What Does a Grad School Look for in an Applicant?

grad school applicant

There is no single correct answer to this question! By standards, however, the admissions committee will prioritize applicants who will become good researchers and leaders in their field. They determine this based on a number of factors.

While those are some important factors in getting a spot in graduate school, it is just as crucial for applicants to look at the other requirements and supplemental materials.

Applying to graduate school can be draining. Depending on the institution and the chosen field of study, So, how do they assess applicants and determine who’s worth it or not?

Additional Resources:

How To Get Past Applicant Tracking Systems

10 Super Helpful Tips To Improve Your Grad School Application

Let’s take a look at these common components of what grad schools look for in every applicant:

Standardized Test Scores
Official Transcripts
Letters of Recommendation
Personal Statement or Statement of Purpose
Resume or CV
Bonus: Here’s how you stand out!

Standardized Test Scores

The importance of standardized test scores depends on the institution and the graduate program you are applying to. The best known standardized test for grad school is GRE or Graduate Record Examination. This test is widely used in most graduate schools. What’s even better is that you can highlight the grades you want to send to the university after taking the GRE test. You can retake the test if you know or feel you’ve missed some questions.

Also, what’s considered a good GRE score depends on the program you choose. The average score according to ETS for GRE takers is 150 for verbal and 152 for quantitative portions. To impress the admissions committee, you must not not only aim for the average score. Go for a high GRE score to get the chance to earn scholarships and other financial aid. 

On the other hand, GRE is not the only standardized test. Specialized fields like business graduate programs require GMAT or Graduate Management Admission Test scores. Like the GRE test, the answer to what is considered a good GMAT score is based on what school or program you are applying for. However, this standardized score is still a significant factor in your grad school application.

Official Transcripts

Graduate school admissions will check if you have a validated academic track record in your undergraduate studies. GPA is the most common factor used to measure an applicant’s potential for grad school success. This will tell the admissions committee how well you’ve performed your job as a student. Not all grades are the same, and your GPA cannot be compared substantially. They differ from one university to the other and from one professor to another. These things are taken into account when assessing your official transcripts. Grad schools also look at your undergraduate institution’s quality, coursework in your major, and the breadth of coursework. Be mindful about late, missing, or incomplete transcripts for these might be the reason for rejection.

Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation are crucial to your graduate school applications. They communicate information on how others perceive you, your abilities, and even your weaknesses. A letter of recommendation will reveal a glimpse of your academic, personal, and social skills.

You might think that this part of the admissions requirement is out of your control. On the contrary, you can help build a good letter of recommendation. You can start by considering how you interact with your peers and teachers, including faculty members. Talk to your professors, teachers, employers, or colleagues about your chosen field of study and ask them which skill will help you get into grad school. Request a letter of recommendation from someone who is familiar with your job, skills, and qualities and feels positive about your choices.

Personal Statement or Statement of Purpose

Your personal statement, also known as the statement of purpose, is where you convince the admissions officers why you’re interested in applying for a graduate program. It should contain information about yourself, your interests, and what motivates you. You can also summarize your academic achievements or career responsibilities to help them understand your style, discipline, and approach to challenges. It is also important to highlight your academic interests and explain that you understand the field’s scope of research. Your essay reflects who you are and how you can articulate everything through writing, as this is an integral part of the research. The selection committee reads hundreds of essays, so you need to submit one that is written clearly and concisely.

Resume or CV

Grad schools receive numerous resumes for application. That’s why you need to provide an updated resume or CV that will be easy and quick to read. Unlike in job applications, your resume for grad schools needs to be focused more on education. This means your resume should contain your GPA, academic awards you have received, the title of your undergraduate thesis or research, and skills you have learned from college relevant to the graduate program you are applying for. Grad schools would also like to see your internships and volunteer work. This will add more information on the knowledge and skills you have acquired so far.


Not all grad schools require a portfolio, but you may need to provide one if you are going for an art and design degree program. A portfolio is a collection of your academic experiences, training, achievements, and reflections in your entire undergraduate studies. It provides the admissions committee a glimpse of how you demonstrate your professionalism by presenting your work. This will include choosing an easy to comprehend format that addresses educational development, research, and service activities. Some grad schools will only accept students with the best portfolios, while others only look at it to see if the candidate has the potential.

Here’s how you stand out!

Understanding competitiveness in graduate school applications means that you know what to expect and prepare. Grad schools look for the best students to complete the program on time and become outstanding graduate students and professionals. How do they choose standouts?

  • The Grad school admissions committee thoroughly reads essays to see how focused and determined you are in pursuing your advanced degree. They also carefully read letters of recommendation. This requires that you initiate activities (like developing excellent academic relationships with your professors and faculty or maintaining GPA) that would greatly affect these requirements.
  • During interviews, they pay great attention to what you say and how you conduct yourself. So, be sure to do your research and know what the interviewer will expect of you.
  • To be a stand out applicant, you’ll need to maintain an above-average GPA, if not perfect. So, attend all your classes and determine how much each class requires.
  • Keeping a high GPA needs a great amount of concentration and effort. Be inquisitive and original. Asking questions signals how interested you are in the field. So, it’s always a good idea to prepare a set of questions about courses, training requirements, funding options, student success, and how student life is in grad school. Grad schools also look for those who have clear, specific, and innovative research directions. 

10 Fool-Proof Ways To Stand Out In A Grad School Interview

Dr. Jared Goff
Chief Editor