Admission to graduate schools is competitive and in some fields, even harder than medical school. Minimum grade point average (GPA) requirements mean “barely enough to be considered”; they do not mean that everyone who has the minimum is admitted. Usually, students who are admitted have GPAs well above the minimum

Even if you are a strong candidate academically, mishandling the application process may result in your not being admitted. Completing the application process successfully is, in a sense, your first test.


There are four principle parts to an application for graduate school:

  1. Application and fee;
  2. Official transcripts;
  3. Statement of objectives, or essay; and
  4. Letters of recommendation.

Note: Entrance exams and financial aid are essential parts of the application process but are handled by agencies other than the admissions office.

Application and Fee

Unlike undergraduate applications, where admission is determined by the college or campus, admission at the graduate level is determined by individual programs. Most schools have a two-step process: a campus application to a central graduate admissions office; and a secondary or supplemental application to the individual program. Schools that do not use a secondary or supplemental application usually forward the campus application to the program for the final decision.

It is critical to know what materials to send and where to send them, because there are significant differences between programs in the process, documents, and deadlines. It can be complicated.

Get organized!

First, create a master calendar (paper calendars, spreadsheets, and scheduling software all work) that includes:

  • Application deadline for every graduate school to which you are applying.
  • Application deadline for every program to which you are applying (if separate from the graduate school’s).
  • Application deadline for financial aid.
  • Exam dates, score reporting dates (be sure the scores arrive at least a month before the application deadlines!), and the dates when you will confirm the scores have been received. Leave enough time, 2-3 weeks, to request the scores be re-sent, in case they were not received the first time.
  • Registration deadlines for exams.
  • Dates for requesting transcripts and, a couple weeks later, for confirming they have been received by the schools. Leave enough time, 2-3 weeks, to request your transcripts be re-sent, in case they were not received the first time.
  • Timeline for writing a statement of objectives: plan on the writing and revising taking at least a month.
  • Dates for requesting letters of recommendation: plan on at least a month for referees to write and send their letters.
  • Dates for confirming that letters of recommendation have been received by the schools. Leave enough time, 3-4 weeks, to follow up with referees if their letters were not received the first time.

Second, create a file (real or virtual) for each individual program to hold copies of everything you receive and everything you send.

Third, take care in completing the application form.

  • Print or copy an extra form to use as a rough draft and complete it before filling out the real one.
  • Review everything twice before you click “submit.
  • Send everything at least a month ahead of the deadline.
  • Don’t forget to include the application fee!