Graduate School

Applying to Graduate School signifies your desire to continue your education in a particular field of study. Whether it be in medicine, law, business, or any other discipline, the decision to go to graduate school should not be taken lightly. Here we provide some necessary fundamental information regarding researching graduate programs, entrance exams, and the application process.

XPD Handout - Graduate School

Graduate School Timeline

Researching Programs and Obtaining Information

Grad School Tracking spreadsheet

Selecting a Program

Graduate Admission Exam Dates and Deadlines

Application Process

Paying for Graduate School 

Graduate School Timeline

Junior Year

  • Get to know your faculty.
  • Think about what you want from graduate study - it is more intense and focused than undergraduate study. 
  • Begin to research programs through the Internet and/or contacting the graduate school for application materials and catalogs. 
  • Consider taking the required graduate exams.

Senior Year
The following activities will need to be completed before entering graduate school; exact timing is dependent on the application deadlines of your prime school of choice.

  • Request school catalogs along with applications from admission and financial aid.
  • Register for necessary admission exams.
  • Ask faculty/employers to write letters of recommendation; allow plenty of time in advance of the deadline (include a self-addressed, stamped envelope).
  • Arrange for official transcripts to be mailed.
  • Complete and mail applications.
  • Verify the receipt of all admission materials (application, transcript, exam score, letters of recommendation, etc.).
  • Evaluate admission offers. 

Researching Programs and Obtaining Information

Use this “Grad School Tracking spreadsheet” to help you in your research of graduate schools/programs.

Begin your search with one of the standard directories of graduate programs:

US News and World Report's Rankings:

  • Public-Policy Analysis
  • Public Affairs

Other resources:

  • CSB/SJU Faculty
  • Program/Department at the school of interest
  • University Course Catalogs
  • University/Department Websites
  • Alumni of the Program(s) You're Considering
  • Campus Visits

Selecting a Program

Consider the following questions in light of your own personal needs, educational values, and goals:

  • What is the emphasis of the program?
  • What specializations exist within your general field of study?
  • Does the program offer the opportunities you want (both in the program and post-graduate)?
  • How rigorous is the program?
  • What career areas do graduates of your department go into?
  • How long does it take to complete the program?
  • How large is the department?
  • Where is the school located? Will the location be a fit for you?
  • What are the total costs?
  • What sort of financial aid (graduate assistantships, scholarships, etc.) is available?
  • What areas of research have the faculty focused on? 

Graduate Admission Exam Dates and Deadlines:

Each graduate entrance exam is different in approach and purpose; various academic disciplines are trying to test certain skills. For example, the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) tests knowledge of biology, chemistry, psychology, and physics, the LSAT (Law School Admission Test) tests analytical skills, critical thinking, and logic. Graduate exams also have different deadlines to register, administration dates, etc. For this reason, please check each exam's website for specific deadlines and requirements.

Application Process:

Application materials should be obtained at least one year prior to the beginning of the term in which you wish to enroll. Many programs admit for the fall term only.  Always check with schools for their individual deadlines as they may vary widely from program to program.

Applying to several schools is advised though this may be costly with application fees typically ranging from $50-$70. Maintain copies of all application materials and keep ongoing records of each as the process nears completion. Admission requirements are generally based on some of the following criteria: 

  • Graduate admission exam scores
  • Undergraduate GPA
  • Work experience
  • Previous research activities
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Letters of Recommendation
  • Personal Statement
  • Portfolios or auditions may also be taken into consideration (Fine Arts) 

Personal Essays

Application Essay - Ideas from Kaplan:
Personal Statement...Statement of Purpose...Candidate's Admission Statement... These terms bring a shiver to the spine of many a potential grad student. You should think of the personal statement, however, as an opportunity to show admissions officers what you're made of. They want to know why you want to attend their grad program and this is your chance to tell them as clearly and compellingly as you can. How to write a strong and impressive personal statement?

Focus on two goals:

  1. Be Persuasive.
  2. Be Personal.

Persuasive means showing why you feel that you are right for the program, and how the program is right for you. Your statement should demonstrate the pattern in your life that has led to your decision to apply to this program. It should also address your understanding of what the program is and where it will lead you.

Personal entails honesty and distinctiveness. Many statements of purpose are dull and tend to evade the real issues and thus are not impressive to an admissions committee. Feel free to acknowledge personal challenges you've faced, but focus on facts and on the future. Don't make your statement a tearjerker.

Work closely with your faculty advisor in writing your personal statement. Also, consider making an appointment with a Career Counselor to receive feedback on your personal statement. The Writing Center is also another great resource.

Letters of Recommendation

Many prospective employers and graduate schools require letters of recommendation before they will hire or admit you.  These organizations will normally tell you from whom to get your letters and how many you need.  Pay careful attention to this number and do not exceed it.  Here are some tips for getting your letters of recommendation:

  • Ask someone who knows you well. It should be a supervisor, professor, or someone else who is able to specifically and accurately express your skills and qualifications for the position. Choose someone who likes you and approves of your work and someone you know who is a strong writer and can express themselves clearly. When thinking about who to ask, think about these questions:
    • Have I worked closely with this person?
    • Do I feel this person thinks favorably of me?
    • Does this person know me in more than one context?
    • Does this person know my future intentions?
    • Is this person an effective writer?
    • Does this person know me from previous rather than current experiences?
    • Will this person create a letter of recommendation by a deadline?
  • Provide this person with a resume to review the activities you have been and are involved in and the skills you would like highlighted in this letter. The more information you can provide them the better. If possible, meet with them to discuss your educational and career goals and objectives.
  • When you meet with the letter writer, make sure you know what the recommendation is for. Be able to explain the program, what the letter should include, and any other information that may be requested. Give them as much information as you can to make their job as easy as possible.
  • Make sure to provide your reference with a deadline.  It is a good idea to set the deadline a couple of weeks before the actual due date and then check back to make sure the letter was sent.
  • Provide the writer with plenty of time so he or she can write the best reference possible. If the deadline is early January and you don't ask until early December it may be difficult for the individual to get the letter done on time. 
  • If the letter is not an electronic version, provide the person with a self addressed envelope and stamp. If it is electronic, provide the person with any information he or she may need.
  • If you think you may want a letter of recommendation from a faculty member after you graduate, make sure to keep in contact with this person. You can also ask faculty for a general letter of recommendation to send out later. 
  • Send a thank-you note to the letter writer when the process is complete.

Paying for Graduate School

Scholarships, Fellowships, Financial Aid

Grant/Fellowship Website Resources

Financial Aid

Financial aid deadlines often precede admission deadlines. Awards of aid are contigent upon acceptance. Check with each institution's financial aid office for procedures to apply for financial aid. The following forms of assistance may be available at the institution you plan to attend:

  • Fellowship/grants
  • Teaching assistantship
  • Research assistantship
  • Resident assistantship
  • Graduate assistantship
  • Loans