10 Major Milestones In Your Graduate School Application Process

Written by Grad School Center Team We are a passionate team of experienced educators and advisors at, dedicated to guiding students through their graduate education journey. Our experts, with advanced degrees across various disciplines, offer personalized advice, up-to-date program information, and practical insights into application processes.

Reviewed by David Krug David Krug is a seasoned expert with 20 years in educational technology (EdTech). His career spans the pivotal years of technology integration in education, where he has played a key role in advancing student-centric learning solutions. David's expertise lies in marrying technological innovation with pedagogical effectiveness, making him a valuable asset in transforming educational experiences. As an advisor for enrollment startups, David provides strategic guidance, helping these companies navigate the complexities of the education sector. His insights are crucial in developing impactful and sustainable enrollment strategies.

Updated: February 29, 2024, Reading time: 17 minutes

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Deciding to attend graduate school could be the next big step you can take. Prospective grad students must take the time to research, compare, and evaluate the grad program that would best fit their goals. Candidates must visit the graduate schools of their choice, speak with the alumni, and conduct additional research about the program.

Stringent processes and strict timelines characterize the graduate program application process. As an applicant, you should be fully informed of all the requirements and deadlines. You must have a solid plan and intimate knowledge of the whole admissions procedure!

Here are ten major milestones in your graduate school application process:

Grad School Center is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Selecting a Graduate School and Program

It all starts with deciding on the right graduate program for you. Any prospective master’s student must conduct extensive research on the universities, programs, curriculum, students, retention rate, graduation rate, and placement rates.

Fortunately, there are many resources and ways to gather all these crucial information. For instance, you can do your research, seek advice from professors, or talk to school alumni. It would also help to read reviews online. 

Another option to obtain the knowledge needed to make an educated decision is to visit educational fairs and school campuses. Make sure to visit their websites and send a message to their admission staff. 

When reaching out to anyone about their program offering or experiences, here are some questions and considerations to look out for:

How are the experiences and credibility of the professors?

Are the graduate education professors hands-on with their teachings? What are their backgrounds and experiences? Considering that graduate school entails a lot of thesis and research, it would help to have an educator or advisor who can supervise and guide you through your graduate education journey. 

How competitive are the admissions?

Before enrolling and applying, it’s crucial to understand how competitive the graduate program’s admission is. Make sure you have a few backup programs you are fairly confident you can get into if you aim high, but don’t waste your application fees on schools you can’t get into.

How is the school’s image and prestige?

It would help to research a lot about the school, its image, and its prestige. Learn what programs are their specialties. Law and medicine are fields where prestige is extremely important, but it might not matter so much for other kinds of majors or programs.  

How much does the graduate program’s tuition cost?

Tuition fees and other costs must be determined before you can decide on which school to attend or what programs to enroll in. Financial aid is available to many graduate programs, but others require students to pay the entire amount through loans and other means.

Finally, the would-be graduate student must choose the program that best fits their needs, goals, and career aspirations using the information they have gathered. After gathering a large amount of data, they can proceed to the next steps in the graduate school application process. 

Filling Out The Online Application

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Every school’s or program’s website comes with an online application form where you can gather information and check the next steps for the graduate application. For many, they will need you to upload and attach your diplomas and certificates and prepare other requirements. 

Visit the Admission Requirements for information about program-specific requirements, including deadlines and additional materials. Before the program deadline, you must submit a complete application, including all the requirements necessary. Please note that the school becomes the owner of your application once it has been submitted. There will be no return or forwarding of these materials back to you.

Many graduate programs also come with application fees, but this may vary from school to program. The fee must be paid whether or not you are or aren’t admitted. Application fees must be paid online. Once you have paid your application fee and the payment has been authorized, your application will finally get validated and started. 

Financing Your Graduate Study

One crucial step into enrolling in a graduate program is paying for it. It sometimes takes just as much effort to determine which study financing option is ideal for you as it does to prepare for tests or write statements and letters.

For most applicants, finding the money to cover application fees, tuition, and preparatory costs is a significant concern that requires careful planning. Certain candidates, of course, are fortunate enough to have parental assistance and their own money balances.

Some of the common financial aid options available for graduate students are scholarships, grants, loans, tuition discounts, assistantships, fellowships, and work-study programs. Certain graduate programs provide their applicants with many options as long as they can qualify.

But be aware that regardless of the program or institution you apply to, you must complete the scholarship application before the deadline. Meeting this deadline is just as important as completing the regular application form for the master’s degree. 

Setting an Application Timeline

Many students and graduate school experts would advise that it would be best to start applying for graduate students at least 18 months before the starting date. This is enough time to do your research, choose the best program, or study for any standardized exams you might need for admissions.

However, even when you don’t strictly follow the 18-month timeframe, the best rule of thumb is to start applying to graduate school as early as possible. No matter how common or popular your graduate degree will be, chances are you’ll need a lot of time to comply with the requirements.

Many graduate degrees also have strict deadlines, so it’s best not to cram and stay within the right timeline. 

Make sure you schedule your application process well in advance. You should allow lots of additional time because each process will take longer than you anticipate. For instance, you may take about two months to fulfill documents such as letters of recommendation, personal statements, essays, and statements of purpose. Here’s a table of timelines that you can depend on:

Filling out the application formOne month in order to comply and review all the requirements.
Securing diplomas, certificates, and transcripts of recordsone to two months before the deadline. Some schools and departments may take longer to mail your documents; also anticipate any delays for this.
Statement of Purpose or Personal EssayTake at least one month to create a draft, edit, and rewrite the content of this file. You may think the content over and position yourself better. 
Requesting Letters of RecommendationLetters of recommendation may come from your advisor, professors, colleagues, and other professional people. This will take about six months to gather everything. You will need to contact and speak to them about this favor. It takes time for them to prepare and send it out, especially if they’re working and busy.
Taking Standardized TestsTake 2-6 months to prepare for standardized tests. This is ample time for you to retake any exam that requires specific scores.

Preparing Your Letters of Recommendation

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Much like a CV, your graduate school application also needs references who can recommend and back you up. Find references who can write a solid letter of recommendation for you and get in touch with them while you finish the other sections of your application. To find out the precise amount of letters needed, applicants can check the program criteria or ask the admission officer directly. 

Some of the best people and most suitable ones who can create letters of recommendation for you are your professors, academic advisors, past colleagues, managers, or anyone who can support your academic ability, work ethic, and intellectual qualities.

By submitting the online application, applicants will provide the contact information for their references. An email will also be sent to references with instructions to submit an electronic letter of recommendation. 

Recommendation letters are often included as a prerequisite for graduate study applications. One to three of these reference letters are often required when applying to graduate programs. 

Here are some tips that can help you prepare your letters of recommendation for your graduate school application:

Create a referral list.

Think about who in your network would be most suited to write a recommendation letter for you. Your decision-making process may vary depending on why you require the suggestion. If the letters are intended for future employment, for instance, supervisors or coworkers who have seen and worked with you before might be able to offer the most insightful advice.

Seek teachers or counselors who can testify to your academic talents if the recommendation letter is for academic objectives. Don’t choose close friends or relatives for this work. These suggestions are probably more prejudiced or less accurate in the eyes of employers.

Speak directly to the person.

While in some applications, the recommender would receive an email request from the institution to create a letter of recommendation for the candidate, it would be best for you to inform the person early. Request recommendations from each person on your list, and first, ask permission if it’s okay for them to do it. 

Speaking with them will also allow you the chance to inform them of any recent achievements that they might want to mention in their recommendation. In this discussion, you should cover any pertinent background information on the recommendation, such as its purpose, an outline of the contents the letter should contain, and the deadline for completion.

Don’t forget to thank them.

After your recommendation letters arrive, thank the people who sent your letters of reference. Expressing gratitude to your recommenders is a customary politeness that will probably guarantee their continued support of your future success as well as let them know you appreciate their gesture.

Acquiring and Preparing Transcripts and Diplomas

Fortunately, diplomas, transcripts of records, and certificates are proofs that can back up all your claims. Transcripts from any postsecondary institutions you attended, even if you weren’t enrolled full-time, are often required. This covers time spent studying overseas or college courses while a high school student.

As an international student, you need to verify if the transcripts meet the language criteria. If the documents are written in your local language, chances are you’ll probably need to hire a professional translator to interpret them. You can seek online services for this. Ensure that all the transcripts, diplomas, and certificates are certified true copies by the institution that awarded them. 

It’s important to secure these important documents early on in case they need to be mailed or come from different cities or countries. 

Taking Standardized Tests

While most non-American graduate schools do not need you to take a standardized test, regulations have changed significantly in recent years, and most American graduate programs still do. The purpose of standardized examinations is to offer a consistent measurement for evaluating students from different educational backgrounds and institutions.

Here are the kinds of standardized tests that you might need to prepare for and take:




Preparing the CV or Resume

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Graduate schools often require a CV or resume. It should contain your awards, accomplishments, volunteering experiences, work experiences, skills, and many other significant details.

You should emphasize your professional achievements when applying to a business school. However, for other programs, you might need to focus more on your academic and research accomplishments.

Here are some tips when preparing a CV or resume:

Include the basics.

Provide an overview of your qualifications and major achievements first. This will draw in and capture the recruiter’s interest right away. Making a good first impression is vital since here is the section of your CV where the recruiter may learn more about you.

Although your CV should have some basic components, there is no right or incorrect way to construct one. These include your contact information and personal data, your educational background and qualifications, experiences, references, and skills. 

Emphasize the changes and growth you’ve had over the years.

Your resume should highlight your growth. Emphasize your accomplishments and the manner in which your duties have changed and grown with you. Show your portfolio or any samples that can support these things. This will show the recruiter that you are committed to learning new skills and that your prior employment has given you a wealth of experience.

Keep it concise.

A strong resume expresses all the required points clearly and straightforwardly. Remove any unnecessary detail. Simply keep your writing brief and to the point; you don’t need to use endless pages of paper. A CV is an opportunity to check the appropriate boxes and provides comfort to a prospective employer. 

Additionally, there’s a greater likelihood of a job interview if everything is satisfactory. Employers probably won’t examine every CV they receive because they receive hundreds of them every day. Most people will evaluate a CV in parts, so keep your A4 CV to no more than two pages.

Include your key skills.

Remember to highlight critical abilities in your CV’s talents section that will help you differentiate yourself from the competition. These might include the ability to communicate, use a computer the software you know how to use, the ability to lead, or even speak another language.

Since abilities may emerge from the most unexpected locations, consider the things you’ve done to develop your own. Even if you use examples like playing sports locally or volunteering, these actions all count.

Include references.

References from former employers who can attest to your abilities and expertise are the best kind. It’s understandable to utilize a teacher or tutor as a referee if you have never worked before. Try to add two references.

Keep it up to date always.

It’s critical to regularly examine your resume and add any fresh experiences or abilities that are lacking. Make sure your recent volunteer work and projects are included, for instance. A graduate admissions officer can appreciate a resume that is up to date.

Writing Your Statement of Purpose

Another important component of your graduate school application process is writing a statement of purpose. This brief essay should connect the other parts of your application. Make sure the admissions committee understands your reasons for applying and why you’ll be a good match for the program.

Certain programs provide you with prompts to answer your essay. Customize your statement for every program you’re applying to if you’re applying to several.

Here are the factors that make a statement of purpose strong:

You should not simply summarize your resume in a statement of purpose. This is the best opportunity to discuss your aspirations, experiences, and why you’re a good fit for graduate study. The last thing you should do is ensure that your statement reads well and is free of grammatical errors. It would help to have another set of eyes check and proofread it.

Here are some more tips for writing your statement of purpose more successfully:

Preparing for Graduate School Interviews

Finally, the entire graduate school application process culminates with the graduate school interview. This is a crucial stage in the admissions process so it’s important to prepare for it well. It is the final step in the application process for graduate schools to interview applicants who are seriously considering enrolling in their programs. 

The goal of the interview questions for graduate school is to give the institution a sense of who you are as a person, evaluate your interpersonal abilities, and see how well you would fit in with the program, the staff, teachers, and students. Additionally, you have the opportunity to ask the interviewer questions that will aid in determining whether or not the graduate school is a good fit for you.  

However, it’s important to note that not all graduate programs come with interviews. The interview process varies from school to school, and some only interview top candidates while others interview everyone. To find out whether the schools you’re applying to conduct interviews, check their websites.

While questions may vary depending on the graduate school or program, here are some of the most common questions that interviewers ask:

It would help to seek other possible questions and create the best answers to them early on. Preparing early on will help you think of the best answers. Your chances of getting into your ideal institution might be made or broken by how you dealt with the interview.

Therefore, it’s critical to prepare yourself well for graduate school interviews. Getting accepted into the progressive school of your choice might be a game-changer for your academic career and potentially determine your prospects.

Here are some tips for when you’ll be interviewing for the graduate program you applied to:

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Are you looking to invest in your future with a graduate degree? Deciding to attend grad school is something you should not take lightly! Look forward to the major milestones in your graduate school application process.

Prepare to be admitted to and complete your graduate program in no time! It will all pay personally and professionally. 

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