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Preparing Your Applications

From taking standardized tests to writing personal statements, applying to grad school can take quite a bit of time. The earlier you start, the easier the process will be and the more time you will have to tackle any possible hurdles that may appear along the way.

The overall application for most graduate programs generally includes the following:

  1. Personal statements
  2. GPA and transcripts
  3. GRE scores (check if the general and/or subject exams are required)
  4. Letters of recommendation
  5. Biographical information from your essays or résumé/curriculum vitae that describes your academic, research, and professional experiences
  6. Writing sample (for some programs in the humanities and social sciences)
  7. Interview (for some graduate programs, often in the biosciences)

In general, faculty and admissions committees use these components to determine if you are a suitable candidate for graduate school. In particular, they are trying to determine if you are a suitable candidate for their specific program.


  • Get online applications started and create online accounts.
  • Find out about application fees and look into application fee waivers and their deadlines.
  • Check if there is a separate application for financial support.
  • Mark deadlines and take them seriously!
  • Find out about testing and course requirements for the programs.
    • GRE Subject Test (recommended or required?)
    • Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), Test of Spoken English (TSE)


  • Check if graduate programs in your field typically require GRE exam scores for the general and subject tests. Many graduate programs require them, but these GRE requirements have recently been changing.
  • Start preparing early (junior year of college).
  • Take a practice exam to determine where you currently stand: free from or, or buy the ETS Official Guide to the GRE General Test.
  • Use online and university resources: two full computer-based GREs are in ETS’s own GRE Powerprep II with math review and info on analytical writing, available from and included with the above book.
  • Take a course. But if you don’t, get both Kaplan/Princeton Review GRE prep books. Each comes with 3-4 practice computer GREs (get both books for the practice exams that come with each).
  • Find out how far you are from the scores you need to be competitive.
  • If you’re scoring pretty well, prioritize:
    • Getting more familiar with the computer-based exam and its format
    • Learning the way the different question types work and the types of wrong answer associated with certain question types (PR/Kaplan/Manhattan Prep/Magoosh books very helpful here!)
    • Getting comfortable using educated guessing when stumped
    • Increasing your focus and endurance
  • If you’re further away from good scores, take more time to study and:
    • Focus on replacing your current problem-solving approaches with PR/Kaplan methods.
    • Try not to worry so much about how you’re doing while studying.
    • Focus on observing your problem solving and improving it.
    • Embrace your mistakes and errors — learn from them so you don’t make the same errors on the exam.
    • While you’re studying, practice managing anxiety, tension, and attention for optimal performance.