A Short Guide How to Apply to Graduate School

Graduate school is not easy, but for those who have successfully completed university degree programs, it is worth it. The graduate school application process is complicated, yet fairly straight forward when you have a firm grasp on the requirements and the process itself.

The purpose of this article is to explain the process for applying to grad school and to help you develop a better understanding of what you can expect as an applicant.

Short guide how to apply for graduate school

The first thing you want to do when applying to grad school is to accept that (unless you are part of the lucky few with perfect averages and a guaranteed acceptance) it really is a numbers game. This means that you should apply to nine schools, at minimum. Not just random schools, however, of these nine, three of them should be either the school of your dreams or those who are the top in their field of study.  Three of them should be school where you know you stand a fighting chance at being accepted – this means that you meet all of their requirements and have excellent reference. These are your target schools, the ones where you will most likely end up going. The final three should be schools that you absolutely without any doubt will be accept into. These are you fall back or safety net schools.

After you’ve determined your list of schools, next you will want to carefully explore the requirements of each school and see if any overlap. Before even starting your research, you should know that every school will want to see your transcripts, and your letters of recommendations and your GRE scores. Each school will also likely want a personal statement. Do any of the schools have similar prompts? Can you perhaps write a couple of really great personal statements that can be used for multiple schools, as opposed to nine so-so ones?

Items you will need to collect in preparation for your application:

  • GRE Scores
  • Transcripts
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Examples of relevant work that you have done
  • Your personal statement
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When to apply for graduate school

If you plan to go to graduate school, you really should start to consider your application at the start of your senior year of college. This might seem tedious, given how much work you will be putting into preparing for graduation, but the reality is that graduate thesis and grad school applications often go hand in hand.

Refer to the graduate school application timeline for a detailed look at the process.

Asking “How many grad schools should I apply to?”

Earlier we mentioned that you should apply to at least nine schools. Obviously, there may be limitations or restrictions on this based on things like your field of study, geographic preferences, and your ability to source funding. The point is to give yourself an equal chance to be accepted to your dream school, a school that you know you would do well at, and your safety school.

So, if you have your sights set on two elite schools, you should apply to those schools, and then two schools that you respect and meet the qualifications for, and then two more that you would still be happy to go to and know that you will 100% be accepted into.

Some suggestions how to choose a graduate school

People choose the schools they go to for very personal reasons. It could be that a long line of relatives graduated from a particular school, or because the school is known to produce respected leaders in their field of study. Whatever reason you have for selecting a specific grad school is your own.

However, if you find yourself stuck, here are a few tips to help guide your decision.

  • Separate your list of potential school into categories based on your specific chances of admission. Follow the guidelines mentioned earlier with regards to a dream school, a fighting chance school and a school where you will absolutely be accepted.
  • Consider your long term career objectives. Grad schools are EXPENSIVE and your career aspirations will ultimately impact what you seek out in a graduate program.
  • Converse with the faculty. Speaking with the faculty members that you are most interested in working with will help you gain a better look into the program and what it has to offer.
  • Speak with current or past grad students.
  • Explore whether or not the program and facilities can meet your requirements.

What is graduate school application timeline?

The key to applying to grad school is to apply as early as you can. For most programs, this means starting the process (or at least preparation) in August.


  • Begin to research what is actually required for your application. IE: Do you need to take the GRE or GMAT?
  • Invest in practice exam books


  • Start to network with professionals in the field you want to pursue. Job shadow over fall break, if possible.
  • Meet with your professors or guidance staff to begin to prep for applications.
  • Start to seek out sources for letters of recommendations


  • Spend two weeks taking your graduate school exams. Try to schedule them during school breaks or on the weekend.  If you take them now, you will be able to submit your application sooner.


  • Graduate school deadlines are often between October 1 and December 31. The end of October and first week of November should be spent finalizing your applications.


  • Reach out to the admissions offices at each school to confirm that your application was received.

January to March:

  • Now is the time to start looking into, and applying for, any sort of financial aid or grants you might qualify for.

When do grad schools send acceptance letters?

The majority of graduate schools begin to send out their acceptance letters towards the end of March, but some send them as late as June.

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