Search Target

Are You Planning to Apply to Graduate School?

  • Why Graduate School?
  • Knowing Which Program to Study
  • Prior to Application
  • The Application Process
    • Application Form
    • Statement of "Reasons for Graduate Study"
    • Official Transcripts
    • Letters of Recommendation
    • Scores from Standardized Tests
    • Certificate of Financial Responsibility for International Students
    • Additional Items
  • Do's and Don'ts of Applying to Graduate School
  • Exploring Financial Aid
    • Graduate Assistantships
    • Research Assistantships
    • Teaching Assistantships
    • University Assistantships

So, you want to go to graduate school. Do you know how you choose a school to attend? Or, where you can go for more information about the application process?

This information pamphlet is designed to provide you with very general guidelines to the process of applying to graduate school. Please be advised that this is not a complete document, and we strongly encourage you to consult our partnering offices, especially the Fleishman Center for Career and Professional Development, for further advice.

~ Why Graduate School? ~
The first question to ask in the application process should be "Why do I want to go to graduate school?" You need a clear idea of what you intend to accomplish to guide your search. Because, Graduate school is not a cakewalk, nor is it for casual learners - it entails hard work; long hours; lots of reading, research and writing; and most likely, financial debt. Students entering grad school should be serious about their studies, so maturity and dedication are necessary.

People have various reasons for pursuing graduate study, but the two most common reasons are as follows:

  • Intellectual curiosity : when people find a field of study that interests them greatly.
  • Professional advancement/development : when additional study in a field is necessary to advance, or for a career change.
Whatever your reason, it takes a great deal of self-discipline to pursue a graduate degree.

~ Knowing Which Program to Study ~

There are many possible criteria for selecting a graduate school. Here is a list of some of them:

  • fields (and subfields) of study offered,
  • teaching philosophy,
  • reputation of the school and/or the participating faculty,
  • job placement (or placement in doctoral programs for masters programs),
  • geographic location,
  • tuition and availability of financial support,
  • availability of support services and infrastructure (libraries, lab space, etc.)
  • time required to complete degree,
  • environment (the size of the institution, cultural/recreational opportunities, work and/or internship opportunities, weather, etc.
  • your personal circumstances (job and family considerations, etc.)

Once you have decided which characteristics of a program are most important to you, then it's time to consider where you want to study. Most programs are competitive and many schools have fewer grad programs to choose from than they do undergraduate programs. Many schools build reputations as excellent places for certain fields of study, and that's where they may put all their energy, finances, and academic resources.

Identifying the program that best fits your aspirations is a research project. You should consider including the following resources in your research:

Fleishman Center for Career and Professional Development: Career Resource Area

Faculty, Alumni, and Other Professionals in Your Field

  • Identify faculty members and professionals whose interests match yours and ask for recommendations of programs. Use the Alumni Career Network (ACN), sponsored by the Office of Alumni and Parent Relations and Fleishman Center for Career and Professional Development, to identify Binghamton alumni in your field and/or geographic area of interest (

Online Resources


•  Also visit Fleishman Center for Career and Professional Development's website for many links to useful sites on the web:

~ Prior To Application ~

Begin researching prospective graduate schools well in advance of your intended starting date.

  • Catalog and Program Literature : Most institutions have information about their programs and admissions requirements on the Internet. As your interest in a particular program increases, write, call or email to request information about the specific program and department.
  • Campus Visits : If possible, visit schools that are on your list. Request an appointment with an advisor, speak with current students, or sit in on a class to get a first-hand look.
  • Graduate Fairs and Forums : These are opportunities to speak with admissions representatives. Each fall Fleishman Center for Career and Professional Development co-sponsors the Graduate School Fair with the Student Association and Law Day with Academic Advising.
  • Conversations with Current Graduate Students or Alumni : Contact the department or career center at institutions on your list and inquire about the possibility of calling alumni or current students to ask about their experience with the program.
  • Binghamton Faculty : Speak with the Binghamton faculty about your interests and priorities, and ask for advice on programs that seem compatible with your interests and academic background.
  • Pre-Law Advisor and Pre-Health Advisor : If you plan to attend law school or pursue a medical or related degree, these advisors can assist you in identifying appropriate programs. Both individuals are located in Academic Advising (SW110).

~ The Application Process ~

An application file usually consists of the following items:

An application form

The application may be a paper form or an online-form. Regardless of format, read it thoroughly. Although similar, there are subtle differences among applications. Make a photocopy of the application form for your draft and records.

Meeting your schools' deadlines is one of the most important details of the application process. You don't want to be rejected from a school for which you might otherwise have qualified simply because you were late in filing your application. Check with each individual department to which you are applying to find out their specific deadlines.

A Statement of "Reasons for Graduate Study" (also known as a "statement of intent", "statement of purpose" or "personal statement")

The personal statement is your opportunity to speak up for yourself. Be creative and informative as you introduce yourself and explain why you want to attend graduate school and why this particular program is a perfect match to your skills. No matter what type of graduate program you are applying to, admissions committee members will evaluate the following: how clearly you think; how well you have conceptualized your plans for graduate school, and how well your interests and strengths mesh with their programs. You should make sure that admissions committee members have a clear understanding of why you want to study the field you have chosen, and why you've chosen them to study it at their school. Develop a nice description of your goals and what you hope to achieve personally and professionally by pursuing your degree.

If you would like a draft of your essay reviewed, leave a typed copy at the Help desk in Fleishman Center for Career and Professional Development. A Career Counselor will review it and have it available for you in approximately five business days. Additional resources for writing essays (including samples) are also available in Fleishman Center for Career and Professional Development.

Official transcripts of your academic work

A transcript is a certified, official copy of a student's permanent academic record. All graduate schools require official transcripts of your grades from any colleges you attended. Most schools ask that transcripts be sent directly to them, but some ask that you collect the information and send in a complete application package. Contact the registrar's office (at every undergraduate institution you have attended) to request that your transcript be sent either to you or directly to the school to which you are applying. Begin this process early because schools require time to process your forms and send the transcripts. You do not want your application to be rejected because your transcript was late or never arrived.

Your Binghamton University official transcript is issued at no cost to you. You may request one by visiting the Registrar's Office, Student Wing Room 119, or on-line at:

When submitting your academic transcript, you will also need to get a certified and notarized translation, if it is not in English.

Letters of recommendation

These letters are one of the most influential aspects of your application to a graduate program. Committee members use them to get a more personal perspective on an applicant. Keep this in mind when choosing your recommenders.

Most schools require two or three letters. Try to get three, or even more, in case one is lost or submitted late. Some programs require more recommendations for Ph.D. applicants than they do for Master's degree applicants. Others require additional recommendations for students applying for funding. Be sure you know the specific procedure for the department to which you are applying.

Take care in asking for letters, begin early (give professors time!), and provide all of the information that professors need to write a fair, flattering letter.

Scores from standardized tests such as the TOEFL, GRE, or GMAT

Most graduate programs require the GRE for admission; however, law, medical, and business schools usually require different exams (the LSAT, MCAT, and GMAT, respectively). Some programs also require the GRE Subject Test, a standardized test that covers the material in a discipline (e.g., Psychology). Most graduate admissions committees are inundated with applications, and apply cut-off scores to the GRE, considering only applications that have scores above the cut-off point. Some, but not all, schools reveal their average GRE scores in their admissions material and in graduate school admissions books.

All universities in the US require international applicants whose native language is other than English to show evidence of command of the English language, generally by means of satisfactory scores on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). It is an exam written and administered by ETS to test basic English language skills. Most graduate programs set minimum scores that applicants must achieve in order to qualify for enrollment.
You can also get information and register online by visiting

Certificate of Financial Responsibility for International Students

Most schools require applicants to provide proof of financial responsibility to cover their educational and living expenses. Self-supporting students (including those who receive support from parents, friends, or relatives) are required to include official bank verification of adequate funds.

Additional items might be requested from the department/program you apply to, such as:

•  Courses-in-progress/Projected Coursework (if you are working on a degree at the time you apply).

  • Samples of your written work or research

~ The Do's and Don'ts of Applying to Graduate School ~

DO start your application one to one-and-a-half years before you plan to enroll.

DO make sure you double-check all your deadlines - they may be different than undergraduate deadlines.

DO get your financial aid application in as early as possible. Financial aid for grad school is limited.

DO fill out your financial aid application online, if possible.

DO read applications and directions carefully.

DO start asking for letters of recommendation at least six months before your application deadline.

DO fill out your own applications. Type the information yourself to avoid crucial mistakes.

DO make copies of all applications, and practice filling one out before you complete the original.

DO type or neatly print your answers, and then proofread the applications and essays several times for accuracy.

DO  ask someone else to proofread them for you as well.

DO demonstrate that you are professional, focused, and very interested in the field you've chosen to study.

DO be truthful, and do not exaggerate your accomplishments.

DO keep a copy of all the forms you submit.

DON'T use correction fluid. If you type your application, use a correctable typewriter or liftoff strips to correct mistakes. Better yet, fill out your application online.

DON'T write in script. If you don't have access to a computer or typewriter, print neatly.

DON'T leave blank spaces. Missing information may cause your application to be sent back or delayed.

DON'T be unclear. If the question calls for a specific answer, don't try to dodge it by being vague.

DON'T approach people about letters of recommendation at the last minute!


DON'T go overboard on your personal essay. Treat it as a professional application, not a creative project.

DON'T assume that the admission office has everything they need. Wait two or three weeks and then follow up and make sure that your application is complete

~ Exploring Financial Aid ~

A variety of financial assistance is available for graduate study including graduate assistantships, fellowships, work-study, grants, traineeships, or scholarships offered directly by the university, foundations or other organizations. Financial aid can be obtained through the department of study (graduate assistantships), through the university, or from outside sources such as federal government loans, professional associations, community organizations or businesses.

Graduate Assistantships

Most universities offer a number of teaching and research assistantships in the instructional and research programs in various departments. Stipends vary greatly depending on the university. You have to make sure that the assistantship is adequate to meet your minimum financial needs. Graduate assistants usually are not required to pay tuition charges. A graduate assistantship is not a scholarship, and a full assistantship requires a work contribution by the student averaging 20 hours per week, and Federal and State income taxes will be withheld from earnings.

Research Assistantships

A number of research assistantships, with no teaching duties, are available to qualified graduate students in various departments. Funds are provided by either private industry, the U.S. Government (especially in agriculture, engineering, and the sciences), or by the University itself.

Teaching Assistantships

Many departments offer teaching assistantships to qualified, enrolled graduate students. International applicants are eligible for these assistantships. Since teaching assistantships involve instruction, some universities require incoming international students who have been awarded a teaching assistantship to demonstrate oral English proficiency.

University Fellowships

These Fellowships are awarded to graduate students on a very competitive basis and are intended to help superior students pursue graduate study without a work requirement and obtain a degree in the minimum possible time. Usually a tuition waiver accompanies a University Fellowship, and no service is required.

Resources for Identifying Scholarships

  • Fleishman Center for Career and Professional Development's Career Resource Area: contains several directories and binders with announcements of scholarships, fellowships and other programs, including such titles as Financing Graduate School and The Big Book of Opportunities for Women
  • Faculty/Academic Departments: often receive financial aid announcements.
  • Bartle Library: contains many directories in the reference section.
  • Internet: Fleishman Center for Career and Professional Development homepage ( ) includes links to various Internet sites.

This information has been compiled by the ISSS staff from the following websites:

•  Fleishman Center for Career and Professional Development at Binghamton University      (


Last Updated: 4/12/16