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Grad School Process


The Graduate School Application Process

How it works

The application process varies from school to school. In many cases an admissions committee of faculty and administrators makes the selections, using criteria beyond just grades and test scores. They may also set goals for instate versus out-of-state candidates, gender, and other desirable ratios.
At the other extreme, individual faculty may select candidates that match the department's needs for certain expertise or interests.

It is important that you find out the selection procedure for each school to which you apply and tailor your applications to show how you fit.

The Application Package

  • Application form, including personal essay or "statement of purpose"
  • Nonrefundable fee
  • Separate financial aid application
  • Transcripts
  • Letters of Recommendation
  • Standardized test scores
  • Personal interviews

Sell Yourself in the Personal Essay!

Every graduate school application contains an essay portion of a statement of purpose. Your essay should specifically address questions posed in the application, and express your enthusiasm for the field of study, your motivation, creativity, maturity, and personal uniqueness. The essay is a key measure of your ability to communicate, so it pays to be meticulous about spelling, grammar, and writing style.

Most applications will state the length of the essay or provide space. Keep your essay within these boundaries; a longer essay can work against you. Admissions committees evaluate the quality, not the volume of the essay.

Two categories of essays are often required of applicants. One is a general comprehensive statement which you answer in the way you choose-- the "tell me about yourself" essay. A second category of essays is that which requires the answer to specific questions: "What would you do if?" or "Why do your grades reflect your potential?" or "What are your educational and career goals?"

When writing your essay, think about:

  • What is special about you?
  • What experiences are unique or important?
  • How did your interest in this field evolve? What are your goals?
  • What critical skills do you possess? Why are they important?
  • Is there something to explain such as poor testing results, erratic grades, time gaps, unusual experiences?
  • Why are you a good candidate for this field?

Remember to:

  • Allow yourself ample time to write, revise, edit and proofread.
  • Follow instructions to the letter and answer everything that is asked.
  • Don't repeat data that is already in your application, such as your GPA.
  • Demonstrate that you have taken the time to familiarize yourself with the program.
  • Usual formal English and strike a serious tone.
  • Don't feel that you must dress up your essay with big words and jargon.
  • Proofread, proofread, and have someone else proofread your work!

The Personal Interview

Some schools will grant an interview as part of the application process. The interview gives the admissions committee an opportunity to determine if there is a match between what their institution has to offer.

How to prepare:

  • Review your research about the program and its faculty. Start with the basics - the training model of the program, its areas of emphasis and faculty interests.
  • Review your qualifications, interests, and goals. Make note of those that make you a particularly good match with the program.
  • Anticipate question, formulate answers, and rehearse.
    • Questions you may be asked:
      • What are you long-range career goals? Where do you hope to be in 5 years?
      • What interested you in this program?
      • What training model are you most interested in?
      • Why should we accept you into our program?
      • What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?
      • What could you add to our department?
      • Have you been involved in any research?
      • What would you do if... (situations that might occur in graduate school)
      • What did you like/dislike about your undergraduate institution?
  • Formulate questions to ask faculty. You need not have many, but if you have none, you may be perceived as passive, dull, or not interested enough in the program.
    • Questions you might ask:
      • How is the training in the program organized?
      • What kind of practicum opportunities would I have?
      • What's the typical success rate for finding jobs for your students?
      • What kinds of teaching and research assistantships are available?
      • How long does it typically take to get through?
  • Find out the format of the interview. The program may or may not volunteer information about the interview. If they don't, it's perfectly okay to ask.
  • Dress appropriately, be on time, do not chew gum, and look directly at the interviewer when speaking or listening.

The Notification Process

You may receive replies as early as March or April, or as late as June. In some cases, you may be placed on a waiting list from which you may be selected as vacancies occur.

Before you begin receiving acceptances and rejections, rank the schools according to your preferences. As soon as you receive two offers, politely decline the less attractive one. Continue this process until you make your final choice.

Before being pressured into sending a fee to a second-choice program, try to speed up the first-choice school with a polite inquiry about the status of your application. If they intend to notify applicants shortly, try to stall the other school. If there will be considerable time between the deadline for one school and the notification date of another, you may have to decide if you're willing to pay for a guaranteed spot you may not use.