Applying to grad school can be super overwhelming- especially while completing your service term. There are what seems like a thousand things to consider, and a thousand components to the application process. The purpose of this guide is to hopefully help you through the process, regardless of what program you’re pursuing!
When applying to graduate school it’s important to have a clear reasoning for why you want to obtain this degree and further, why this school is the best fit for you. To start your grad school journey, try journaling on these prompts before starting your research:
Why do I want to go to grad school? What is my dream job and how does grad school fit into that? Why specifically do I want to attend this school?
Once you have a solid idea of what you want to and why, start researching schools that best align with your needs. Things to consider when looking for schools are:
- Are you willing to relocate?
- Are there any specific programs related to your career goals?
- Do they offer scholarships you may be able to apply for?
In this guide we’ll cover a general overview of grad school applications, however, each program has their own requirements that you should be sure to make note of.
- Entrance Exams
- Letters of Recommendation
- Financial Aid & Scholarships
- Balancing Your Service While Applying
The first component of the application process we’ll discuss are entrance exams, however, not every graduate program requires you to submit scores so you’ll have to do some research for your specific program. There are a variety of exams that we simply don’t have the time to discuss, but in our brief guide we’ll discuss the LSAT, MCAT, and GRE. Each test requires a different amount of studying time and that will also have to align with your schedule. In general, most people begin studying about a year prior to sitting for the exam but of course there are different schedules for each test and each individual. It is important to prioritize your entrance exams since they will be a large component of your application.
- The Law School Admissions Test (LSAT)
The LSAT consists of 4 scored sections and 1 experimental section and tests you on logical reasoning, logical games, and reading comprehension. There are 2 logical reasoning sections, 1 scored logical games section, and 1 scored reading comprehension section. The last section, the experimental section, can be 1 of any of the 3 sections. This section is the test maker’s chance to test new questions for future LSATs. There is no order for the sections and you won’t know which one was the experimental until you receive your scores. Lastly, there is a writing sample that can be completed following the test but is required before receiving your scores. The writing sample will not be scored, however, any school you apply to will get a copy of your writing sample. Each section is 35 minutes long making the total test a little over 3 hours long.
Studying for the LSAT can be intimidating, but there are a variety of options that fit with your budget, schedule, and lifestyle. There are also great scholarship opportunities for study programs that often offer mentorship from practicing attorneys. Below are a list of study programs to look into:
|7sage.com||A virtual study program that offers different packages that offer assistance with admissions components such as essays. You’re able to pay by a monthly subscription or for a year at a time.
7sage requires a subscription to LSAC’s LawHub.
|The Princeton Review||Offers in person, virtual, and book programs at a variety of price points.|
|Kaplan||Offers live in person and online programs at a variety of price points.|
|Text books||There are a few books that you can purchase, I recommend checking out the PowerScore LSAT Bibles and the LSAT Trainer.|
- The Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)
The MCAT consists of 4 sections that test your knowledge on Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems; Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems; Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior; and Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills. In total, the MCAT takes 7.5 hours to complete.
There are many studying options available for the MCAT that range in intensity and price points. Some options to look into are:
|Kaplan||Offers different course formats to meet individual learning needs.
Offers a financing package.
|Altius||Offers both in-person and online summer immersion programs. You will be studying full time for 10 weeks straight.|
|The Princeton Review||Known for achieving results in a shorter amount of time. There are a variety of programs to choose from.|
|Text books||There are a variety of books to choose from to aid in self guided studying. Here are just a few: The Princeton Review, Kaplan, Examkrackers, Mometrix, Test Prep Books|
- Graduate Record Examinations (GRE)
The GRE is used for most graduate programs but as always be sure to double check your program’s requirements! There are a total of 6 sections, 2 of each: analytical writing, quantitative, and verbal. In total, the GRE takes 3 hours and 45 minutes to complete. Below are some studying options for the GRE:
|Magoosh||Offers self-guided and instructor-led courses at an affordable price point.|
|Manhattan prep||Offers a variety of programs to fit individual learning needs, including instructor-led courses. This program allows you to customize it more to your needs.|
|Kaplan||Offers live online classes, self-guided, and online courses.|
|Text books||Kaplan, Princeton Review, Test Prep Books, Mometrix|
Your resume is an important part of your application as it gives the admissions committee a chance to see all of your professional experiences that make you suitable for the program. A great resume is also important when asking for letters of recommendation which we’ll get into later. While everyone’s resume is different based on their experience, there are three major components that are crucial to any resume: education, professional experience, and community involvement.
Education should be listed first on your resume, especially for a graduate school application. You’ll want to list the university you obtained your degree from, your major and any minors, the dates attended, your gpa, and any awards or special programs you participated in while attending.
- Professional Experience
For professional experience here are the things you’ll want to include for each position: job title, company or organization, dates of employment, brief description of job duties, and hours worked per week. Your description should be written in bullet points and kept relatively short, think 3-5 points for each position depending on how many positions you’ll have on your resume. It’s also important to stay consistent in tenses when writing your bullet points, meaning if you no longer work at this position you should be writing in the past-tense.
- Community Involvement
Admissions councils love to see community involvement so if you have any volunteer experience be sure to include it! This will follow the same format as professional experience, however, you don’t need to include as many bullet points for your description.
Although these are the major components, there are other sections of a resume that you may want to include based on your experiences and qualifications or on the graduate program you’re looking to apply to. A few more tips to keep in mind when creating your resume:
- Create a nice header with your information (name, phone number, email address, LinkedIn, application number (if applicable)).
- If your resume is longer than 1 page be sure to include page numbers and your information on each page.
- STAY CONSISTENT! Stay consistent with everything on your resume, the order in which you list things, fonts, font sizes, italicizing and bolding; these are small details that make a difference!
- Have people review and give feedback!
Letters of recommendation
Nearly every graduate school application will ask you for letters of recommendation. Most will require at least one letter of recommendation from a former professor, so be sure to stay in contact with one who you had a good relationship with. Each program will require a different amount of letters, but typically it’s within a 2-3 range. Your recommenders should be able to speak to your ability to succeed not only in school, but in the profession you’re choosing to enter. It’s important to choose your recommenders based on this, not on their status. Don’t ask your mother’s supervisor who’s met you once when you were 14 because they won’t have anything genuine to say about you and that will come through in their letter.
When it comes to timing, you want to give your recommenders plenty of time to write the letter so make sure to ask 2-3 months prior to when you want to submit your application. You’ll definitely need to follow up with them, but it’s nice to ask sooner rather than later. Offer to send them your application materials as well, especially if you worked with them a while back it’ll serve as an update on what you’ve been up to!
There are a TON of essays that go into graduate applications. Personal statements, diversity statements, and addendums, are all part of the application for varying programs. Nearly every application will require a personal statement or some variation of it, so we’ll focus most of our time discussing strong personal statements before diving into other possible essay questions.
- Personal statement
When writing your personal statement, the most important thing to remember is focusing on YOU and why you want to attend this graduate program. Often, applicants will write a beautiful, heartfelt statement about someone else. For example, I can write a compelling story about being a first generation American, but it can easily be blurred into being about my parents’ struggles coming to America. At a panel with law school admissions representatives, they mentioned applicants writing about relatives or other significant persons in their lives but never related it back to themselves. They said at the end of the essay, they wanted to admit the grandma or father or aunt or uncle, rather than the applicant themselves. There are many different prompts to a personal statement and perhaps your program will have you respond to a specific question, but for the most part you’re open to discuss anything. Your reader should feel like they know you, at least partly, after reading your statement. You should also touch on why you’re pursuing this specific degree or university. If there is a specific reason why you want to attend a particular school make sure to include it in your statement.
- Diversity Statement
Personally, I’ve had a hard time writing my diversity statement because these diverse traits are so ingrained in my personality it becomes difficult to pick them out and write about them. Diversity statements can be about so many different things, the most common being racial and ethnic identity, but can include anything you feel makes you diverse. This essay should not be just about your diverse identity but how it contributes to their program. For example, someone who is an immigrant will undoubtedly have a different perspective and overall different worldview than those who are not. This contributes to the university by offering different perspectives in the classroom. Diversity statements are optional, but if you feel strongly about a diverse trait of yours it’s encouraged to write one.
Addendums are a space for you to explain any discrepancies on your application. For example, if you have a stellar transcript besides one semester but have a reason for it, you can write an addendum to explain that to the admissions committee.
A small, but significant part of your application are any and all transcripts from your college education. Some applications may even ask for high school transcripts, especially if you received any college credit while still in high school. Most universities will send your transcripts directly to the institutions you’re applying to, or an assembly service if that applies to your program. To request transcripts, contact your university’s registrar.
Financial Aid & Scholarships
Financing graduate school can be very expensive and a barrier for many to attend. Filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA) may be able to alleviate some of the financial stress going into graduate school. Below we’ve included some screenshots of instructions on how to file your FASFA.
There are hundreds of thousands of scholarships available that vary in amounts and requirements that you should consider. Personally, I’ve had the best luck looking for scholarships through the school portals and finding ones I qualify for based on my background or my career interests. Every school has a financial aid and scholarship office that you can contact or visit their website for more information on scholarships their school offers.
Claiming your Segal Education Award
Upon completing your AmeriCorps term you’ll be eligible for the Segal Education Award (amount varies depending on hours served). Click here on how to claim your award!
Managing your service while applying for grad school
There are many benefits to applying for grad school while completing your service. While everyone has different schedules and some may work longer days than others, finding time to work on applications may be difficult. Fortunately, there are likely other AmeriCorps members who are also applying to grad school that you can connect with for application sessions. I was able to meet once or twice a week with fellow AmeriCorps members who were applying that kept me motivated and on track in the application process.