To successfully apply to a graduate program, you will need to create and assemble application documents that can include personal statements, essays and letters of recommendations. You’ll also need to begin preparing for a possible admission interview. Get started on your application preparation below.
Graduate schools usually require an essay or written statement as part of the application process. Sometimes they will give you a specific topic to write about, but often, they will just ask for a more general essay called a “personal statement” or “statement of intent”, without giving any structure or guidelines.
The purpose of the personal statement is to give you the opportunity to articulate your goals and reasons for applying to graduate school. There is no one correct way to write a personal statement - tell your story in a way that fits you. Keep your statement to about 1-2 pages in length, unless otherwise specified, and consider including the following information:
- Your academic and professional background/ qualifications
- Why you are interested in graduate school in your particular field
- Your career goals or how you intend to use your graduate degree
- Why you are hoping to attend that particular school or program
Allow plenty of time to research, create, and edit your statement; make sure to visit with a career counselor , a Graduate Advisor, your professors, friends, and mentors for feedback.
Letters of Recommendation
Letters of recommendation are required by most graduate and professional schools and are an important piece of the application.
Generally, graduate schools will ask for 2-3 recommendation letters written by people who can vouch for your academic or professional success.
Consider professors, mentors, and work supervisors that you have a positive relationship with (you should not choose family members or friends who you do not have a professional relationship with). Admissions officers like to see specific examples of different facets of the applicant—statements about your skills, accomplishments and character.
Ask your potential recommendation letter writers if they would be willing to write a strong recommendation letter for you, preferably through an in-person conversation. Give them information on what your professional interests and goals are (a draft of your personal statement or resume is helpful).
Most graduate and professional schools will have an online application process where you can submit your letter writer’s contact information. The school will then reach out to your letter writers, asking them to submit either a letter or fill out a form. This means that you will most likely not see the recommendation letter that is submitted on your behalf.
Make sure to start this process early, allowing several weeks for your letter writers to create and submit their recommendations before the application due date. Don’t wait until you’re ready to apply to ask for letters.
Send a thoughtful thank-you note to your letter writers after they submit your letter of recommendation. Make sure to keep them updated as you hear back from the schools you applied to, expressing your appreciation for their help in the graduate school application process.
The graduate school interview is an opportunity for both the department members and the student to meet in-person to learn more about each other. Not every graduate program will require an interview, but many do so prepare yourself for that possibility. If you received an offer to interview, congratulations! The pool of applicants has already been narrowed down considerably before the interview stage.
The interview process may differ depending on the school or program. Some programs will have applicants meet one-on-one with a faculty member and other interviews will be full weekend events with students, faculty, and other applicants.
Many graduate programs may ask you to engage in small group discussions or activities with other applicants. Try your best to participate actively, while also demonstrating good listening skills when other are speaking. Keep in mind that you are not just being evaluated for your contributions to the discussion, but also your interactions with others.
You'll have the opportunity to see the campus, facilities, meet the faculty, and ask questions. This is your interview too! During the interview, you should evaluate the program just as they are evaluating you.
Research the program and faculty in advance, including any unique attributes of the program and faculty research interests.
Practice explaining how your goals, qualifications, and values match what the program has to offer. Schedule an appointment with a career counselor to get feedback and suggestions for your responses to commonly asked questions.
Breathe, relax, and establish friendly rapport at the beginning of the interviews. If you don’t answer a question to the best of your ability, shake it off so that it doesn’t affect the rest of the interview process.
In addition to showing your interest, motivation, and qualifications to the interviewers, remember to gather the information you need to determine if this graduate program is right for you.
Chat with the current graduate students. They will have great insight into what the program and faculty are like. Current students may have some influence in which applicants are accepted, so make sure to present yourself in a positive manner, just as you would with faculty members.
Remember to send a meaningful follow-up thank you note to each interviewer!
Common graduate school interview questions:
- Tell me about yourself.
- What are your research interests?
- What are your strengths and weaknesses?
- Why do you want to go here, instead of other schools?
- If you're not accepted into graduate school, what are your plans?
- Why did you choose this career path?
- In what ways have your previous experience prepared you for graduate study in our program?
- What do you know about our program?
- How will attending graduate school help you achieve your long-term career goals?
- What do you believe your greatest challenge will be if you are accepted into this program?
- Explain a situation in which you had a conflict and how you resolved it.
- Describe your greatest accomplishment.
- What do you plan to specialize in?
- What do you see as major trends in your field of study?
- Tell me about your hobbies and interests?
- Where else have you applied?
- What questions to you have for me?