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Graduate Admissions FAQ

Choosing to pursue a postgraduate degree is a big decision for many students and working professionals. Whether you’re still in college or have a few years of work experience under your belt, it’s likely been a few years since you’ve applied to school. The graduate admissions process can be daunting but understanding how it works and when to start can make it more manageable.

After deciding that a graduate degree is right for you, where do you start? These graduate admissions FAQs can help demystify the process and help you better understand your options and what you need to do in order to prepare.

How is the process different from undergraduate admissions?
Overall, the graduate admissions process is much more focused on why applicants want an advanced degree. Because graduate programs are so specialized, and not everyone really needs a graduate degree, it’s very important for applicants to be able to articulate why they want to earn that degree and their plans for the future. While grades and test scores are very important, just like in undergrad admissions, much more emphasis is placed on the applicant’s specialty and motivations. The graduate admissions process also tends to be more personal. In-person interviews are often required and just as important as previous academic work is any professional experience an applicant may have acquired before applying. In some aspects the graduate admissions process can be even more “holistic” than the undergrad process, heavily considering the whole applicant rather than just their academic qualifications.

When should I start applying?
Many graduate applications are due in December, with some exceptions. After identifying the programs to which you want to apply, create a timeline based on their application deadlines. It’s important, like when applying to undergrad, to get a head start. December may seem far off, but if you have to prepare for and take exams, collect all the required materials, write essays, and more, it will be here fast. At IvyWise we advise students applying to graduate programs to start in the spring before applications are due, so they have plenty of time to research programs, take the necessary exams, and complete compelling and cohesive applications.

What test scores are required?
It depends on the program to which you are applying, but required testing isn’t always straightforward. Students applying to law school, business school, or medical school may need to take the LSAT, GMAT, or MCAT, respectively. However, recent trends have made those policies more flexible at some schools. For example, some law schools might take the GRE instead of the LSAT and some MBA programs might also accept the GRE instead of the GMAT. This is why it’s critical to do research on the programs to which you are applying and their admissions requirements.

How do I create a balanced list of graduate programs?
Research, research, research! Unlike when applying to undergrad, it’s unlikely you’ll have a college counselor (unless you work with an independent counselor!) to really shepherd you through where to apply and your chances of gaining admission. Doing research on the different types of graduate programs available in your field of interest is key to building a great list. First, consider fit. Start as basic as location – are you looking to stay in your current city or do you want to go somewhere else? How specialized of a program are you seeking? You need to know the difference between programs, as an MFA at one school can be very different than an MFA at another. Also consider the social and financial aspect of where you want to apply. Does the campus and the faculty give off the “vibe” you’re seeking? Do they have plenty of opportunities for financial assistance or grants? Do your homework to choose programs that meet your needs and goals.

How competitive/selective is the graduate admissions process?
The graduate admissions process can be very competitive, especially when applying to programs with global reputations and name recognition. Overall, graduate applicant pools are considerably smaller than undergrad and tend to be more competitive. Graduate applications, because programs are so specialized and receive a lower volume of applicants, undergo a very rigorous review which can include interviews. Applications can often be reviewed several times, placing a great amount of emphasis on every element of the application – especially the personal statement. This is why it’s important to submit compelling, thorough applications when applying to graduate programs.

How can I get help through this process?
The graduate admissions process is much more independent than when you applied to undergrad, so seeking outside help can aid in demystifying the process and give you a clearer picture of your options. Working with an independent graduate admissions counselor, like those at IvyWise, can give you insider knowledge on what graduate admissions officers are looking for in applicants, what programs might be the best-fit, and how to craft great applications. Also, don’t be afraid to reach out to the admissions office of the program to which you are applying to get answers to your questions about the program, applying, and more. Admissions officers are here to help so establish a line of communication.

At the end of the day, it’s important for graduate applicants to understand the admissions process and how to stand out when applying. At IvyWise we work with students applying to law, med, MBA, and general graduate studies programs. For more information on our graduate counseling services, contact us today.