Graduate School Admissions Requirements

Graduate School Admissions Requirements [Checklist]

person reviewing his graduate school application.

If you’ve got your heart set on going to graduate school, you’re probably excited to start this challenging and rewarding chapter of your life. It can be a lot of work to get everything you need to fulfill graduate school application requirements at your school of choice. But a master’s degree can help you advance your career and become an expert in your field, making it well worth the effort.

We put together this handy checklist to help you keep track of some of the elements you’re likely to encounter.

6 Common graduate school admissions requirements

The application requirements varies from school to school, but there are certain elements that are often included. Familiarize yourself with each component and consider the following tips for putting together an impressive application. You can also reach out to an admissions counselor with specific questions or concerns.

1. Professional resume

Most graduate programs will ask applicants to submit a professional resume that includes employment and education history. You likely have some version of a resume on hand, but don’t assume it will suffice. Be sure to take the time to customize it specifically for your graduate school application.

Consider the following recommendations:

  • Use an easy-to-read font and simple template
  • Highlight relevant work, volunteer, and academic experience
  • Include a section listing hard and soft skills that directly relate to the program
  • Have at least two other people review and give feedback before submitting
  • Review and update your LinkedIn profile

2. Personal statement

Your personal statement is a narrative self-evaluation of your work experience, motivations for applying to grad school, and career objectives. The specifics vary depending on the school, but graduate programs will typically want candidates to write and submit a personal statement that is one to three pages, double-spaced.

Don’t treat this as rewriting your resume in a different format. This is your chance to elaborate on who you are, what has shaped you, and what you hope to achieve. It helps faculty get to know you better and assess your fit for the program.

Not sure where to start? Try answering the following questions:

  • Why did I choose this program specifically?
  • How did I become interested in this field?
  • What am I most excited to learn about?
  • How do I plan on applying for this degree after I graduate?

For more detailed advice, check out our article 6 Tips for Creating Your Personal Statement for Graduate School.


3. Official transcripts from past schools

Transcripts must be sent directly from your institution in order to be considered official. All foreign transcripts must be evaluated by an approved evaluating service.

Make sure to list all colleges and universities you have attended and have official transcripts sent from all of them. Some schools prefer electronic transcripts while others may prefer that official sealed transcripts be sent by mail. Be sure to carefully review the directions from your program of choice.

4. Letter(s) of recommendation

It’s common for grad programs to request anywhere between one and three letters of recommendation. These references should be professional in nature — you might ask a current or former supervisor or co-worker.

If you’re applying to a research program, having a professor write a letter on your behalf is a wise move. The key is to make sure your letter writers are individuals you’ve worked with before and can speak to the characteristics that make you a great candidate.

To maximize your chances of getting a high-quality letter, send them the following information along with your request:

  • Transcript or list of relevant classes
  • Professional resume
  • Personal statement
  • Volunteer and/or extracurricular experience
  • A brief summary of your career goals
  • A list of all programs you are applying to
  • Detailed instructions
  • A clear deadline

Make sure to approach your letter writers well ahead of your submission deadline. You should give them at least a month to write it, perhaps more if they are especially busy.

5. Admissions interview

Not all programs will include this step, but it’s not uncommon for applicants to participate in one or more interviews during the graduate school admissions process. Once your application is submitted and reviewed by the admissions committee, they will determine if they’d like to extend an interview invitation.

The interview is crucial for those programs leading to professional licensure where qualities like interpersonal skills, conduct and demonstrating standards of the profession are essential and often part of the licensing process. The format varies by program. They may take place in person or virtually, with an individual or with a committee.

Here are some tips for preparing for graduate school interviews:

  • Ask who you’ll be meeting with and look into their background, interests, specialties, experience, etc.
  • Do some self-reflection on what motivates you to earn a graduate degree
  • Choose a professional outfit, like what you would wear for a job interview
  • Research the program in depth and make note of any professors, projects, classes, teams, and other details you find interesting or enticing
  • Compile a list of questions you can ask the interviewer(s)

6. Official test scores

Historically, college entrance exams have been a common graduate school admissions requirement. This has changed over the years, but test scores may still be required on a program-specific basis.

Examples of standardized tests for graduate or professional schools include:

  • Graduate Record Exam (GRE)
  • Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT)
  • Law School Admission Test (LSAT)
  • Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)
  • International English Language Testing System (IELTS) 
  • Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)

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