If you’ve decided to head back to the classroom for an advanced degree, get ready to face some competition. Between 2004 and 2016, the number of masters degrees granted is expected to increase by 35 percent. To stand out from the pack, get organized to make your graduate application shine.
Graduate school applications generally require:
GRE or other standardized test scores
Letters of recommendation
Personal statement and/or admissions essay(s)
Audition, manuscript, portfolio – usually only required for creative fields like visual arts, dance or creative writing
For students planning to start graduate school in the fall, application deadlines can range from as early as August to as late as spring, although most deadlines fall between December and March. Don’t wait until then to start your application. Follow a general timeline:
Summer: Ask for letters of recommendation
Sign up for graduate school exams like the (Graduate Record Examination, required for graduate programs that do not require one of the following subject-specific tests), (Medical College Admissions Test, required for medical school), (Law School Admissions Test, required for law school), (Dental Admissions Test, required for dental school), or (Graduate Management Admissions Test, required for business school).
Fall: Take graduate school exams
Request application materials
Research sources of financial aid
Arrange for official transcripts to be sent
Late Fall: Complete your applications (Don’t forget to save a copy!)
Finalize your essays
Winter: Send in your completed applications
File your FAFSA
Apply for financial aid
Spring: Visit campuses
Prepare for interviews
Submit your acceptance or decline admission
Getting your graduate application together will take some time, but it will also take money. Schools charge application fees that can range from $20 to $90, with an average cost of about $50. Additionally, you will have to cover costs of $112 to $240 for standardized test fees. Getting official copies of your transcript will set you back an average of $5 per copy. These fees tend to go up each year, so check for the latest costs. Also factor in mailing, printing and copying costs, which can add up if you are applying to more than one school. Get your application budget in order before you get your applications ready.
Admissions committees want to make sure you will be a good fit for their program. In addition to your undergraduate GPA, standardized test scores, letters of recommendation, and personal statement, admissions committees also look for students who are passionate about a field of study and will succeed in graduate school and beyond. Background preparation in your field and other relevant experience will also be considered. Committees want to see that you are a hard worker and are open to academic challenges.
Your graduate field of study will be more specific than your undergraduate major and so will the application review process. Unlike undergraduate admissions, your application will most likely be reviewed by two separate committees. In addition to the graduate office of admission, each graduate department will assess applications. Since your application will be evaluated by faculty members who are knowledgeable about your field, you will be under greater scrutiny.
Spend extra effort ensuring your application reflects your motivation and passion for your field. Your personal statement and letters of recommendation are the best venues to get this across. Have professors read and offer advice on your personal statement. Carefully choose faculty members who know you well and understand your academic goals to write your recommendation letters.
Finally, make sure you send everything in on time. All your hard work will be for nothing if you miss the application deadline. Some graduate programs require that separate application materials be sent to the school to which you are applying and to the graduate admissions office. Check with your program to ensure that your application will reach all of the necessary offices by the deadline date. Applying with an online application can save you the trouble of going to the post office, but make sure you submit a completed application and print a hard copy for your records.
Getting organized and spending a little extra time on your application is the first step to earning a graduate degree at your top-choice school.