How Does the Graduate School Admissions Process Work?

The graduate school admissions process works differently at each university and sometimes within different departments of the same university. Certain steps in the process, however, are required by nearly all schools. Read on to find out more about the admissions process for graduate school.

Graduate School Admissions Process

The graduate school admissions process varies from school to school, but requires careful research and preparation. Admissions committees recommend that graduate program candidates create a detailed checklist to make sure they don't overlook anything. At many schools, omissions automatically invalidate the application. Following are the standard elements in the graduate school admissions process at most universities.

Important Facts about Graduate School

Common Courses Varies by program
Programs Certificate, master's degree, PhD
Online Availability Available through select schools
Concentrations Business, architecture, geosciences, liberal arts, information studies, fine arts, natural sciences, engineering, education, communication, public affairs, nursing


Make note of deadlines. Some are as early as December for the following academic year. Late submissions are usually disqualified.

Entrance Examinations

Register for required entrance exams and begin studying for them, using online or print study materials. Some exams must be taken a year before the desired school year begins. The most common entrance exams for graduate school are the following:

  • GRE, for most general graduate programs
  • GMAT, for business and management graduate programs
  • LSAT, for law school
  • MCAT, for medical college

Academic Records

You must provide transcripts from every postsecondary school you've attended. Transcripts are most often sent from one school to another rather than being sent to you.

Reference Letters

Letters of recommendation must come from current or former professors or employers, colleagues or faculty members at the prospective school who know you personally. Some committees consider this the most important step of the graduate school admissions process.

Personal Statements

Also known as personal essays, this step enables you to tell admissions committees who you are, what your goals are and why you think this school is a good choice for you. Some universities require that you answer specific questions about yourself.

Personal Interviews

Larger schools and certain programs may require you to visit the campus for a personal interview. Be prepared to ask questions as well as answer them. Use the opportunity to take a tour of the campus and meet with instructors in your field.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

The schools in the listing below are not free and may include sponsored content but are popular choices among our users. Tuition and costs will vary across programs and locations. Be sure to always request tuition information before starting a program.

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