Admissions US

Applying to US Graduate Schools

Applying to US Graduate Schools

When you decide to apply to graduate school, it’s better to start as early as possible. Because it helps increase your chances of getting admitted. The odds will increase of being admitted even more if your prospective graduate school’s decisions are made on a rolling basis - provided that you’re a strong candidate. You might also have enough time to deal with unexpected things, for example, when the transcript sent by postal mail is lost during delivery.

Choosing the right graduate school might be overwhelming if you’re not sure what you should be looking for. Let’s find the below timeline to outline the plan and then learn more about it.

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US Graduate School Application Timeline

Application Year:

February/March/April/May Researching and Selecting Graduate Schools.

June/July/August Contacting Advisors. (PhD perspectives)

August/September/October Preparing Required Materials such as SOP, CV, and etc.

October/November Reporting Standardized Test Results such as GRE/GMAT or TOEFL, or etc.

November/December/January Finalizing Application and Submitting Official Materials.

Post-Application Year:

February Preparing Interviews You May have.

April/May Balancing Options and Deciding where to Enroll

May/June/July Preparation for a New Beginning!!


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US Graduate School Admission in 6 Steps

Going to graduate school can be a great option for your academic or professional career but choosing prospective universities by their reputation might risk your future life as a researcher. Because what matters most is to find the best program fit for you, not the title of university. So you should explore universities and research about programs provided in your research area.

Step 1. Explore and Research Graduate Schools

You should list up universities of interest referring to the universities rankings due to majors, for example, the information comes from US News or Top universities. You should then check if these universities provide the program of your research interest. What matters is whether the program fits your purpose such as getting a Master/PhD degree or Job opportunity. Check the admission requirements: GPA, Minimum Test scores, and etc. Prospective PhD students are especially supposed to research which faculty shares common research interests.

Step 2. Contact Advisors

Next, you should contact potential advisors to go over a) Whether their research interests are related to yours and b) Whether they have openings in seats in the lab.

You should write a concise contact email to intrigue advisors’ interests to open it. As you might know, their recipient inbox will flood with hundreds of emails. So use the best of your creativity, but politely describe your research interests with experiences as evidence of academic excellence. Attaching your CV to email also helps them to better understand who you are.

Step 3. List Up Prospective Graduate Schools

The next step is to restrict prospective universities. If your exploration has nicely done, you would have verified whether your advisors of interests are currently at the university. You may make a list of finalists - universities to apply - considering the admission requirements and the probability of acceptance. Balance holistic elements: not only the finances - scholarship, tuition fee, and living expenses - but also the environment: climate, safety, and the size of the city. Be objective with your qualification and identify them as dream schools, match schools, and safety schools.

Step 4. Prepare Requirements

After selecting universities, you should then prepare the materials required for each program. As a matter of fact, it can’t be better if you’ve already set to prepare for exams such as GRE/GMAT or TOEFL. Make sure to check admission requirements other than the below listings since graduate programs vary.

A. Standardized Admissions Exam (GRE/GMAT and/or TOEFL)

a. The Standardized exam differs from graduate programs you’re aiming at. In general, graduate schools ask for GRE scores. Otherwise GMAT for Business, LSAT for Law, MCAT for Medical, DAT for Dental, and PCAT for Pharmacy. It is necessary to check what exam scores are accepted and what typical range of scores is for admitted students. - Many US universities have decided to go test optional due to COVID-19. But getting a good score on your standardized test still demonstrates your competence.

b. For international students, there’s one more thing you need to have - TOEFL results. It is to prove that you’re able to communicate in English. In case you prepare for both GRE and TOEFL, it is better to get started with TOEFL preparation.

c. The scores are valid for a couple of years so you can take these exams when you are feeling most prepared. So It is fine to start early even if you plan to postpone graduate studies.

B. Transcript

GPA is one of the most important components when applying to graduate school. Many graduate schools require a minimum GPA of 3.0 out of 4.0. You should also check if there’re any prerequisite courses you must take.

C. CV (Curriculum Vitae)

A CV is a document outlining your academic career. There are no hard and fixed rules to follow when writing a CV. Make sure to include sections related to your research area since it is the document to promote yourself as a researcher. To learn more about how to write a CV, find this article.

D. Statement of Purpose (SOP)

An SOP is to help the admission committee understand your academic objectives and convince them that you are a good match for the program you’re applying to. It should be elaborated with details - what did you do and learn from experiences. You should also describe your academic goal and vision defining why you want a graduate degree in this field.

E. Personal History Statement (PHS/PS)

A PHS should describe your background, accomplishments, and life experiences whereas an SOP is an essay stating the purpose of applying to a particular program. You should articulate yourself with personal and educational backgrounds, social experiences, challenges, and opportunities relevant to your academic journey.

F. Letters of Recommendation

Most universities require you at least two or three letters of recommendation. It is a personal reference that vouches for a specific person based on their characteristics and qualifications. In general, your academic advisor and/or other professors who are familiar with your academic work provides recommendations.

Step 5. Submit the Application

After completing your application, you should submit or send official documents- whether test scores are reported within the deadline and letters are recommendations are properly submitted. Make sure to check the status of whether there are missing documents. During this time, you might as well prepare for the interviews you might have.

Step 6. Plan for Future

In this step, you might have several letters from the graduate schools. The offer letter for the PhD program might contain the funding - financial packages. Balancing your options and then deciding which offer to accept and decline. Contacting your prospective advisor in advance would be great if they are assigned to you. International students should proceed one more step to get issuance of an F-1 Visa after receiving the I-20 document from the university.

Getting an offer letter means a new beginning. Be ready to relish your first step to academia!


The Steps of Applying to US Graduate Schools will be more discussed in the continued articles.

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