These are the basic application requirements for most graduate schools. Bear in mind that professional degrees will have additional requirements. For example, for a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA), you will be required to have two years of work experience. Always review a university program’s admissions webpage to understand your specific requirements.
- ApplicationYou can expect to complete a university-wide application form used by all those applying to the university’s graduate programs, as well as a department-specific form. These forms require basic background information, names and contact information of your references, and details about your academic history.
- TranscriptsYou will need to submit official copies of transcripts from every post-secondary institution that you attended. This includes your university transcripts as well as study abroad, for-credit summer programs, college, or CEGEP. Official transcripts are purchased from your Registrar’s office and are sent in sealed envelopes. Once you open a transcript, it is no longer official.
Graduate programs use your transcript to understand your breadth of coursework and how you performed in your courses, especially those directly relating to your graduate field of study. Your overall GPA is important, and many programs will have minimum GPA requirements. However, the rigor of your coursework, the load you took each semester, and how your grades changed over time are also very important. Perhaps you started out as a Neuroscience major and did poorly in your Science courses before you switched to study Romance Languages, and in this field you received almost straight A’s. Admissions committees use your transcripts to verify that your overall 2.75 was really due to the bad Science grades your first year.
- Letters of RecommendationGraduate programs will ask for 1-3 letters of recommendation from professors, employers, volunteer organizers, or any other worthy singer of your praises. The best referral comes from someone who knows you very well and can describe your strengths as a student in detail. You should begin building these relationships with your professors early in your undergraduate career.
When asking for a letter of recommendation, remember that professors are busy people with an extremely varied To Do list. They will likely forget about your letter or deadlines. You must be proactive in assisting your recommenders to make sure they are able to complete your letters in a timely fashion.
- Solidify your recommenders three months out from the deadline through a clear written or verbal confirmation.
- Follow up with an email with a table of the universities you are applying to, the deadlines for the letters, and how the letters need to be submitted. If any letters need to be submitted by mail (yes, that still exists), give your professor an addressed and stamped envelope.
- Give your recommenders access to the university’s website. Once you have solidified who will write your letters, immediately give them access to upload their letter’s into the applications that used a web-based submission system. Many of these systems send reminders to your recommenders to help them stay on time.
- Send periodic update emails. About a month out ask your recommender how the letters are coming along, and reattach your deadline table as a polite reminder.
- If the deadline is closing in, and you haven’t heard from your recommender, take action. If your emails have gone unanswered, and you can see that the letters have not been uploaded, pick up the phone and call or visit the recommender in person.
- Personal StatementYou will likely need to write two personal statements. One will focus on where you have been and will ask you to describe something important about yourself. This essay is the time to highlight strengths about yourself that are not readily evident in the rest of your application. The second personal statement will focus on where you want to go. You will be asked why you want to pursue this particular graduate degree within this university and department. What is the project you plan to work on and why? What professor would be a good match for you? You must do your research about the university to write an essay that is specific to the school you are applying to. This essay should be different for each university application.
The most important part of your personal statement is to be yourself. Of course, you want to do so in a unique way, avoiding cliches while making sure you address the given prompts. The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign has an excellent guide to writing and checking over your personal statement.
- Standardized TestsPlan to study for your standardized exam well in advance of admissions to make the process as stress-free as possible. Create a strong study plan and enlist the help of a course or tutor, if necessary. These scores are important, especially if you are applying to a professional program. Because the GRE is used more generally, it is weighed differently by each university department, depending on their focus.
A list of standardized exams and the programs that they are for.
- Writing Sample or PortfolioFor research-based programs, the department will want to see a demonstration of research and writing ability. Choose a research sample that demonstrates your depth of thought and strong research. For artistic-based programs, your portfolio of work with be one of the most important aspects of your application.