Thinking of Applying to Graduate School?

Tips to make your application stand out

You may be interested in attending graduate school in order to focus on a particular academic discipline or a specific profession. Traditionally, graduate school has been “academic” (centered on generating original research in a particular discipline), but it may be “professional” (centered on imparting skills and knowledge to future professionals) or a combination of both.

The following information is from the UC Berkeley Graduate Division to help you think about and plan for graduate school.

But First

Ask yourself the following questions to make sure that graduate school is for you:

Do you really want to be a graduate student?

  • Are you willing to invest the time, energy and money associated with going to graduate school?
  • Are you prepared to spend the majority of the next two to seven years studying while living with a reduced income?
  • Can a single topic or a narrow range of topics sustain your interest for the next two to seven years?
  • Do you need a break from school?
  • Will career-related work experience help you get into graduate school?
  • Are you comfortable initiating and carrying out independent research?

Why do you want to go to graduate school?

  • Do you want to enter a profession that requires an advanced degree?
  • Do you want a higher salary? (Will a graduate degree really affect your salary?)
  • Are you uncertain about making a career decision? (Have you talked to a career counselor?)
  • Are you applying to graduate school because “everyone else is doing it?”
  • Are you applying to graduate school because you feel like you have no career options? (Have you used all job search methods? Have you talked to a career counselor?)
  • Do you know what your short- and long-term goals are and how a graduate degree can help you achieve them?

Yes! Graduate school is definitely what I want to do!

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That’s great! Then one of your first steps should be researching application deadlines so that you can develop a timeline of when to submit test scores, letters of recommendation, personal essays and any other required documents. Then, focus on the following topics as you prepare for apply to graduate school:

1. Build Relationships
Your professors can help you build connections and provide strong recommendation letters. Get to know your fellow students, as well as current graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. Many people will fuel your interests and academic development when you keep an open and curious mind.

2. Gain Research Experience
Conducting research during your undergraduate years will give you a competitive advantage by demonstrating that you’re capable of the type of study graduate school requires. 

3. Track Your Achievements
When you apply to graduate school, you will be asked to write a statement of purpose, a short essay that highlights your accomplishments, motivations and goals. Keep track of your research, internships and activities to include in your essay. 

4. Find the Right Programs
Investigate the many graduate programs and campuses that could be a good fit for your interests. Your professors can point you to ones that will be good matches. When possible, visit potential campuses and meet faculty and students. You can also send emails to professors to ask about their current research. Take a look through Peterson’s Guide to Graduate and Professional Programs, which contains both short and long descriptions of virtually all accredited graduate programs.

5. Build a Strong Academic Record
Distinguish yourself academically by going beyond satisfying general curricular requirements. Write an honors thesis, conduct independent research or apply to research scholar programs. Or, take advantage of a semester- or academic year–long study-abroad program!

Here is a timeline or checklist to help you in planning your application process:

Junior Year

  • Research available programs by talking to faculty, alumni or current students in the program, reviewing guides/directories, reading promotional materials and visiting schools’ websites.
  • Explore financial aid resources.
  • Study, then take practice tests for standardized exams.
  • Sign up for any required standardized test.
  • Attend graduate and professional school workshops—many of which are offered in our Global Access Programs!
  • Identify potential letter writers.
  • Order an unofficial transcript and check for and correct any discrepancies.
  • Take the required standardized test.

Senior Year Fall Semester

  • Write the first draft of your statement of purpose.
  • Request your letters of recommendation from faculty.
  • Order official transcripts.
  • Write the final draft of your statement of purpose.
  • Complete and mail your applications.
  • Apply for financial aid (if needed).

Senior Year Spring Semester

  • Visit prospective campuses if possible, and talk to faculty/students to help you make your final decision.
  • Follow up with schools to make sure your file is complete.
  • After receiving acceptance from the school of your choice, send in the required deposit, and contact other schools and decline acceptances.
  • Write thank you notes to people who have helped you.

We wish you great success as you plan for your graduate studies!