Strategies For Preparing Graduate School Applications: A Proposed Timetable


Inquire about how you can take the GRE (Graduate Record Exam) Aptitude Exam, plus the Advanced Test in Geology. The GRE Aptitude Exam is a standardized exam that most applicants must complete. You should take practice exams from Educational Testing Service, so that you are not surprised when you take the real exam! (Practice exams are available in the Department).

Schedule your exam far in advance!


Review the many and diverse graduate programs available in the earth sciences. The College Board offers an on-line searching service for students seeking graduate programs.

Email a short letter directly to the "Graduate Officer" of departments that initially interest you.

Search for or request:

  • a graduate school catalogue.
  • application materials.
  • a list of faculty and their research interests.
  • any additional information on the department and its graduate program.
  • financial aid information and an application for financial aid.

Write letters of inquiry:

  • to department chairs or
  • better yet, to specific professors whose own research programs interest you.

Your letters might include:

1. a statement as to why you are writing.

2. a brief background, describing your own experience in geology (education, training, employment or lab experience).

3. a statement of your general interests, followed by an inquiry as to what opportunities might be available in that research program of the department (or specific professor).

Make certain that your letters are neat, specific, and grammatically correct!!!

Immediately follow through on any positive replies that you might receive with a short letter of thanks and an expression of your interest in pursuing an application.


  • Complete your application materials, and send them in to the universities.
  • Complete the financial aid applications (which are separatefrom the academic application) and send them in.
  • Spread your chances. Apply to large programs, small programs, high-quality programs, and medium-quality programs.
  • Request permission of your references in advance of using their names as references. Make these selections, carefully. Allow them adequate time to write the reference letters.
  • Sign the release form assuring confidentiality of the letters.

  • Your overall G.P.A. (Grade Point Average) - the U.S. uses a 4 point system, where 4.0 is the highest. A number of graduate programs will automatically eliminate applicants whose GPA's are 3.2 or less; if you are in this situation, your level of prior contact becomes truly important!
  • Your G.P.A. in geology and related sciences courses.
  • Quality of the letters of reference.
  • Your GRE Aptitude Exam result, plus Advanced Test in Geology (70th percentile should be your minimum goal).
  • Favorable contacts (written or personal) with departmental staff.
  • Successful completion of summer field camp.
  • Background and experience in geology (lab assistantships, summer employment in geology-related fields, etc.).
  • Clarity and neatness of application materials.
  • Courtesy is assuring that all application materials arrive before the deadline date.
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