal statement is most likely your only chance to showcase your writing abilities. It might be a good idea to ask someone else to read it, 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 vitaes, 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
In most cases, a portfolio may not be necessary. 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.
Besides Academic Requirements, What Do Grad Schools Look For?
Beyond theactual 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.
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. 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:
- Research projects
- Part-time employment
- Full-time employment
- 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.
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.
Grad school requirements might seem confusing, but with enough research and preparation, you should be able to put your applications together easily enough. The best part is, once you’ve gotten one application done, you can adapt it for other programs and schools to save time!
Want to learn more about admissions to your dream school? Search up-to-date admission results to more than 120 graduate schools here. With over 740,000 admission results submitted, TheGradCafe helps millions of grad students each year with their admissions journey.
Chriselle has been a passionate professional content writer for over 10 years. She writes educational content for The Grad Cafe, Productivity Spot, The College Monk, and other digital publications. When she isn't busy writing, she spends her time streaming video games and learning new skills.
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