Applying to Graduate School: Tips, Advice, & Need-to-Know Info

applying to graduate school

Welcome to your first exercise in organizational management: Keep your graduate school application on track to give yourself the best chance of moving forward with your academic goals.

Begin the process at least a year in advance. Most institutions set application deadlines six months before you hope to begin class, though some now use "rolling admissions" where applications are considered at any time. The problem with this system is the admissions date doesn’t always jibe with financial aid deadlines, leaving some students with a nice acceptance letter but no way to pay tuition.

It is recommended to create a timeline to make sure you cover all the necessary steps while allowing plenty of time for inevitable complications. For some people, keying deadlines into an electronic calendar works best. Others prefer a poster hanging in a visible spot.


Research schools

Determine which college is the best fit for you. Gather information about programs, cost, and access. If the nearest college campus is prohibitively distant, explore the opportunities at an online university that will let you earn your degree without disrupting your life.

Once you’ve spent time researching programs, narrow your list to a half dozen or so and reach out to their admissions departments. Most institutions will be able to give you a list of deadlines. At Ashford, you are paired with a personal enrollment services advisor to help walk you through the process.

Make sure you ask every college early on if an admissions test such as the GRE or GMAT is required. Either exam calls for review work and studying, particularly if you’ve been out of school for a while. Both tests are given on limited dates and at limited sites, so scheduling the test will require some planning, too.

Such standardized tests could eventually go the way of the dinosaur – Reuters reports that more and more colleges are dropping admissions test requirements for undergraduates out of concern that the exams don’t accurately predict college success. In the meantime, the tests remain a fact of life for most prospective master’s students, although at Ashford University no standardized test scores are required.


Track down your transcript

Track down your official transcript from the university where you earned your bachelor’s degree. This documentation is going to be required no matter where you apply for graduate school, and the turnaround from your alma mater may take a while. The earlier you begin, the better.

Some institutions require sealed, original transcripts, while others accept unsealed transcripts or copies. Be sure you know the requirements of your targeted schools.

The final, and perhaps most important component of the graduate school application process will be determining how much your degree will cost, how much financial aid you’re likely to be eligible to receive, and how to fill the gap between the two sets of figures.

Online college cost calculators are a great place to start. Don’t forget to check with your employer about possible aid. College financial aid offices often can point you to sources, too.


Written by Ashford University staff.

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