How do Graduate School Admissions Work?

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Are you a college student looking for information on how graduate school admissions work? Are you wondering what grad school admissions look for? You have come to the right place if you can answer yes to either of these questions.

We will help you understand what makes a good candidate for graduate school and provide the steps you will need to take to ensure you submit your application. All you have to do to get this information and more is keep reading.

What Makes a Good Candidate for Grad School?What Makes a Good Candidate for Grad School?

This is an excellent question and one that may vary by school. Unlike your undergraduate degree, where your grades are paramount in your admissions decision, graduate schools will consider other factors. Emphasis is put on more than just having great grades. Graduate schools often expect work experience and proven commitment within their designated field.

Though we will provide several qualities that make a good grad school candidate, these qualities will be further described in depth throughout the article. A good candidate for graduate school admission will be someone who not only has a strong academic background but, in many cases, has achieved a notable score on the GRE, has strong references, and a well-written personal statement. This candidate will have volunteer experience to show that their focus is not solely on themselves. They will also be actively immersed or learning within their chosen field.

How to Apply for Graduate School Programs?

How to Apply for Graduate School Programs?

If you are confused or unsure how to apply for graduate school, we can help with that. Applying to grad school is not hard; if you give yourself enough time to complete the needed tasks, everything will fall in line. Mirror your application process with the step-by-step guide below; you can’t go wrong.

Step 1: Do I want to go to graduate school?

The first step is deciding if you want to attend grad school. This may come with weighing out the pros and cons of either option.

Step 2: What school should you attend?

Step 2 is where you research and select your prospective schools. During this time, you must determine GRE specifications, essay requirements, and other needs from your prospective schools. This also includes determining if any other entrance exams may be needed and beginning preparation for them.

Step 3: Should I take the GRE or not?

Taking the GRE does not have to be something you save for your senior year. Some individuals even recommend taking it as a freshman. This is because you have just spent time taking and preparing for the SAT/ACT, meaning you are acclimated to standardized testing. It’s also important to note that GRE scores last for five years; therefore, taking it early in your undergraduate studies wouldn’t be a problem.

Step 4: Ready your recommendations

Before you can submit your application, you must have the recommendations needed. This means talking with teachers or coworkers early to ensure they know what you need and how to provide it.

Step 5: What about financial aid?

Much like an undergraduate, you will need to fill out the FAFSA if you are looking for potential government aid. This application goes until the end of June and will be available from October when it opens.

Step 6: How long do graduate admissions decisions take?

After all your application materials have been submitted and graduate exams taken, the next thing to do is wait. You will likely hear back from schools beginning in March.

What Do Grad School Look For in Students?

What Do Grad School Look For in Students?

The grad school application process is very similar to the undergraduate admission process. Think back to when you were a senior in high school—your junior and senior years likely revolved around standardized testing, writing college essays, and figuring out which teachers to use for your letters of recommendation. In that regard, graduate school admissions are similar. However, your level of knowledge has changed. Your master’s degree is meant to push you further professionally and give you a deeper understanding of your specialty.

Much like you have previously experienced, graduate admissions come with stronger requirements.

Average GPA Required by Grad Schools

The GPA your specific school accepts will vary largely based on school type and program. For students looking to get into graduate programs at schools like Columbia University or Northwestern University, their GPA will likely need to be well above that of an average school. The same can be said for students seeking admission into Louisburg College, where the graduate GPA requirement is 2.0. However, on average, to be a competitive candidate, students will need at least a 3.0 GPA, which equates to a B average.

Recommendation Letters

Your recommendation letters should be written by someone who knows you. These individuals should be able to speak openly about their character, skill, and personality inside and outside the classroom. There should be some thought about who you pick and the nature of their relationship to you. This will be driven in part by what individuals the program of your choosing requests to see recommendations from.

Standardized Tests

Much like the ACT/SAT, there is a standardized test for graduate and doctoral programs. This exam is the GRE or the Graduate Record Examination. However, this is not the only exam that can be expected for grad students. Other exams, which are dependent on specialty, include the following:

  • GMAT – This is a business school exam used nationwide to measure skills essential to business and management graduate programs.
  • LSAT – This exam is more relevant to students seeking admission into a law program. This exam is currently used across North America and Canada.

Internships/Work Experience

If you are someone who doesn’t have great grades, having great work experience is a good way to balance things out. You must pay attention to what your graduate school requests, as not all graduate programs will ask for the same thing.

You will generally need two to three years of work experience if you want an MBA. However, this will vary based on your selected program.

Personal Statement

Your personal statement allows schools to get to know you better. A personal statement may include anecdotes about your work or school history that tie into your desire to attend graduate school. Schools are looking for a personal statement that is clear and easy to follow. In your statement, you should be able to articulate important behaviors or events that tie into your desire to pursue your chosen specialization.

It would be best if you also showed why the program you have chosen is a great fit for you and how you can be an asset to the program. This is a good time to call out key professors who have had a hand in influencing you or opportunities you have had that led you to where you are currently.

Overall, your statement should grab and hold the reader’s attention while clearly explaining important traits that you possess. Before submitting your essay, look at sample options the school offers and use them as a blueprint.

Grad School Interview

One thing to note is that an interview is unnecessary at all schools. However, this is the last and sometimes most important step in the application process for many schools where it is required. For you to get to this step, the school was likely impressed with your application package and wants to do one final evaluation for your fit at their institution. Therefore, preparing for your interview is a must. Use the tips below to ensure you are adequately prepared:

  • Research your prospective clues and what to expect during the interview.
  • Always have questions to ask your interviewer.
  • Wear attire that is not only professional but makes you feel confident.
  • Be ready to answer questions about why you would be an asset to the program and should be accepted.

Typical Timeline for the Graduate School Admissions Process

Typical Timeline for the Graduate School Admissions Process

Your timeline for admission will generally depend on when you graduate and when you’re looking to start. However, getting a jumpstart on the process is essential to ensure everything runs smoothly. Your graduate application process will generally happen during your senior year or final year of undergrad.

Remember those steps we outlined above? Well, now it’s time to add a timespan to them.

Before Your Senior Year of Undergraduate

Do you want to attend graduate school? Likely this is a question that you’ll begin thinking about before entering your senior year if you are a currently enrolled undergraduate student. Graduate school can sometimes not be a student’s first plan; however, a lack of solid job options may make choosing graduate school easier.

Another thing that may happen before your senior year is selecting options for graduate school. Having these selections vetted and researched before your senior year allows you to focus solely on the application process for your top choices. You can also use this time to determine if your prospective school requires the GRE for admission or scholarship opportunities.

August of Your Senior Year

If you have saved your GRE until the end, you will likely need to start prepping at the start of your Senior year. In August, while others may be planning elaborate celebrations, you will need to work on GRE Prep for your next education season. Starting early in preparing for the GRE or any other entrance exams like the GMAT or the LSAT will give you time to understand the content of the exam and the test format. You should take the exam whenever you feel prepared, but no later than the first week of October of your senior year.

If you have selected the schools you would like to apply to, you should also begin to work on your essays or personal statements. This gives you enough time to tweak them as needed for each school.

September of Your Senior Year

Since you are just returning to school, it’s important to give any individuals you have selected for reference a heads-up. This allows them ample time to complete references and ample time for you to find an alternative if someone has politely declined your request. While your reviewers are working on your recommendations, you should work on your application, as most deadlines will fall around the end of October.

October of Your Senior Year

Financial aid is something you should be consistently looking for. This can come through scholarships from your prospective institution or private entities. However, much like undergraduates, you will need to fill out the FAFSA for government aid.

The FAFSA will open around the beginning of October and close at the end of June. Though the application is open for a long period, understanding your options early is essential.

March and Beyond

March is generally the time when most graduate schools begin sending acceptance letters. This is when you should begin to decide what happens next for you.

Common Mistakes to Avoid in the Application Process

Common Mistakes to Avoid in the Application Process

You should avoid doing several things to ensure your application is well-written and in line with what the school is looking for. The list below will aid in identifying some of the things you should avoid doing to hinder your application.

  • Not researching a school may put you in a situation you don’t want to be in. These scenarios may include not taking the GRE when you should have.
  • Failing to tailor your personal statement to the school you are applying to.
  • Not following submission instructions for various parts of your application.

Wrapping Things Up: How Do Graduate School Admissions Work?

The grad school application process may be scary, but it is not impossible to get through. Doing things like preparing early is a way to ensure that you are on track. You can do several things before starting your senior year of college that will enable a smoother graduate school application. This includes taking the GRE early and finding out which schools best fit you.

However, once you start the process, you should do your due diligence to ensure you followed the instructions correctly and submitted everything promptly.

Picture of Professor Conquer
Professor Conquer

Professor Conquer started Conquer Your Exam in 2018 to help students feel more confident and better prepared for their tough tests. Prof excelled in high school, graduating top of his class and receiving admissions into several Ivy League and top 15 schools. He has helped many students through the years tutoring and mentoring K-12, consulting seniors through the college admissions process, and writing extensive how-to guides for school.

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