Congratulations on your decision to apply for a graduate school program in the United States! It takes an estimated fifty hours to put together an application, including the time spent writing essays, requesting recommendations, taking admissions test, and other parts of the process. That’s a big time investment. But with the right checklist you can work your way through all the items necessary to complete your graduate school application and be that much closer to studying at the program of your choice.
Do Your Research
Find out as much as you can about the program and admissions process. The system to apply for admission to a U.S. graduate school program can be a bit confusing. If you already live in the area of the university to which you’re applying, make an appointment to take a tour of the program and talk to an admissions officer, if possible. The admissions officer can help you figure out when you need to submit the different components of your application package. If you do not live near the university, email the contact for the program to find out if there are any information sessions being held near you, or online by webinar. The email contact can also help clarify deadlines and help you sort out exactly what you need to submit.
Application and Admissions Essays
You’ll need to submit an application containing personal, contact, and demographic information about yourself. The application form will be available online from the website of the program to which you’re applying, or you can email or call in a request to have a physical copy of the application sent to you by postal mail. Complete the application online or in hard copy. Most programs prefer online applications over hard copies for convenience and timeliness.
The application includes essays you will be asked to write explaining why you want to attend the program, how earning a degree from the program will help your career, why your background suits you for the program, and other related topics. You must write the essays yourself. Contracting with others to write the essays for you is considered cheating in the United States and will result in being banned from attending the program. Academic programs in the United States place a strong emphasis on making sure that all ideas you claim as your own are actually your own, and citing others you have been influenced by. You should, however, ask a native English speaker to proofread your essays for grammar, punctuation, spelling, and other minor fluency issues.
As part of your application you’ll need to submit official transcripts from previous academic programs you have attended. You will have to submit transcripts for your undergraduate university studies and any other graduate degrees you have earned in the United States or elsewhere. If you have done other academic programs, such as certification programs or special studies, you should submit the official transcripts for those, too. To submit a transcript, contact the institution at which you studied and ask them to send an official transcript to the program you are applying to. (The address to send the transcripts will be on the application materials.) There may be a fee for sending an official transcript from the originating institution.
Most graduate programs in the United States require at least one standardized test as part of the application process. Medical school requires the MCAT, law school requires the LSAT, and business school requires the GMAT. Other programs may require the GMAT, GRE, one of the subject GREs, and/or other specific standardized tests. The application checklist for your program will tell you which one(s) you need to take. Check the website of the standardized test to find out when you can take it, how to register, and the other details of the test.
You will be required to submit two recommendations from people who know you, your work ethic, and your capabilities well. If you have been working for two or more years since graduating from another academic program you should ask your managers (or a manager and a co-worker) to write these recommendations. If you have fewer than two years of work experience, you should ask a teacher for at least one of the recommendations. It is most desirable to have your recommenders send their recommendations directly to the program. However, if your recommenders do not speak English, you may need to have the recommendations translated into English before submitting them to the program.
If you are still studying at university you will not need to show work experience, and your academic transcript will be enough. If you have been working for several months or more, you should submit a resumé as part of your application. A resumé is a one-page (two pages are acceptable for someone with more than five years of work experience) document listing your work experience and education. There are many examples of resumés and resumé formatting on the internet. Do not submit a CV format unless you are asked to by the program to which you are applying.
If you do not have a degree from an academic program conducted in English you may be asked to prove that you can communicate in English by taking the online TEFL course. The TOEFL contains sections on Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing. If you can communicate well enough in English to succeed in a graduate program, you will be able to do well on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).
Once you have completed all the items on this list – and sent in the application fee – your application to graduate school will be complete! Then there’s nothing to do but wait for your acceptance notification and plan your move into the next phase of your life. Good luck!