Applying to graduate school is nothing if not a complex process – organizational skills are must. Prospective students preparing to apply to schools should invest in a calendar to help keep them on track through the various steps in the process.

Review the following application timeline for an in-depth look at what the application process may detail.

Month 11
2 Months Before Application Deadline

Carefully examine each of the program application. Write down any questions you have and make a list of required application materials: letters of recommendation, admissions essays, transcripts, standardized test scores, resume, and work or writing samples.

Visit potential schools and connect with current students in the program. Faculty members are busy, so simply send a quick email introducing yourself and your interest in the program.

Contact three qualified references including former professors, employers and friends to provide letters of recommendation regarding your character, work ethic and academic performance.

Month 9
8 months before enrollment/submission of application

Complete the application forms for each program, and meet with faculty to review your writing.

Submit applications and all required materials (including financial aid documents for each institution) at least two weeks before they’re due.

Create a contingency plan in case you’re not accepted by your top choice.

Month 7

Follow up regarding the status of your application before the notification deadline.

Write or revise any scholarly writing or research samples to accompany your applications if requested, and re-take standardized tests if required.

Complete and submit any applications for programs with rolling admissions or late deadlines.

Month 4

Make sure you have completed your FAFSA form if you’re applying for need-based financial assistance. Financial awards of a merit nature are generally included with your acceptance letter. The application for need-based aid may take longer to process.

Month 2

Depending on your field, you may be invited to interview at some of your potential schools. Start planning for the admissions interviews, and prepare answers to common questions.

If an interview is optional, take it. You’ll gain more information about the program and to what extent it meets your needs.

Month 12
3 Months Before the Application Deadline – Letters of Recommendation:

The interest left standing is your area of concentration. With your program in mind and the research you’ve completed, make a list of potential schools.

Start researching your program at those institutions more in depth. Research online and request materials about your program of interest from those schools.

As you research keep costs in mind and potential financial aid sources, application requirements for each school and deadlines.

Month 10
1 Month Before Application Deadline

Gather letters of recommendation, fill out application forms and write statement of purpose/personal statement, and graduate admissions essays.

Make sure transcripts are up to date and request copies from the registrar’s office. Apply for fellowships, grants and scholarships to help offset the costs of school.

Take required tests this month such as the GRE, LSAT, MCAT or GMAT.

Month 8

Follow up before the deadline to ensure everything is in order with your application.

Most schools send an email upon receipt of each application — keep track of these.

If you don’t receive a postcard or email, contact the admissions office to ensure that your application has been received before the deadline.

Month 5

You will begin to receive letters offering admission, offering you a place on a waiting list or kindly denying your admission.

It’s good practice to wait until you have heard from all programs before making your final decision about which institution to attend.

Month 3

Make last-minute visits to schools that have offered admission, either to see them for the first time or to re-visit those that are on your list.

If you do visit, plan ahead and make appointments with key individuals and prepare appropriate questions based on thoughtful homework.

Month 1

Accept an offer. By doing so and paying a deposit, you are indicating that you have decided not to accept any other offers. To do otherwise in an effort to keep your options open is unethical. Also, many schools compare notes, and you may jeopardize your standing with both schools/programs.

Once your decision is made, notify all admissions offices where you applied of your decision.

Send thank-you notes to those who took the time to write your letters of recommendation and others who assisted you and inform them of your plans. It’s important to maintain lines of communication with contacts and references for the future.

The clearer and more concise applicants are able to articulate why they are interested in pursuing a specific degree and what they hope to do with it will help the committee have a clear picture of the applicants. Earlier conversations with the program to determine the mission and goals of the program and how the applicant may contribute in this context (which is where experience, desire, commitment come in to play) are advisable as well.

Todd Hollingshead, Media Relations Manager, BYU


Your essay is just one of hundreds read by admissions officers every day. So make it stand out. Separate yourself from what is sure to be a highly qualified and competitive group of applicants. Take this singular opportunity to introduce the committee to the person behind the letters of recommendation, application and transcripts. Tell admissions something they don’t know about you. Get personal.

Use your own — albeit professional — voice, avoiding long words and jargon to weave bits and pieces of your personal history throughout your essay. Use concise, select experiences to answer the when’s, how’s and why’s of your academic and professional goals and to highlight an achievement or work opportunity.

Your essay is pivotal. Engaging and well-written, it has the power to trump low test scores or a weak GPA. So give yourself several weeks to write your essay. Getting started is generally the most difficult part, and you may find that you start over several times. It’s to be expected. But by giving yourself ample time, you can write, ruminate, review and make edits. You have time for others to review your essay(s) and provide valuable feedback.

If you’re applying to more than one school, don’t submit a blanket essay to each institution — giving yourself several weeks allows you the time to appropriate your essay to fit each program. And simply crafting your essays simultaneously preps you for potential interviews.

Decide what you want to communicate. Everything you include in your essay should point to that message. Here are a few tips and a simple outline to send you in the right direction.


There are a couple of ways to introduce yourself, and beginning the paragraph with “Hello. My name … ” is not one of them. Try a more creative and personal approach. Write a short two- or three-sentence anecdote that captures your personality and succinctly describes your initial curiosity in your choice of field. You might start with a quote or question significant to the program, course of study and your interest.


“It was a Wednesday when my seventh grade English teacher handed me a copy of “Catcher in the Rye” and told me to read it. I poured through the book, and Monday morning found myself…”

Paragraph Two: Passion for the field
  • Why/how did your interest in the field continue?
  • Are there any personal experiences that influenced your academic/career goals?
  • What continues to motivate you in your pursuits?

“I found myself drawn to male writers — an inclination I credit to the absence of a father in my life. I searched for him…”

Paragraph Three: All about you
  • What is special about you? What character traits do you possess worth mentioning? Be selective and show, don’t tell.
  • Have you overcome any personal hardships to get where you are?
  • Highlight applicable work experience, research and/or undergraduate accomplishments, and make it personal. Don’t regurgitate your application or resume.

“I’m resilient and determined. I was raised by a single mother of five children who encouraged my academic pursuits, but had little to no money to contribute to my education. Undeterred, I did it myself by…”

Paragraph Four: Your Contribution
  • Researching the mission and direction of the program can help you appropriate your goals in your essay.
  • What do you hope to learn through your contribution to the program?
  • What is the significance of the program in terms of your academic and career goals?

“I would be hard-pressed to choose between male writers of the early 20th and late 20th century. The opportunity to study both generations of writers within the context of their political, social and personal environments would…”

Paragraph Five: Career/Post-gradution goals
  • What do you want to get out of the program?
  • Explain what you hope to accomplish with your degree.
  • How will it put you on the career path of your choice?

“Broadening my perspective of the male voice in literature during the last century will allow me to…”


Tie it back in to your introduction.


“Yes. The search for my father continues. But through literature”

  • Write cohesively

    Use proper grammar, syntax and spelling. Review your essays, and have a colleague review them as well.

  • Don’t go beyond word count

    If exact length is not specified, limit the essay to two pages.

  • Avoid controversial topics and make sure you respond to any questions that are required.
  • Be human

    Don’t oversell yourself, and don’t try and guess what the committee wants to hear.

  • Keep it on point

    Avoid mention of pre-college accomplishments unless they directly relate to your field.

  • Highlight accomplishments

    Your weaknesses — low GPA, low test scores, lack of work experience — don’t belong in your essay.


What do you look for in a graduate school applicant?

It varies by graduate program and discipline. Each graduate program has an admissions committee that will review applications using their own established criteria to review and compare applicants for admission. Applicants would do well to communicate with the intended program of admission to try to determine for themselves what the admissions committee is looking for in an ideal applicant.

Alternatively, they could also speak to a current graduate student in that program to gain insights from them. I do think it’s fair to say that all graduate programs are looking to create a cohort of students who have the capacity to enhance the conversation in the classroom and make a significant difference in their field of study. Of course, research-based programs also look for an aligned research interest with faculty in that particular program.

What qualifications do you seek in prospective students?

Qualifications will differ among institutions. So check with specific programs to know what is required. In general terms, applicants for BYU and other grad programs must have the following:

  • Evidence of a 4-year U.S. bachelor’s degree or equivalent
  • At least a 3.0 GPA
  • English proficiency (for International and LPR applicants who are non-native English speakers)

Keep in mind these are minimum requirements. At any institution you’ll want to study the specific qualifications for the program to which you’re applying. Keep in mind, however, that while GPA and test scores are important for graduate admissions, there are other qualifying factors to consider. For certain programs fieldwork, work experience and research, for example, may carry more significance than grades and test scores alone.

Can you detail the admissions process?

Like many schools, applications for graduate school at BYU are available and submitted online. There are, however, institutions that still accept paper applications. Inquire with the programs to which you’re applying their process for submitting application materials.

At BYU, International transcripts and degree certificates are mailed to a third party credential evaluation service provider. This varies among institutions, however, and students should inquire with their prospective programs. Required test scores through ETS or TOEFL or IELTS can all be sent electronically to a majority of institutions, including BYU, at the request of the applicant. For professional programs — think MBA — an admissions committee will weigh work experience and goals differently than a research-based program. There are a number of programs that also request an interview during the process, though not all programs require this application component.

Do you have tips for preparation or presentation of your materials?

As mentioned previously, we suggest applicants visit with current students in their program of interest and with graduate coordinators so they understand what the department is looking for and how they can best showcase that in their application materials. For example, if you’re applying for a research-based program, aligning yourself with a faculty member who is doing research that interests you is always beneficial, as they can advocate for your admission. In addition, applicants should submit their materials as soon as possible to allow for full consideration.

Is it OK for students to contact the admissions department with questions before the application deadline?

Yes. That said, we encourage prospective students to do as much of their own due diligence before contacting the admissions office.

What are the most common do’s and don’ts of the admissions process?
  • Generally, don’t have your parents submit your application for you.
  • Don’t be rude or demeaning in your communication with the admissions staff regarding your application.
  • Don’t procrastinate submitting your application.
  • Don’t just assume that your recommenders will write a favorable letter.
  • Don’t give up if you are not recommended for admission.
  • Be proactive in the process and know what your responsibilities are.
  • Communicate with the graduate program that you intend to apply to and make yourself known to key people by asking questions.
  • Be positive.
What comprises a winning admissions essay?

This is subjective and varies by graduate program — each admissions committee will review the statement of intent or admissions essay using its own established criteria or rubric to review and compare applicants.


While we consider criteria such as GPA and test scores, most programs look for experience in the core competencies needed to be successful in a graduate program. Related experience, fieldwork, research and industry also help frame an applicant’s ability to enhance and contribute to the conversation. In other words, there is a lot of information that can be considered if you are applying to graduate study rather than just your GPA, ACT score and perhaps extra-curricular activities. Additionally, specific experience can trump what might be considered a low GPA or test score in a graduate program context.

Todd Hollingshead, Media Relations Manager, BYU

While some similarities exist between undergraduate and graduate programs, there are some key differences between the two. Easily compare how graduate school differs from an undergraduate program to better prepare for graduate school applications.

ADMISSONS Focus on high school achievement; extracurricular activities; personality; institutional fit. Focus on professional and personal experience as it applies to specific department degree programs; research and industry experience.
EXAMINATIONS ACT/SAT scores In-depth exams based on program including the Graduate Record Exam (GRE); Law School Admission Test (LSAT); Medical College Admission Test (MCAT);
LENGTH OF PROGRAM Typically 4 years Shortest: 1 ½ years, but can be completed with 4 years.
2012-13 AVERAGE ANNUAL TUITION (includes fees, room and board) $15,000 public institutions; $34,483 private institutions $9,065 public institutions; 19,934 private institutions

When applying to graduate school, remember required documentation may differ slightly among programs. If you’re applying to several institutions, ensure you’re submitting the right information tailored specifically to that school. For most schools, the following materials are all submitted electronically with the online application:

  • Resume
  • Application
  • Work or writing samples
  • Transcripts
  • Personal statement
  • Admissions essays
  • Standardized test scores
  • Letters of recommendation


Applying to graduate school can be time consuming, confusing and often, overwhelming. To help ease the process, we have compiled a variety of writing, time management and application essay resources below.

Harvard Writing Center

From writing tips to strategies for crafting a standout application essay, Harvard’s writing center has a wide variety of resources to help students improve their writing capabilities.

Purdue Online Writing Lab

Review a step-by-step process for applying to graduate school including researching programs, what to include in your application and requesting letters of recommendation.

Study Guides and Strategies

Learn how to improve time management skills which can prove helpful during the graduate school application process to working through a graduate degree program.

Mind Tools

Find tips and tools for time management, scheduling, goals, and self-motivation.

University of California Berkeley Career Center

Discover what a strong letter of recommendation should include, who to ask and how to submit them with your graduate school applications.