Applying to Graduate School:
How to Become a Successful Candidate.

The application process will differ greatly from one institution to the next. Read all application information carefully to ensure that you are completing the application correctly and completely.
Generally, graduate programs will require the following five components for their application:

An Application Form to the Graduate School

Most application forms are submitted online for convenience, but you can call or write to the graduate division of a school in advance to secure a paper application. Before beginning the application online, read directions thoroughly to know what information you will need in order to fill out the application. Some sites may even provide you with a pre-application guide that you should read before attempting your application. You often need information such as previous school addresses, units earned, courses taken, work experience, etc. A cost is usually associated with the application, and payment online can usually be done by credit card. Also, frequently the online application will require that you attach a statement of purpose, so you will want to have the capability to do that on the computer you use to complete the application. The online application website for graduate programs in the California State University system is CSU Mentor.

*Many programs require that you submit an application directly to the department as well as the school’s umbrella graduate division. Please ensure that you know where you need to send application materials.

Undergraduate GPA Transcripts

Request your undergraduate transcripts directly from all post-secondary institutions you have attended. This is usually done through the Registrar’s Office. When you request your transcripts, you will need to provide the names and addresses of the graduate schools where you would like your transcripts sent. There is usually a fee for each transcript. Be sure to allow several weeks for the processing of your request.

Graduate Admission Test Scores

Graduate schools generally require a graduate admission test that will vary depending on your program of study. Plan to take the one you need at least four months before you need to submit your application as tests will take time to be officially evaluated. Similarly, you will need to plan further in advance in order to allow time to study for the test and take a preparation course if you wish. Scores are typically good for up to five years, so will be valid if you want to take the test but wait to apply to graduate school. See the Entrance Examination section for further detail.

Letters of Recommendation

All graduate schools will require anywhere from two to five letters of recommendation. Applicants pursuing graduate school immediately after their undergraduate work will want the majority of their letters to be from professors, while those entering graduate school after several years of work may rely on their professional work references. Also, if you plan to attend graduate school eventually, but not right after your undergraduate degree, you can ask professors to write letters of recommendation and place them on file for future use. See the Letters of Recommendation section for further details.

Statement of Purpose

The final piece to the application is your Statement of Purpose. This is your opportunity to convince the admissions committee that you are qualified to pursue graduate study. Be prepared to write an essay or statement on your background and interests as they pertain to your study in the field. This is your opportunity to present yourself beyond the “numbers” represented in your transcripts and graduate admissions exams. It also gives the committee a sample of your ability to write, so be meticulous about spelling, grammar, and writing style. The essay will also be used to assess your enthusiasm for the field of study, motivation, creativity, maturity, and personal uniqueness. Have several people, including your letter writers and career counselor, review your Statement of Purpose for clarity and composition. See the Statement of Purpose section for further details.

Helpful Hints to Remember:

  • It is a good idea to apply to a few programs in order to provide you a variety of options. Compare your GPA and test scores to those of people admitted to the program. You can apply to a couple programs where you would be in the bottom 25% of students, a couple where you would be the average, and a couple where you would be at the top of the applicant pool. This will provide you with a range of possibilities for acceptance.
  • Apply early. An early application can set you apart from the competition. Application deadlines vary; some can be as early as August prior to your senior year and some may have rolling admissions.
  • Determine which tests are required for admission. Research information on cost, dates administered fees and locations. Make arrangements to complete all required tests.
  • Set up a time line for completion of each requirement to be sure that you stay on track. Applying to graduate school feels like taking a full course, and a time line will help.
  • As you did for your undergraduate degree, you will need to submit a separate application for financial aid.
  • If you cannot find information online or prefer to have a hard copy, call or write for applications, catalogs and financial aid information about one year prior to when you plan to attend graduate school. 

Application Checklist:
__ Complete essay/Goal Statement/Statement of Purpose
__ Request Letters of Recommendation
__ Request Transcripts
__Take admissions tests
__Submit application for Admission
__Submit application for financial aid
__Schedule visits to the campus and possible interviews