Grad School Requirements: The Whats, Whens and Hows

* A List of Graduate Schools
* Application Forms and Fees
* Academic Transcripts
* Standardized Test Scores
* Personal Statement
* Letters of Recommendation
* Curriculum Vitae
* Academic Writing Sample
* Portfolio
* Interview

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Taking your education to the next level means preparing yourself for what’s ahead. Getting a master’s or a doctorate means being able to accomplish several research studies, research assignments, seminars, projects, and other countless reading 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.

In 2019, there were about 3 million students enrolled in graduate programs. These individuals 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 a professional increase their earning potential. So, what’s the first step to your grad school success?

A List of Graduate Schools

This is an obvious step but also one of the crucial ones that will help you save time. There are numerous grad schools and universities that you can choose from. Narrow this down by asking yourself what types of the degree program will lead you to your dream career. You can set a rank-ordered list of schools by grouping them as dream schools which 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 requirement or not.

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 rquirements 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.

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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. Fill out an application form with consistent information like the spelling of your name, grammar, and contact details.

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. This is for a full assessment of your academic coursework. You must request your transcripts from previously attended schools ahead of time so that you can send the documents by the application deadline.

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

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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 applicant’s 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.

The cost to take the GRE is $205, while the GMAT fee is $250. 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 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, how would you contribute to the program, and how you think benefiting from the program would be. You can even throw in both personal and professional experiences significant to your chosen program.

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Writing your statement would 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 catch 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 your 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? How 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 employer’s name, 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.

Academic Writing Sample

Most universities require you to submit a writing sample that demonstrates your ability to express your ideas into 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.


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.


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.

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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!