Grad School Applications

The process of going to graduate school begins long before submitting applications. Engage in self-reflection and exploration before starting the pursuit of grad school to help focus your career goals and field of study. This will ultimately assist you in making an informed decision about your future and the role that a graduate degree may have. 

The information on this page will be helpful for students in any phase of the graduate school search.  Seeking support in this process? C
all 979-845-5139 to schedule an appointment with our Grad School advisor.

Thinking about Graduate School?

Overview

Graduate programs typically range from 1.5 to 7 years. Master-level graduate degree programs provide targeted academic training in a field of interest to promote mastery over field-relevant material and prepare students to work in their industry. Curriculum typically includes core courses and elective courses and programs may range in degree plan flexibility. Graduate programs may or may not require cumulative final projects, such as a research thesis as well as experiential opportunities such as internships. Doctoral-level degrees are typically terminal-degrees in fields of study that further prepare students for careers in research and academia.

Reasons to Pursue Graduate School

Take time to evaluate your reasons for wanting to go to graduate school. Reading this article may be a helpful place to begin. Note that your reasons may change and develop over time. Be aware that grad school is a substantial commitment and individuals decide to pursue or not to pursue advanced degrees for different valid reasons. Students also may choose to take “gap time” between undergraduate study and graduate study to continue developing professional interests and experience. Seeking support in this process? Your Career Center advisors are here to help.

Questions to Ask Yourself

  • What professional roles are you interested in? Do these positions require you to have an advanced degree to work or perform certain activities?

  • What are your reasons for wanting to go to graduate school?

  • How much money are you willing to spend on your graduate education?

  • Where are you willing to live while attending graduate school?

  • Is there an accrediting body in your field of interest?

  • What graduate programs will help you reach your future career goals? Sometimes there are different titles or names of graduate programs or degrees that are similar in nature but may have slight educational differences or various emphases. Does this apply to you?

Making Yourself a Competitive Applicant

Gaining Experience

Students who are most successful in applying to graduate school are students who have demonstrated academic excellence in their fields of study and have gained relevant experiences including work, internship, volunteer, and research opportunities.

Taking Action

Throughout College: 

  • Reflect on what career field and positions you are interested in and if a graduate degree will help you reach your future career goals.

  • Maintain/improve your GPA. Do not give up even if you’re discouraged!

  • Get involved at A&M! 

  • Bring a working resume to the Career Center for review.

  • Capitalize on summer months to gain different experiences that interest and develop you personally and/or professionally (there is often overlap here). Activities may range from working to save money, a campus organization summer experience, part-time volunteering in a context of interest, summer coursework, a relevant internship, a summer research institute, or study abroad.

Research Graduate School Programs

Helpful Tips

  • Visit databases from the Career Center’s Finding Graduate Programs document. Helpful hint: if you go to gradschools.com and search for your field of interest, you will find general information about what grad school is like and common terminology used in graduate program titles in your field. 

  • Go to The Princeton Review or Petersons.com. Visit their blogs and scroll through posts written about the grad school application process by those who have gone through it.

  • Ask your professors and other mentors for advice on graduate school and if they have any programs in mind for you.

  • Begin developing a list of programs that you are interested in looking into further. As you find programs, visit their university departmental websites and record relevant information including application deadlines, application materials required, admissions test/score expectations, program contact information, etc. 

  • Request information from admissions advisors listed on websites if necessary.

  • Read program mission statements to identify program values and goals. 

  • If there is particular research you are interested in, see what articles universities and faculty members are publishing in your area of interest. Look into the graduate programs at those universities.

  • Use a tool such as this excel sheet to keep organized.

  • Helpful hint: use US News Rankings to be aware if you are applying to top- mid- or low- tier programs. Caution: What’s most important when selecting programs is not rankings but (1) confirming the reputability of a program and (2) finding programs that are a good match for your individual professional interests.

  • Consider scheduling a visit to tour campuses and meet with program representatives to gain further information.

Ranking Programs

After creating a list of programs, consider what programs are most appealing to you. Begin to rank programs and develop a final list of programs that you intend to apply to. Note that you will continue to get information about these programs via interview process and other events (such as accepted students days). These may be helpful questions:

  • How well does the program’s values and goals fit with your own?

  • What appear to be the faculty members’ mentoring styles? Can you see yourself working productively with the faculty? 

  • Do faculty members interests align with your own? 

  • What characteristics are you looking for in a graduate program? For example, geographical location, research-focus, etc.

  • If you were to receive an acceptance from this program, would you seriously consider going to that school?

The GRE or GMAT

What are the GRE and GMAT?

The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) are two of the most common standardized tests that students may be required to take to apply to graduate school. Both are computer-based tests that last approximately 4 hours, cost $200-$250, and have policies for how frequently students can sit for the test in a month and calendar year. The GMAT is typically required by business-oriented programs (e.x. MBA) and emphasizes critical thinking while the GRE is required by a wide range of fields and offers subject tests in specific fields of interest. The GRE is often compared to the SAT that many students completed during High School because it has similar sections of analytical writing, verbal reasoning, and quantitative reasoning. It is important to be aware that certain standardized tests- such as GRE subject tests- are only offered a few times throughout the year and seating may be limited. So, sign up in advance to ensure a seat and solidify a study timeline. Scores achieved on the GRE/GMAT will be valid for 5 years. 

Click here for more information about the GRE and here for more information about the GMAT.

Do I need to take the GRE?

It is likely that a student who is applying to various graduate programs will need to take the GRE or other standardized test to complete their applications. However, it is important to note that any standardized test is only required if a graduate program states that it is a required application material. So, if you are applying to all programs that do not require the GRE to apply, then you do not need to take it. This is why it is important to have an ongoing list of programs you are interested in applying to before signing up for the GRE. This should be posted clearly on program websites. Websites and graduate programs will distinguish between the general GRE test and subject test. So, if GRE scores are required and a specific subject test is not clearly stated, then general GRE test scores are expected.

What’s a good GRE score?

Average scores on GRE sections of analytical writing, verbal reasoning, and quantitative reasoning are 4.0, 151, and 153 respectively. While average scores may be sufficient for admission to graduate schools, it is important to carefully review program websites for posted recommended GRE scores or average scores for students admitted to their programs. This will allow you to establish goals for yourself that will best equip you for success in applying to graduate school.

What are some good test prep strategies?

Read about the test and policies beforehand.
  • Go to the standardized test website and read important information about test day procedures, test scores, processes to acquire accommodations if applicable, free test prep materials, and more.
Take a practice test.
  • Before beginning to study for a standardized test, take a practice test to establish a baseline score reflective of your current knowledge. Many free practice tests are offered online, such as at Kaplan or The Princeton Review. This will expose you to what the test will be like and allow you to assess your areas of strength and weakness.  Use the results from the practice exam to inform your study schedule and decide what study method will work best for you.

Plan your study materials.

  • Students have many options for GRE study materials. There are test prep courses, study manuals, and various online resources. As all of these can be effective study tools, it is most important to: (1) know yourself, and (2) evaluate the study material when choosing how you want to study. If you are a self-starter, studying with a test manual may be more cost effective than paying for a test prep course. If you are concerned about sticking to a study schedule, a test prep course may be a helpful choice. For study tools that you find, ask “does this offer (1) practice questions, and (2) samples of highly scored writing?”  Flip through potential study manuals to get a sense of the different writing styles. Ask, “is this manual something that I will be able to read for long periods of time?” “Does the way the authors explain things make sense to me?”
  • The “Basics of Grad School Admissions” document includes a list of resources that the Career Center has compiled.

Set your timeline.

  • Students typically spend 1-2 months studying for the GRE. Using the practice test results and thinking about your schedule, identify times that you will be able to set aside to study. If you have not already, sign up for a testing administration.

Commit to your studying.

  • Be flexible with yourself if something is not working. It is normal to run into studying roadblocks. Some tips you can try are breaking down the material into smaller more manageable pieces. If you are spending long periods of time studying, try to incorporate more breaks (~30 min) and shorter study periods (~1.5 hour) to avoid exhausting your mental resources. Remember to review material that you are learning frequently as repetition is helpful for moving information into your long-term memory. Seek advising if you need further support. 

Application Process

Summary

A typical graduate school application will consist of (1) Academic Transcripts, (2) a Resume or CV, (3) Standardized Test Scores, (4) Letters of Recommendation, (5) a Personal Statement, and (6) an Application Fee. Programs may also request a writing sample or supplemental essays. After an application is submitted, programs may also use (7) an interview process to decide graduate admission.

Transcripts

Applicants will need to send transcripts from every institution, except high school, where college-level coursework was completed. Current students can request transcripts be sent via Howdy Portal. There is typically a small fee associated with sending each transcript. Click here for more information about transcripts at A&M.

Resume or CV

Schools will request either a CV or resume which should include applicant’s educational background, relevant experiences, rewards and achievements, skills, etc. Visit here for tips and resouces on our website to build your resume/CV.  Get your resume/CV reviewed by a Career Center advisor during walk-ins!

Standardized Test Scores

Applicants will need to send any required test scores to the institutions they are applying to. For the GRE, test takers can send scores to up to 4 schools for free if sending them during a testing administration. Afterwards, test takers can send scores from their ets accounts for a $27 fee. See above for more information about GRE/GMAT.

Letters of Recommendation

Most programs require 2-4 letters of recommendation. Preference of recommender is typically placed on professors however letters may also be written by supervisors, employers and student organization advisors. Recommenders should be able to endorse an applicant for qualities that will help them succeed in graduate school.

Personal Statement

The personal statement and statement of purpose are essays written for graduate school admission. Each essay is tiered to the particular graduate program of interest. Programs may provide specific instructions/prompts or may simply state that a personal statement/statement of purpose is required. Applicants may discuss their interest in graduate school, career goals, research interests, relevant experiences, and skill sets in this piece. Click here for more information about personal statements.

Application Fee

Upon submission of an application to graduate school, an associated application fee is often required. The fee amount ranges (~$35-$80). Be sure to confirm the receipt of the application fee and submission of your application!

Interview

If applicable, programs will invite applicants to interview either in person, via teleconferencing, or via another method. Select programs offer funding for applicants to interview, so applicants should anticipate financial costs associated with travel and housing. Applicants should prepare for the interview ahead of time by becoming familiar with the programs and reviewing their application materials. The Career Center offers graduate school mock interviews and interview advising.

Graduate School Timeline

Year 1: Exploring Interests

  • In down time between the activities you decide to engage in, reflect and research!  At this point, there is likely a need for students to explore their interests and figure out how those align with various professions. Document your research! Create a list of your professional interests. It’s normal if this list as well as your answers to the following questions change and develop over time.

    • Do you like the classes in your major? Do you like certain topics more than others?

    • Do you know what field you would like to pursue yet?  What roles/jobs exist in those fields? 

    • Is your current major guiding you in the right direction?

  • This is a great time to take a personality assessment, a work interest assessment (check out Focus2 on the CAPS website), Sigi3 or talk with trusted family and friends about what jobs they imagine you’d enjoy or thrive in. 

  • Use gradschools.com’s search bar to read a brief description of what graduate school looks like in your field(s) of interest.

  • Something else you could do is read a book about your field of interest or a prominent book in your field of interest.

Year 2: Narrowing Interests

  • Ask yourself the questions you asked last year/summer. 

    • Is graduate school a potential avenue for your career interests? 

    • What’s changed from last year?

    • Is there a governing body in your field that oversees professionals and accredits graduate programs? If so, you may consider a student subscription to an association if available to receive updated info on your field.

  • What are your motivations for graduate school at this time?

  • List and secure experiences you would like to have during the next academic year or two, such as securing a position in a research lab or a student worker position in a context of interest.  

  • Make a list of 5 activities you would like to do for this academic year in terms of seeking out graduate school. Example:

    • Fall: Meet with the Career Center Grad School Advisor. Seek advice from a faculty member or graduate student about their experience with graduate school. Begin a list of potential programs. 

    • Spring: Research 10 programs in your field of interest. Research entrance exams and determine timeline to take it.

Year 3: Preparing to Apply

  • What are your motivations for graduate school at this time?

  • Know that if you intend to apply to graduate school, applications will open up either first or second semester of your senior year. So, plan what remaining experiences you would like to gain before application materials are due.

  • Consider creating an excel sheet to keep track your schools of interest and deadlines.  

Year 3: First Semester - 12 months prior to Application deadlines

  • Explore grad school programs and start to develop a list of 15-20 programs you are interested to learn more about.

  • Research the programs, making note of average GRE/GMAT scores, average GPR, application and admission deadlines, required materials to be included in your applications and name and contact information, for each program.

  • Consider potential sources of funding including professional organizations, scholarships, the programs/schools you're applying to, graduate assistantships and fellowships, and government agencies. Be mindful of any deadlines to qualify for funding.

  • Visit admissions test websites and read about test components, policies, and procedures. 

  • Take a practice version of the GRE or GMAT test (free practice tests offered on Kaplan and Princeton Review) to determine how much studying you'll need prior to taking the actual graded exam. Be aware that taking the exam multiple times can reflect poorly on you as an applicant and could delay the application process (you can only take the exam so many times per calendar month and in a calendar year).

  • Register for the GRE or GMAT exams depending on program requirements. Do so well in advance to ensure a seat.

Year 3: Second Semester - 9 months prior

  • Outline and draft your personal statement.

  • Set up meetings with professors and faculty in your department. They can serve as references, discuss program requirements, and help you develop your personal statement.

  • Narrow down the list of programs you are interested in to those that match your values and interests. (e.x. Research interests)

  • Schedule campus visits to schools you are interested to learn more about.

  • Build a timeline of all dates including exam dates, application deadlines and admission dates. Make note of instructions and addresses; application materials may not go to the same address.

  • Continue studying and perhaps taking standardized tests.

Year 3: End of the Second Semester - 7 months prior

  • Finalize draft of your personal statement and have it reviewed by the University Writing Center AND Career Center.

  • Solidify list of 5-7 programs you intend to complete applications for.

  • Prepare for GRE/GMAT.

  • Continue networking and ask professors or relevant supervisors if they would be willing to write you letters of recommendation. Find at least 3 recommenders.

Year 4: Summer - 3-5 months prior

  • Take GRE/GMAT and send scores to the appropriate programs.

  • Follow up with those who are writing letters of recommendation for you; provide them list of all schools to which you are applying with information on deadlines and how to submit. Provide a stamped envelope with the address of where the letter should be sent if a hard copy of the letter of recommendation is required.

  • Monitor websites to see when applications open.

Year 4: Fall Semester - 0-2 months prior

  • Fill out applications, completing a draft version first, and then submitting the final application at least 4 weeks prior to the application deadline. Keep a copy of each application submitted for your records.

  • Request a transcript from all institutions (except high school) you've attended and send them to the schools where you've applied.

  • Secure letters of recommendation from your professors or other faculty members.

  • Confirm that the programs you applied to received your application materials.

Year 4: Spring Semester - After Applications are Submitted

  • Begin to prepare and practice for interviews! Make an appointment with Career Center for interview advising or to complete a mock interview.

  • Schedule interviews as appropriate and send thank you notes to all you meet with.

  • Congratulate yourself for a job well done! Not everyone goes through this process.

  • Wait to hear about acceptance to programs.

  • Make your decision on where you want to study. Once you do, accept your offer and inform the other schools of your decision.

  • Update those individuals who assisted during the process and send thank you notes to those who wrote letters of recommendation.

  • If an undergraduate, send final transcripts after graduation and make plans to move.

Additional Resources

Financing Graduate School

Plan ahead when it comes to financing your graduate education. Just like graduate school applications, there are deadlines to qualify for certain awards that you do not want to miss. Download our “Financing Graduate School” document on the right side of this page to see different options for funding (grants, scholarships, fellowships, graduate assistantships, financial aid) as well as websites you can begin browsing. Remember to fill out the FASFA if you plan to attend graduate school in the next academic year.

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