Graduate School

Introduction to Graduate Schools

Application to graduate programs begins with the Graduate Records Exam (GRE). Roughly equivalent to the SAT, the GRE is a standardized exam testing verbal skills, vocabulary and reading comprehension, quantitative skills, and analytical ability. Students must take the exam no later than December of their senior year for the scores to be sent to schools in time.

Graduate schools select which students will be accepted, and which will be offered teaching assistantships or other funding opportunities, based upon three principal aspects of the application. These are GPA, letters of recommendation, and GRE scores. Applicants also write a statement of intent or essay on why they want to attend graduate school. A coherent and concisely written statement is more important than the reasons given. Letters of recommendation should be requested several weeks before the first due date. It helps your writers if you can provide them with an unofficial copy of your transcripts and a copy of your written statement along with all of the forms and a summary of the schools and their due dates. Include a resume if you have one. Most schools require three letters and these are generally selected from the professors you are most comfortable asking. A letter from someone outside your major can be useful if it is likely to be a strong endorsement that can attest to your probable success in a graduate program.

You can improve your odds by doing some homework and showing some initiative. Deciding where to apply, and what field to apply in, can be very difficult. One is not expected to know exactly what one will undertake for a thesis at the time of application. A general sense of which field is enough. However, it can help a great deal if you are able to narrow your interests down to one or two professors in a program. When possible to do so, personal contact can prove extremely helpful. ("Hello, my name is Blank. I am very impressed with your work in the area of blank. I am thinking about applying to your school and I am calling to ask if you are taking any new students in the fall.") Showing initiative can set one apart from a monotonous stack of applications.

Graduate School Programs