Once you have narrowed the list of graduate schools that you are interested in, it is time to begin the application process. The first stage is to request an application and materials from the specific program or download these materials from the website, if available. This can be a time consuming process, so give yourself plenty of time.

What Makes a Strong Application?

  • Strong academic record (your transcript should show successful completion of challenging courses as well as show high marks)
  • Good performance on graduate entrance exam
  • Personalized and persuasive letters of recommendation
  • Unique experiences and qualifications
  • Work experience in field
  • May require well-written, detailed resume

Guidelines for Completing Forms

Complete even the more routine forms with care; they are viewed in their entirety by admissions personnel. If part of an application appears rushed or like it was dismissed, it will reflect negatively on the whole of the application. Be meticulous and direct when addressing the details of the forms. Most importantly, try not to be overwhelmed by the process. Proceed in a direct manner, taking one section at a time. Be sure to follow these guidelines:

  • Most schools will now allow you to complete the application online. You can download the application and complete it on the computer.
  • Be consistent and use your full legal name on all forms and admissions tests.
  • If you are sending a hard copy, prepare a rough draft first on a copy of the application.
  • Make sure the application is typed without any errors (this includes spelling errors).
  • Complete the application clearly and accurately, especially the dates and GPA information.

Be sure to make photocopies to keep for your records.

Personal Statements and Essays

This is often the most challenging part of the application. Though requirements vary by field, these Personal Statement Tips provides guidelines, exercises, and suggestions to keep in mind when writing a personal statement or essay.

For additional guidance on writing a personal statement, see Overcoming Personal Statement Writer’s Block.

Graduate School Admission Exams

Most universities use scores from standardized examinations as one criterion for admission. The particular type of examination needed depends on the graduate school or professional program for which you are seeking admission. Listed below are some of the most widely used tests by various universities and professional schools:

Many programs will require you to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE).

There are also GRE Subject Tests in specific disciplines, such as French, mathematics, psychology, philosophy, engineering, etc. Find out from the particular graduate programs to which you are applying what subject tests, if any, are required.

International students may be required to take a Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) to demonstrate competency in writing and speaking English sufficient for graduate study.

Other admissions tests you may be asked to take depending on your discipline include:

  • Dental Admissions Test (DAT)
  • Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT)
  • Law School Admissions Test (LSAT)
  • Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)
  • Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT)
  • Professional Assessment for Beginning Teachers (Praxis)
  • VCAT Veterinary College Admission Test (VCAT)

There are several test practice centers that offer test-prep courses where you can learn test-taking techniques and practice taking admissions exams. Some of the test-prep services are:

The cost of these test-prep courses can be expensive and vary depending on the vendor. If you can’t afford to enroll in one of these courses, you can purchase a test taking guide at the campus bookstore and most off-campus bookstores and practice on your own. Many students find that this is also very helpful.

GRE Powerprep is a free, online practice exam which provides immediate feedback on your progress.


You will need to submit an official transcript from every college and university that you have attended. This even includes an institution where you completed only one or two courses. At UMBC, a transcript can be obtained from the Registrar’s Office in the Academic Services Building.


Be sure to request an additional official transcript that you can open and review carefully. This is necessary because your official transcript will vary slightly from the unofficial transcript available on myUMBC. You want to make sure that your records are accurate and reflect all of your transfer courses and credits as well as your UMBC completed coursework and grades. Make sure that your degrees and honors are recorded correctly.

Obtaining Letters of Reference

Depending on your relationship with faculty, this can either be the hardest or easiest step of the application process. You can facilitate this process by establishing a relationship with faculty well before applying. Here are some elements to consider when selecting a writer. The ideal recommender:

  • Has a high opinion of you and your potential
  • Has taught a class you attended (preferably on more than one occasion), is familiar with your work and/or supervised you in a research or creative project
  • Knows you on both a personal and academic level
  • Is aware of the program you are applying for
  • Can be seen as an objective judge of you by an admissions committee
  • Has good writing skills
  • Is reliable in submitting your material on time
  • Knows the elements of your background that you want highlighted in the letter.

Once you have chosen your recommenders, provide them with:

  • A copy of your academic and extracurricular record (two page resume)
  • A copy of your personal statement
  • A description of the program for which you are applying
  • Very clear directions about the logistics—any form that needs to be completed and attached, where and how the letters need to be sent, relevant deadlines, etc.

Visit the “Letter Writer” section of to learn more about submitting recommendation letters.

Graduate School Interviews, Visits and Auditions

Some graduate programs may require you to interview with departmental representatives. If this is the case, you want to be prepared. The interview is your greatest opportunity to prove yourself to a graduate school and show that you are a good fit for the available slot and position.

Before arriving for the interview:

  • Have a good general understanding about the school, the graduate program as a whole and the particular division or department to which you have applied
  • Review sample interview questions and practice responses:

Sample Questions for Graduate School Admissions Interview

  • Tell me something about yourself.
  • How would others describe you?
  • Why are you a good candidate for our program?
  • How has your undergraduate education prepared you for our program?
  • What were your major responsibilities in your most recent job?
  • How has your past work experience prepared you for graduate school?
  • What experiences have you had related to (your field of interest)?
  • What do you do in your free time?
  • If there was a concept in one of your classes that you didn’t understand, what would you do?
  • Where do you see yourself in the next 10 years?
  • Why have you chosen to study this profession?
  • What field in this profession most appeals to you?
  • What and who influenced your decision?
  • Why did you choose this institution?
  • What do you consider your greatest weakness?
  • What have you read recently?
  • What would you do if you are not admitted?
  • What do you see as the greatest problem facing (e.g., the healthcare industry) today?
  • What was your most enjoyable course in college?
  • What was your least favorite course?
  • What extracurricular activities have you found most rewarding?
  • How do you go about solving difficult problems in your life?

Manage the Application

Check out the Interfolio Online Credentials Management system, Dossier, that is available, for a reasonable fee, to UMBC students and alumni. The credentialing service is an electronic portfolio where important documents, such as letters of recommendation, resumes writing samples and more are housed and forwarded on your behalf. For example, a student can use it to send confidential letters of recommendation to a potential employer or application materials to graduate and professional schools; a teacher can use it to apply for a new position; or a PhD can use it to send academic credentials to a search committee. It also offers a customizable grad school calendar where you can track your applications. All you have to do is sign up for an account and then provide those who have agreed to write letters of recommendation for you, where to go to upload their letters to your account.


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