Grad School Requirements: The Whats, Whens, and Hows

Grad school requirements are important to consider. Taking your education to the next level means preparing yourself for what’s ahead.

Earning a master’s or a doctorate degree means being able to accomplish several research studies, research assignments, seminars, projects, and other countless readings you have to do. Before you immerse yourself into these things, it’s essential to understand how and why you should start your grad school journey.

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In a Council of Graduate School survey, more than 1.7 million students were enrolled in participant institutions during the Fall 2020 term. Of these students, 72.9% were in master’s degree programs. Women outnumbered men with 59.7% of the total enrollment. The three areas of study with the highest part-time enrollment were education, business and health sciences. 

All graduate students pursue a higher level of education because they want to invest in their future careers. It helps them get more professional training and gain more valuable connections. Besides academic recognition, grad school helps professionals increase their earning potential. 

Grad School Requirements - fact

So, what’s the first step to your grad school success? Know the typical graduate school requirements! This way, you can prepare yourself toward full and proper compliance! The more prepared you are with your qualifications and documentation, the higher your chances of being accepted into a selective program. 

GRAD SCHOOL REQUIREMENTS

A List of Graduate Schools

This is an obvious step but it’s a crucial step, not to mention that it will save time. With numerous grad schools and universities to choose from, the choices can become overwhelming! You may make the mistake of choosing a graduate program based on the wrong reasons – peer pressure, low tuition and fees, or time pressure. 

Fortunately, you can narrow down the list of graduate schools by asking yourself what types of degree programs will lead you to your dream career.

You can set a rank-ordered list of schools by grouping them as dream schools that have competitive requirements and where top students are prioritized, or your target schools that give you a high chance of being admitted whether you exceed the requirements or not.

Other factors to consider when making a shortlist of graduate programs and choosing the best for yourself: 

  • Write down your motivations for pursuing a graduate education and understand your unique passions. Not only will your list of reasons become the basis for choosing a graduate program, it can also serve as your motivation when the going gets tough. 
  • Research about your options in graduate degrees and their specializations including the program structure, cost of attendance, and career opportunities. 
  • Consider your professional goals in relation to the ways that a graduate program can contribute to their achievement. 
  • Check that the program’s requirements, from class schedules to cost structure, fit your current lifestyle and aspirations. 
  • Check your finances, too, since cost is among the major factors for attrition in graduate school. Look out for hidden costs, too, aside from the sticker price and incidental expenses. 
  • Discuss your options with fellow applicants, current students and alumni, and faculty and staff members. Ask about the student experience, student support services, and quality of instruction, among others. 

Graduate school won’t be easy, and neither will the admission process be. How will you deal with the lengthy process of grad school application? What are some of the things to consider when applying for a slot in your dream or target grad school? Make sure you comply with all the requirements you need to fulfill to get rolling into grad school.

Application Forms and Fees

Application forms come in traditional paper format or online. Some schools require filling out two copies of the application form (one for the school and the other for the program department). Online applications have grown increasingly popular and may be completed through the school or department homepage.

Many institutions have adopted a Centralized Application Service (CAS), which is a program similar to Common Application (for undergraduate application). This program lets you fulfill your online application through a portal that leads you to various schools you may consider sending in your application and documents. 

Be sure to fill in application forms with complete, full and accurate information, as requested. Double-check your name’s spelling, your contact details, and academic information, even your grammar and sentence construction, before submitting the form. Your attention to detail not only speaks of your character but will make it faster for admissions officers to verify your personal and professional details. 

Tip: Give yourself a month to fill up the application forms and submit them. You will then be able to spot and correct mistakes, as well as gather the required supporting documents.  

As for application fees, each school is different. You might be surprised by schools with a no-application fee or a staggering $250 non-refundable application fee for prominent universities. When setting their application charges, universities consider factors such as payments for the specialists who process the admissions and the commitment of a prospective graduate student. It is, after all, an investment for your future.

Individual schools and graduate programs offer fee waivers for low-income students or those who are a part of a specific demographic. This may apply to military personnel, underrepresented groups, or those that demonstrate financial hardship.

Academic Transcripts

One of the essential requirements for graduate school is the official transcripts from your undergraduate programs. In the case of doctorate programs, the applicable academic transcripts are from your master’s degrees. You may also submit certifications from professional programs attended. 

The academic transcripts are used for a full assessment of your academic coursework and performance. Prestigious graduate programs require applicants to have earned a minimum cumulative GPA using the 4.0 scale. The University of Texas at Austin Graduate School, for instance, requires its applicants to have at least 3.0 GPA in their undergraduate or graduate-level work already completed. 

Admissions officers require official transcripts, too, in determining your readiness for graduate work, especially at the master’s degree level. Advanced Placement courses and upper-division courses will look good on your transcripts. 

Tip: You must request your transcripts from previously attended schools ahead of time so that you can send the documents by the application deadline. Give it 2-3 months so that you have ample time. 

Some schools let you do it through their website or by sending an email to your registrar’s office. They may or may not require certified copies to rev up the process. You have to check with the institutions on whether they would accept a hard copy in the mail or have it through an electronic service. The average fee for the issuance of the transcript is between $5 and $9.99. Always check your transcripts and see if required fields are accomplished.

Standardized Test Scores

Another critical element in your grad school application is your standardized test score(s). You’ll most likely need to take the GRE (Graduate Record Exam) or the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test). GMAT provides business schools with measures of applicants’ readiness for graduate-level academic study while GRE is developed to be more versatile and has less focus on math skills.  

When applying for a specific program, you must research the required test scores. You might find out that an individual program only admits applicants with the highest math scores on the standardized test.

Similar to SAT and ACT, GRE and GMAT are an extensive assessment of your verbal reasoning, analytical, critical, writing, and quantitative reasoning skills. You can prepare by studying on your own or signing up for taking practice courses for GMAT/GRE. That is why it is crucial to check this requirement from your intended schools.

No matter the graduate schools you’re planning on submitting applications to, you’re well-advised to target “good scores” in either the GRE or GMAT. But what are good scores exactly? 

While there’s no hard and fast rule here due to the differences in standardized test score requirements between schools, a 152 for math and 150 for verbal (GRE) is the minimum recommended. As for the GMAT, the average is 565 with two-thirds of individuals taking the test getting scores between 400 and 600.

But don’t panic if your GRE or GMAT scores are borderline acceptable based on your desired graduate program’s standards! Admissions officers typically consider other academic and extracurricular factors in their decision.  

The cost to take the GRE is $205, while the GMAT fee is $275. However, if an applicant demonstrates a financial need, then he/she may be eligible for a GMAT fee waiver or a GRE Fee Reduction Program. These waivers are limited and are not automatically granted. Therefore, it is best to contact the financial aid office to assist you.

Personal Statement

Your personal statement is an essential component of your grad school application. It is one thing that distinguishes you from other applicants. This helps the admission committee to figure out the person behind the application. Most schools or graduate programs set specific instructions to be included in your statement, but in general, they should fall between 250 to 750 words.

Your account should contain a short essay that outlines your qualifications, expectations of the program, reasons for choosing the degree, your possible contributions to the program, and your expectations of rewards in terms of education and career opportunities. You can even throw in both personal and professional experiences significant to your chosen program.

Writing your statement does not mean telling your life story. This should cover specific scenarios within the past few years that are relevant to your program. An honest personal statement is a lot better than those that contain overly impressive accomplishments. It should speak for both achievements and weaknesses and express how your chosen graduate program can help you grow as a potential student.

Also, a personal statement should exhibit your writing skills, so it helps to proofread your essay. Finally, you should consider getting feedback from teachers, professors, and other writing staff to help you correct the mistakes before submitting it.

Letters of Recommendation

Grad schools don’t only count on your test scores and grades to determine if you’re the right candidate for their program. Admission specialists also want to gather information on how other people think about your character, academic ability, and dedication towards working on a goal. This is why letters of recommendation are often required for admission.

How do you get a letter of recommendation?

You can ask your teachers to write a letter that focuses on your academic skills and achievement. Pick those who you believe know you well. When requesting a professor to write your recommendation, pick one who has closely worked with you on a project or research. You may also ask your employer to provide information about you that is relevant to the program.

An impressive recommendation letter demonstrates your abilities and potential. However, just like your statement, it would be unrealistic for a letter of recommendation to list only praises and achievements. It should include parts of your past experiences and challenges, and how you overcame those hurdles. Generally, grad schools require two to three letters of recommendation that are submitted online.

If you get admitted, be sure to send thank-you cards to your recommenders.

Curriculum Vitae

Your curriculum vitae is a lengthy synopsis of your resume. It includes a summary of your academic background, work experience related to the program, honors, research experience, internships, academic achievements, and volunteer work. It has to be a reader-friendly document that presents how extensive your skills, qualifications, and experiences are. This will help the admission specialists know how you are an excellent fit for their program.

What do they look for in a CV? What should your CV look like?

First, your CV should be written in a clear structure of how you have developed your knowledge and skills over time. It should have your details like full name, home address, contact number, and email address. For your educational background, you should present it in such a way that the most recent school is on top of the list. Do not forget to include the location of the institution, graduation dates, all types of degrees you have received, and your major.

For professional experiences, it is essential to include a list of the employer’s names, location, the title of position, important dates, and a short description of your projects or responsibilities. You can also add teaching experience, academic and professional membership, extracurricular activities, and skills certifications that are relevant to the grad school program.

Do you already have a detailed resume for employment purposes? While you may be tempted to submit it to graduate school, don’t! While employment and academic resumes have many similarities, there are significant differences, too. 

  • Educational achievements get more focus over work experiences. Be sure to include information about your previous dissertations, GPA and GRE/GMAT scores, and academic awards. 
  • Extracurricular activities including community service, internships and volunteer work must be emphasized. This is particularly true for master’s degree applicants whose work experience may not be as extensive. 
  • Multiple pages (2-3, at most) for an academic resume are allowed! Work resumes, on the other hand, are typically just one page in length.

Academic Writing Sample

Most universities require you to submit a writing sample that demonstrates your ability to express your ideas in writing. It also serves as proof of your capability and preparedness in entering grad school. Candidates may also be advised to revise a successful essay in their previous academic year. You can enhance your piece by getting feedback from your colleagues, professors, or teachers.

What makes a good writing sample?

It should consist of an excellent philosophical problem relevant to the program upon which the candidate can produce a solid basis for the skills they need for the study of philosophy. Length requirement varies upon the program or school itself.

Typically, 10-20 pages are asked. It should have great content that is relevant and thought-provoking. Be mindful of the structure as your writing sample needs three parts: introduction, body, and conclusion. You need to refer to the school or department website for specific requirements.

Portfolio

If you are applying for a design or art program, you’ll most likely need to present a portfolio. A portfolio is a critical piece in your application that showcases what skills and knowledge you have acquired from your undergraduate school or throughout your professional years. It is like a marketing tool where you can show your best work but be careful not to put together an exhibition.

Your portfolio must convey to the admissions evaluators your willingness to become part of the university, underscoring that the school and the program standards align with your personal academic goals. That being said, keep your portfolio short and go straight to the point when presenting your relevant previous projects.

Interview

Not all grad schools or programs conduct an admissions interview, but it’s always advised to be prepared for it. When applying for a highly competitive program, you will, in all likelihood, go through an interview—and not just any interview, but a tough one! Admissions committees would mostly conduct interviews with candidates who have passed the screening process.

Preparing for the interview means anticipating questions and preparing for questions to ask as well. Keep in mind that interviews must convey your interest in the program and highlight your qualifications. During an interview, you can also assess the school environment, the faculty, and the curriculum to see if they match your expectations or meet your needs.

Applying to grad schools may be a tedious process, and failure to comply with these requirements may lead to a delay or even rejection.

Fill out every document accurately, submit them promptly, participate in campus visits or virtual tours, and always ask questions or confirm if your documents were received.

Complete these fundamental steps, and you’re all set for entry into the grad program of your dreams!

Dr. Jared Goff
Chief Editor