Although applications are sent to the admissions office, usually a committee of faculty in the specific department  makes the decision to accept a candidate into a graduate program.  The application process is time consuming and detailed so, try to:

  • Be organized
  • Create a timeline and set deadlines for completing tasks
  • Prioritize the tasks you need to accomplish

Task List

  • Make a list of the requirements of each institution.
  • Find out the date that the institutions will begin accepting applications.
  • Learn the Rolling Admissions and Deferred Acceptance policies of each institution.
    • Rolling Admissions – Applications are considered as they are received.
    • Deferred Acceptance – Allows you to postpone when you begin the degree for a specific period of time, frequently one year.
  • Prepare for required standardized tests.
  • Take the appropriate standardized test(s) and have the scores sent to the institutions.
  • Request transcripts from ALL the undergraduate schools you attended.
  • Obtain letters of recommendation.
  • Prepare an outstanding personal statement.
  • Apply to as many programs as seem to fit your areas of interest and to a range of programs, including: prestigious, highly competitive, larger programs where there is a greater possibility of acceptance, lesser known program but ones involved in the latest research.
  • Complete and return all financial aid applications.
  • Submit all required application materials.
  • Follow-up with the institutions to be sure all documents were received.

Application Requirements

Admission and application requirements will vary for different graduate programs and institutions.  Be sure to carefully review requirements for each individual program.

A complete application usually includes:

The application Submitted by you; Usually online
Application fee You may be eligible for a waiver
A personal statement Prepared and submitted by you
Transcripts Request from Registrars’ Office; Registrar will submit to schools
Financial Aid application Submitted by you. Deadline may be earlier than application deadline.
Letters of recommendation Request from recommenders; Recommenders will submit to schools
Standardized test scores Submitted directly by ETS or testing organizations

Application Deadlines

Application deadlines will vary with each institution.  Most are between January and March, but some are earlier. Many schools have a rolling admissions policy and will act on applications as they are received.

Apply Early!

There are some important reasons to submit your applications early:

  • Early applications for funding may be more successful.  Funding deadlines are often earlier than application deadlines. Once available financial aid has been awarded, there will not be more until the following year.
  • Applications are often read in the order they are received even if there is an application deadline.
  • Since it is your responsibility to be sure that all supporting materials are submitted by the deadline, it will give you time to check on all documents.

Standardized Test(s) For Admission

Scores on the required graduate admissions tests are definitely a factor that is considered in determining your acceptance into a graduate program.  For some schools, only students with a certain minimal score will be given further consideration. Other programs look at the total background of candidates. Most programs will require you to take the GRE general test and some will also require a GRE subject test. Check websites for required testing and be sure to take these tests as early as possible.

Graduate Record Examinations (GRE)

The GRE has both verbal and mathematics sections as well as two essays.  Specific subject area tests are also required by many universities.  They are generally offered only a few times per year.

GRE scores are valid for five years, so you may want to take the tests even if you are not applying for acceptance immediately after Drew graduation.

GRE Fee Reduction Program

If you are currently receiving need-based financial aid, you may qualify for a GRE fee reduction. Usually, you will need a letter from the Drew financial aid office confirming your eligibility.

Information about the tests, scoring, administration, fees, and fee waivers is all available from: Educational Testing Service at

Preparation for Testing

Preparation can improve your test scores. Don’t take an actual standardized test just for practice as all scores may be reviewed by future graduate schools.  Take practice tests online and/or through test preparations centers.

Consider a preparation course or a tutor particularly if you have anxiety about this kind of testing or your undergraduate curriculum did not include many quantitative courses.

Test scores are weighted differently by different programs and different universities, but scores ARE very important.  Be sure that you are well prepared before you take the tests.

Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)

A special note for international students: Graduate schools require an indication of competency in English. This can be demonstrated by a satisfactory score on the TOEFL exam.

Application Form

Do not underestimate the importance of the application form!  Review the entire application form before completing it. Gather all the information you need and review it very carefully again before submitting it.


  • Follow the directions very carefully.  It is important that you complete the application correctly.
  • Be consistent.  Use your full legal name on all forms and standardized tests.
  • Complete all sections of the application clearly and accurately, especially when citing dates and GPA.
  • Check for correct spelling.  Be absolutely sure there are no typos or spelling mistakes.
  • Be sure that your social security number is recorded accurately.
  • Keep a copy of the information that you send to the school.

Statement of Purpose or Personal Statement

Often called a personal statement, essay or answers to specific questions, the personal essay is your opportunity to present yourself as an excellent candidate for a particular graduate program. It’s a critical part of your application because it gives the admissions committee a sense of who you are and what you have to offer.

Each institution will ask you to follow a specific essay format or will ask you to respond to questions. Although you may already have a general statement prepared, be sure to tailor each essay to that particular program.

Use your essay to show:

  • What you want to accomplish with your graduate degree and how a specific program will help you to achieve your goals.
  • How your background and academic work prepares you for the program.
  • How you are able to write and communicate ideas effectively.
  • Experiences you have had that make you a good candidate for the program.

Organizing Your Essay

  • Consider what you have read about this graduate program and the faculty and decide why you want to participate in this program.  Be specific.
  • Write as if you had a person from the program sitting in front of you and you were speaking directly to him/her.
  • Be positive, enthusiastic, sincere, and concise.
  • As you respond to the topic or questions, be sure to include:
    • What do you want them to know about you?  Why do you have an interest in this program?
    • Did an event at your school, internship, job, volunteer experience or in your personal life spark your interest in this subject?
    • What makes you unique?  (A trait or experience that not everyone has.)  Use a personal life or work experience that relates directly to this program.
    • Why do you believe you should be accepted into this program?
    • Can you handle difficult course work?  Could you help teach a course in this field?
    • What can you bring to this program – skills, motivation, personal qualities?
  • Begin with a sentence that draws the reader into your essay and makes them want to know more about you.
  • A suggested opening:  begin your essay with an idea or theory in your field that you find especially intriguing.
  • Be positive and confident, but not arrogant.
  • Conclude with something interesting and positive.

Writing Suggestions

When writing your essay, remember to:

  • List your ideas
  • Make an outline
  • Prepare a first draft
  • Edit the draft—watch for typos, grammar mistakes, and run-on sentences
  • Review your writing style.  Is it too stiff?
  • Re-write your first draft
  • Follow all the guidelines of the institution
  • Have your essay critiqued by several readers.  Be sure it is reviewed for content, style, grammar, and typos.
  • Revise your draft
  • Review the final draft carefully
  • Give yourself plenty of time to prepare your essay!

Handling Negative Factors

Not everyone is the perfect candidate for every graduate program. You may have lower grades or test scores that the institution requires.   Or, perhaps you’re lacking a related experience.

When considering those negatives factors:

  • Discuss your perceptions with professors in related fields and/or a Career Counselor. You may be too critical of yourself and what you have to offer.
  • If you determine from meetings with professors/counselors that the best advice is to mention a negative factor, then:

o   Refer to the negative factor briefly and try to turn it around to a positive. Explain the circumstances and how you overcame them later on. Explain what you have learned from the experience that makes you a better candidate.

o   Ask your recommenders to comment on how you dealt with this negative in their letters of recommendation.

  • Look for an appropriate place in the application to mention the problem. There may be a related question or a place for “other considerations.”
  • Don’t end an essay with a negative item.
  • Ask your proofreaders to give you feedback on the tone and feel of your explanation.
  • It’s okay to talk about failures, especially if you were later able to overcome them.

Be sure to have your essay reviewed by several readers.  The Center for Internships and Career Development, the Writing Center, and individual faculty in your discipline can all help you.

Official Transcripts

Your official transcript is an important part of your applications to show your GPA  as well as the type of courses you have taken.  Your transcript is carefully reviewed to see if you have the potential to be successful and if you have taken the required courses necessary for admission to the graduate program.  You will need to submit official transcripts from all undergraduate schools you have attended, even those for summer courses.  Transcripts are obtained from the Registrar’s Office in each of the schools.

Letters of Recommendation

Most graduate schools require three letters of recommendation.

Choose tenured professors in whose courses you have done well and have demonstrated your potential for independent thinking.  Generally they should be professors in your future field of study. Choose people who know you personally and who are aware of your work, goals, and academic abilities. Of course choose people who have a high opinion of you!

Your recommenders should have an understanding of the field you are pursuing and be able to compare you with other students who have had similar goals. It is suggested that you sign the waiver of your right to see the letter of recommendation. The confidentiality factor increases the weight the letter carries as part of the application.

Requesting Letters of Recommendation

  • Ask each professor if he/she is comfortable writing a letter of recommendation for you.  Listen for any hesitancy in his/her answer.  You do not want a letter from someone who can’t give you a strong recommendation.
  • Set up an appointment to review your goals and reasons for wanting to attend graduate school. Bring copies of graded papers/projects you have done in this professor’s classes to remind him/her of your work as well as your personal statement and any other supporting materials that will help him/her write a well-informed, specific letter.
  • As deadlines approach, politely remind recommenders about the letters that you need.
  • After you have been accepted, tell your recommenders the good news and be sure to thank them.

Submitting Application Materials Early

  • Submit application materials at least a month in advance of the deadline or sooner!   Submitting your materials early is important especially when the university has a highly competitive program, a rolling admissions policy, or if you are applying for financial assistance.
  • Make copies of all the application materials that you send to the school!
  • Follow-up with your Registrar’s offices to be sure that transcripts were sent in time to meet deadlines.