Applying to Graduate School

So you have decided graduate school is right for you and you have taken your standardized test. Now it is time to prepare your application. Most applications require prospective students to obtain 2-3 letters of recommendation, provide standardized testing scores and submit a personal statement. Some schools may even require applicants to send a letter of intent, and participate in an extensive interview process. Each element of your application will help tell the story of who you are, and how you will contribute to the program. 


The process of applying to a graduate program begins with developing an understanding of the graduate admissions process. You need to understand how your application will be measured against programs standards as well as how you are likely to compare to other applicants to the program. At this point in the process you will have to make final decisions on the types of programs you will apply to, which degree you want to pursue, and what actions you must take in order to enhance your chances of getting into your favorite graduate programs. Below are key elements of the application process: 

  • Essay Writing (Personal Statement and Resume/CV)- From the application process through your post-academic career, writing is an essential skill which, if practiced correctly, can give you an advantage over less well-written applicants. 

  • Graduate School Interview - Many graduate programs require an interview as part of the application process. For some, this may cause anxiety, but for the prepared applicant it is a chance to show off. 

  • Recommendation Letters -Recommendation letters are a key piece of your graduate school application. Selecting an appropriate recommender who knows you personally and will endorse your talents in a positive light may mean the difference between acceptance and rejection. 

*Information taken from

General Tips for Applying to Graduate School

Craig Kinnear, Ph.D. History, University of Notre Dame, May 2015

  1. Talk to your professors.
    • They can steer you toward schools that will be a good fit for you and your academic interests.
  2. Give yourself a range of prospective schools.
    • This list should include at least one ambitious application, at least one backup application, and a few applications in your goldilocks zone.
  3. Contact potential advisors in each prospective graduate program.
    • Do this before you apply! 
  4. Ask a lot of questions.
    • If the department can’t offer reasonable assurances that it’s program will help you meet your career goals—and back it up with evidence—then it’s unreasonable for you to spend a few years of your life there.
  5. Perfect the written components of your applications.
    • Call in every favor from every experienced writer you know: faculty, friends, family, career center, writing center, etc. 
  6. Don’t go to a school that gives you bad vibes.
    • If a campus/department/advisor/etc. triggers red flags in your mind, then pay attention. There are a lot of great places to do graduate work, and one will be the right home for you!