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Grad School Planning

Center for Career & Vocation


Grad school might look like a safe haven when the economy is tough, but you’ll find that there’s a lot to consider before making this leap: finances, timing, motivation, the application process, job placement rates, and more. Read below to find out what you need to do to get ready and when you need to do it to make a successful transition from college to graduate and professional school.

Questions to consider:

  • Is graduate school required to achieve your long term professional goal?
  • Has obtaining an advanced degree been a life-long goal?
  • Will earning an advanced degree open more opportunities and be a great investment in the long term?

Article | How to Choose a Grad School


Two to Three Years Before Applying

Sophomore or Junior Year

  • It’s never too early to start brainstorming!
  • Meet with a Career Coach to talk about your interests and career goals.
  • Connect with faculty in your major to discuss options and areas to consider.

One Year Before Applying

Junior Year

  • Solidify what area of study you would like to pursue.
  • Speak with advisers, professors, and career counselors about your interest in graduate school. Seek out advice and suggestions. Remember, you’ll be reaching out to your faculty for letters of recommendation. The better they understand your interest in graduate school, the stronger a recommendation they’ll be able to write.
  • Research institutions and programs.
  • Contact schools and visit their admissions sites for application forms, application deadlines, course listings, and financial aid information.
  • Gather information about financial aid: scholarships, fellowships, and graduate and teaching assistantships.
  • Register and prepare for any necessary graduate admissions tests, such as the GRE, LSAT, GMAT, or MCAT. Medical and law school applicants will need to register for national application services: AMCAS for medical school and LSDAS for law school.

The Summer Before Applying

  • Take required graduate admissions tests.
  • Continue gathering admissions, program, and funding information.
  • Visit prospective schools, if appropriate, and talk to admissions staff, current students, and faculty.
  • Draft application essays/personal statement and set up an appointment with the Writing Studio to review your essay/personal statement. Revise, revise, revise!

The Semester You're Applying

Senior Year

  • Take required graduate admissions tests if you haven’t already.
  • Request letters of recommendation from faculty and supervisors who know your work. Try to ask at least one month before the deadline and provide them with information about the program you are applying for and why you want to attend.
  • Based on the school requirements, gather and submit your application, including admissions test reports, official transcript, letters of recommendation, and application essays.
  • Complete necessary financial aid applications such as the FAFSA, as well as scholarship and fellowship applications.

After You've Applied

  • Find out if admissions interviews are part of the application process.
  • Once you receive admissions decisions, consider visiting institutions or speaking with faculty and current students if you haven’t already. Reach out to your support system for help evaluating your options.
  • Form a contingency plan in case you aren’t accepted to any programs. This might include working, interning, volunteering, or taking relevant courses.
  • Once you’ve made the decision to attend a program, notify the other institutions you are still waiting to hear from of your plans.
  • Send thank-you letters to your recommendation writers, letting them know your plans.



Gather information on programs of interest to you. Check out some of these websites:

  • Browse programs by major, type of degree, online, location, or college.
  • Discover what school is right for you, test preparation, scholarship search, and other resources
  • Find the best grad schools with access to school rankings, school data, and helpful advice

Specific programs


Graduate School Tests

  • DAT | Dental Admission Test
  • GMAT | Graduate Management Admission Test
  • GRE | General Test
  • GRE | Subject Tests
  • LSAT | Law School Admission Test
  • MCAT | Medical College Admission Test
  • OAT | Optometry Admission Test
  • VSR | Veterinary School Requirements

Test Preparation

UCI Test Prep Courses
Kaplan Test Prep
LSAT | MCAT | NCLEX-RN - Khan Academy
My GRE Tutor DAT | GRE | GMAT | LSAT | MCAT | OAT - Princeton Review

Personal Statement

Article | How to Write Your Personal Statement for Graduate School

Article | How to Write a Successful Personal Statement for Graduate School


The personal statement is an opportunity for you to present your qualifications and reasons for choosing a particular graduate or professional school. Your statement should persuade the selection committee that you will be successful in their program and have the potential to contribute to the profession.

What makes a good personal statement?

The following elements should be included in your statement:

  • A few authentic facts about yourself as an individual
  • Academic achievements
  • Experience as it relates to the graduate program/profession
  • Any academic, personal or life experiences that led you to choose this program
  • Why you are interested in this particular graduate/professional school
  • Future goals

Writing Process Strategies

Article | How to Get a Recommendation Letter for Graduate School

Article | Details to Give Recommendation Letter Writers


The letter of recommendation is the part of the graduate school application that students stress most over. As with all elements of the application process, your first step is to be sure that you understand what you’re asking for. Learn about letters of recommendation early, well before it is time to apply to graduate school.

What Is a Recommendation Letter?

A letter of recommendation is a letter written on your behalf, typically from an undergrad faculty member, that recommends you as a good candidate for graduate study. All graduate admissions committees require that letters of recommendation accompany students’ applications. Most require three. How do you do about getting a letter of recommendation, specifically a good letter of recommendation?

Who to Ask

Prep Work: Develop Relationships with Faculty

Begin thinking about letters of recommendation as soon as you think you'd like to apply to graduate school because developing the relationships that are the foundation of good letters takes time. In all honesty, the best students seek to get to know professors and get involved regardless of whether they are interested in graduate study simply because it's a good learning experience. Also, graduates will always need recommendations for jobs, even if they don't go to graduate school. Seek experiences that will help you develop relationships with faculty that will get you excellent letters and help you learn about your field.

Choose Faculty to Write on Your Behalf

Carefully choose your letter writers, keeping in mind that admissions committees seek letters from specific types of professionals. Learn about what qualities to look for in referees and don't fret if you're a nontraditional student or one who seeks entry to graduate school several years after graduating from college.

Source: Kuther, Tara, Ph.D. (2020, February 11). How to Get a Recommendation Letter for Graduate School. Retrieved from

How to Ask

The Best Ways to Ask for a Recommendation Letter There are plenty of do's and don'ts for obtaining the best recommendation letter possible but how you make the initial request is often most important. Do the following three things when bringing up the topic of a letter.

Ask in person: Asking for any favor by email is impersonal and this is a very big favor. Do your professor the courtesy of formally making your request.

Make an appointment: Arrange an appointment and explain that you wish to discuss your plans for applying to graduate school. This gives your professor time to consider whether they feel able to help you by writing a letter before the meeting even happens.

Give plenty of advance notice: Ask for the letter as far in advance as possible and don't spring its deadline on a faculty member at the last minute. Tell your professor the due date ahead of time so they can make an informed decision about whether they can follow through.

Once you have done all of these things, be prepared to discuss why you believe the chosen faculty member is a good candidate to write the letter of your behalf. Your professor will want to know why you value their perspective in particular before making their decision about whether to help. If they agree to writing the letter, move forward with the process by giving them what they need.

Always take "no" for an answer and don't make a professor repeat it. If a faculty member declines to write your letter, they probably have a good reason and you shouldn't push. Similarly, if a professor seems hesitant but agrees, consider asking someone else. A lukewarm letter of recommendation can be worse than no letter at all.

Source: Kuther, Tara, Ph.D. (2020, February 11). Dos and Don'ts for Requesting a Grad School Recommendation Letter. Retrieved from

Show Appreciation

Write a thank-you note for the time and effort that the faculty/staff member put into writing on your behalf. Follow up and share the status of your application and when you are accepted. They will want to know and celebrate your accomplishments!


Sample Application Tracking Form

Use a system such as an application tracking form to stay on top of application requirements, fees, website link, deadlines, and checking off when everything has been completed.

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