How to get into Graduate School

What you can do as an undergraduate to help get into Graduate School?

During your undergraduate years there are many things you can do to increase you chances of getting into the program that you want. Some of these include:

  1. Maintain at least a 3.0 GPA (the higher the better)
  2. Take classes that are related to the field of study you are interested in
  3. Do research with a faculty member in an area that you are interested in
  4. Make sure that you know enough faculty to get recommendation letters from them when applying.
  5. Do volunteer work, get a job related to your interests, or do an internship in your field of study (experience is a major player in your acceptance)
  6. When writing your Vita/Resume, personal statement, or any other essay for applying, make sure you have a professor/mentor look it over before submitting it
  7. Getting involved in your department is a big factor: psychology club, research, etc.
  8. Apply for the department's awards each year, which look good on applications as well.

Deciding factors for picking a Graduate School

Once you've made the decision to attend graduate or professional school, you'll need to evaluate which institutions and programs are best suited to you. It is very important to understand how the application process works. When deciding where to apply and ultimately which graduate program to enter, there are many factors to consider.


Is the program/institution nationally recognized? Is it recognized on a regional or local level? For those of you who choose to look into program rankings, be advised that there is no single rating for graduate or professional schools which is universally accepted. Read several different reports and ask faculty members about the reputation of the programs you are considering.

Program of Study

What emphasis does the program use? Is it theory, research, case study, or thesis vs. non-thesis? How many students are enrolled in the program? What is the student mix and attrition rate?

Geographic Location

Is this an area in which you want to spend two or more years? Ties that you develop here could lead to jobs in this area.

Post-Grad School Employment

Where do graduates of the program typically find work? How much assistance is provided by the institution to find employment?


Are the faculty conducting research in areas that are of interest to you? Are professors considered to be on the cutting edge of their field? What have they published? What is the student-faculty ratio? Have you visited the campus to meet with any faculty to discuss the program?


What type of housing is available? How extensive and available are labs and facilities? How comprehensive is the library?


How will I pay for school? What are the average starting salaries of graduates in this field? Will I be able to support my loan payments? Is financial aid available and what sort of time commitment will that require?

Application Form

Make sure your application is neat. Before typing your final version, it may be helpful to prepare copies for practice versions.


The essay varies from school to school and is often the most difficult part of the application process. Your essay should be well organized, succinct, customized, and proofread. Remember to stay on topic and consider your audience. The essay is your chance to demonstrate why you want to attend graduate school, your strengths and achievements, and why you are interested in a particular department or program. The essay should represent your best writing efforts. It is a good idea to ask for input from others on your essay. Faculty members who are involved in graduate programs are often good mentors in this process.


Make sure that your transcripts are sent out to all schools. If they are not there by the deadline it is not a huge deal but make sure you get them sent as promptly as possible. Transcripts are free to send, you just need to go to the Registrar's Office and fill out a form with the graduate school's address and the number of copies you want sent. Some schools prefer more then one transcript, so check and make sure. Some schools want your official transcripts showing you took the amount of credits necessary to graduate, your final transcripts, so check on that as well.

Standardized Tests

All standardized tests are offered periodically throughout the year. Most commonly taken tests are the GRE (for most academic disciplines). Check with the school to which you are applying to see when you should take the test and if it is required. You can find out more information and register for this test online at . Depending on the field of psychology you want to go into you will have to take the Psychology-Subject Test, which is a psychology based test. You can find more information on the The GRE and Subjects Test at the GRE link above. They range from $100-$130 per test.

Letters of Recommendation

It is a good idea to start this process early and allow enough time for the authors of each letter to complete the task. You should select faculty and professionals who know you well and are recent references. Ask them if they can make a strong recommendation for you. Prepare them by giving them a copy of your résumé and explaining your career goals. Make sure they know your deadlines. It is a good idea to select at least one extra in case you fall short. Remember to thank your references and stay in contact with them.

Application Fee

Don't forget that most graduate schools require an application fee. Depending on the school and the program (M.S. or Ph.D.) it could cost anywhere from $45-$100.


Some graduate schools require you to appear for an interview. It can be a very important opportunity for you to persuade faculty and administrators from that department or discipline that you are an excellent candidate for their program. The ideal candidate is a mature, thoughtful, well prepared person who has a mission and clear vision for his or her life.

Application Timeline

Junior Year, Fall and Spring

Research areas of interest, institutions, and programs. Talk with your advisors about application requirements. Register and prepare for appropriate graduate admission tests. Investigate national scholarships and financial aid.

Junior Year, Summer

Write for application materials. Visit schools of interest. Write your application essay. Check on application deadlines and rolling admissions. For medical, dental, osteopathy, podiatry, or law school, you may need to register for the national application or data assembly service most programs use.

Senior Year, Fall

Obtain letters of recommendation. Take graduate admission tests if you haven't already. Send in completed applications.

Senior Year, Spring

Check with schools to ensure application file is complete. Send fall transcripts. Once accepted, visit programs to which you have been accepted. Send deposits and registration material. Notify other colleges and universities that accepted you of your decision so that they may admit students on their waiting list. Send thank you notes to people who wrote you letters of recommendation, informing them of your success.

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