Graduate School Applications

The Nuts and Bolts of Graduate School Applications

This guide provides an overview of the graduate school application process, the materials required to apply and best practices for how to navigate it all.

Before You Apply

  • Do your homework
    • Consider these questions: Why graduate school? Which degree and field or subfield are right for you? The answers will help you identify the types of schools and programs would be the best fit.
    • Identify your values and needs to help with your search. These include such factors as location, cost and amenities.
    • Create a spreadsheet or document to track how each school you are considering applying to measures up to your values and needs. You should also document application requirements, costs, deadlines and any other information that is important to you. Seeing it all in one place will allow you to compare and contrast all of the options.
  • Outreach
    • For research-based programs, contact faculty you might want to work with and ask if they are accepting students for your intended semester. Faculty members may be on leave, retiring or not have room to mentor additional students, so knowing this allows you to make an informed decision about whether to apply.
    • In addition to asking whether they are taking on students, you can ask questions about the program or inquire about their research. This contact can also help you assess how student-oriented the programs are, learn which mentors are available, and connect with those who may be reviewing applications later.

Completing The Application

Below are the most common materials required for graduate applications as well as information about how to obtain or create them:


Some programs will host an interview or admitted students day, though this will vary by discipline and school.

  • What should you do to prepare?
    • Familiarize yourself on the details of program/institution by reviewing their website 
    • Practice standard questions which can be found in our Interview Guide or online.
    • Remember, you are interviewing them too! Prepare questions to ask, and make sure these questions aren’t easily answered by looking at their website. What do you really want to learn about the program? 
    • Consider how you feel about the campus or department and the people you are interacting with. Are you satisfied with the answers to your questions? Can you see yourself living there? Do you feel the program will aide you in achieving your goals?

Evaluating Your Options

Hopefully, you receive a number of offers to join graduate school programs. How do you decide which is the right one for you?

  • Return to your values and needs
    • Ask yourself: How does each school measure up on the things that are important to you?
    • Which school provides the best fit to meet your academic and research needs?
    • Which school has the best fit related to your personal, social and community needs?
  • Consider overall financial picture
    • Is the program offering you any funding?
    • What are the costs of tuition and fees? Which are you responsible for?
    • What is the cost of living in that area?
    • Will you need to take out loans?

Frequently Asked Questions