Answering 8 common questions about grad school requirements
Anyone who’s considered attending graduate school recognizes it will be quite different from their previous higher education experience. The workload is usually heavier, the programs typically include fewer courses in other disciplines and the learning is often more self-directed. Even the admissions process will be a new experience.
If you’ve been looking into grad school requirements, you’ve probably noticed they aren’t quite like the ones undergraduate students complete. Everything from the academic expectations to the necessary documents is different, which means it’s normal to have questions.
Many students before you have sought similar information. And to help bring you answers, we enlisted a few admissions experts to share some insight that can help clarify your next steps.
Responses to 8 grad school requirements FAQs
This list should give you a good start on the questions you already have. But be sure to follow up with individual schools for anything else you’re curious about.
1. How much and what kind of undergraduate education experience do I need?
You typically need a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university to gain acceptance to a graduate program. In many cases, it’s helpful if your undergraduate major is related to the discipline you want to study going forward. That said, there are exceptions.
Certain graduate programs are designed with career changers in mind, meaning you’re eligible for admission regardless of what you studied as an undergraduate student. There are also master’s and doctoral degrees that are inherently more open to students from other fields of study. It’s also important to note that you can get a head start on a graduate program if you’re a transfer student with prior postsecondary education credits or have applicable work experience.
“The general policy is going to be allowing about six units to transfer for a graduate program,” explains Danielle Mitchell, enrollment coach at Brandman University. This is a pretty typical limit for transfer policies, but some programs allow students to carry over more of their previous education.
Students could also potentially receive credit by compiling a portfolio. Some schools also have an option to apply credits earned while obtaining a professional certification.
2. Are there specific graduate school GPA requirements?
Most graduate programs will specify a preferred undergraduate grade point average (GPA). While it’s typically around 3.0, there are a number of ways admissions teams might consider your grades. Some weight your overall GPA while others focus more heavily on the latter years of your education. Brandman University, for instance, focuses mostly on reviewing the end of a student’s previous education experience.
“We’ve actually constructed our GPA evaluation to recognize the complexities of people’s backstories,” Mitchell explains. “We primarily look at the last 30 to 45 credits that someone has taken.”
Schools look for an upward trend in your academic performance, because it conveys that you became more focused and committed to your studies near the end of your education. But don’t count yourself out if you didn’t have great grades even at the end of college.
“We might be able to take an alternative route,” says Maryann DeLorenzo, another enrollment coach at Brandman University. Gaining admission might still be possible if a student secures strong scores on a graduate school entrance exam or can demonstrate their knowledge in a particular area.
3. Do I need to take a graduate school entrance exam?
Schools are increasingly moving toward a test-optional model, but some programs still require (or prefer) applicants to take the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) General Test, the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) or the Miller Analogies Test (MAT). As mentioned above, it can be advantageous to complete an entrance exam if you need to bolster your academic profile a bit.
“Brandman only relies on graded exams, such as the GMAT, MAT and GRE, if the student’s GPA is below what’s required for general admission,” DeLorenzo explains.
While it can be intimidating to take an entrance exam, try thinking of it as an opportunity to showcase what you know. Keep in mind that proper preparation can make a big difference as well.
“I will usually recommend some practice exams that are out there to make sure people know how to find resources that are free as opposed to ones you have to pay for,” Mitchell offers.
4. Are graduate school letters of recommendation required?
Whether or not you need letters of recommendation depends both on the school and the program, so be sure to verify. You should also look into how many you need, the submission process and what the evaluations should entail. It’s a good idea to pay particular attention to what programs expect as far as the contents of an evaluation to make sure your letter writers aren’t left wondering how to proceed. It can be especially useful to let your recommenders know of any specifics you’d like to highlight.
“We usually coach students around what types of things would speak to their preparedness for a graduate-level program and help them brainstorm ideas they can then discuss with their recommenders,” Mitchell states.
If you need to submit evaluations as part of your application, it’s a good idea to start sooner rather than later. You want to allow the individuals you select enough time to write. You should also keep them updated on timing and what to expect, like if there’s a separate email they’ll be receiving from a school.
“Students need to give their recommenders a heads up so they can look out for the invitation and instructions to complete the recommendation,” DeLorenzo advises.
5. Do I need to write a graduate school personal statement, letter of intent or other essays?
It’s likely that you will have to write an essay of some sort, but this isn’t always the case. Some programs require multiple written components. Others don’t include any essays.
Two of the most common written documents graduate programs require are a letter of intent and a personal statement, sometimes called an autobiographical essay. The former is usually a brief document that addresses why you’re interested in the program, conveying what’s motivating you to apply. Personal statements are more narrative and allow the space for you to really tell a story.
“For most programs, I compare the personal statement to a cover letter for your resume,” DeLorenzo says.
6. What official documents need to be submitted for grad school?
While most applications ask students to include digital transcripts, official versions are often required for admission to the program. If an entrance exam is required, you’ll need to submit scores as well. This is usually the extent of official documents for graduate programs, except for international students. These students will need to have their diploma and transcripts evaluated by an external party.
“We have to make sure they’ve been translated line-by-line into English so that everything can be accurately evaluated,” Mitchell explains. Though it’s common for students to pay for this service, schools like Brandman University will do it free of charge.
7. What should my graduate school resume include?
While not every school will require that you submit an actual resume, the application fields will ask for the same type of information. Expect to document your work experience, educational attainment, community service involvement and any other relevant achievements. If a school specifies that you must include all previous education beyond high school, make sure to list it ‒ even if you wouldn’t include it on your actual resume. This includes community college and trade school.
8. Are there other program-specific requirements I should be aware of?
For many graduate programs, there are additional application components you’ll need to complete. Some may require additional exams, a certain type of employment history or reviewing orientation material in advance. These expectations vary depending on the field, so make sure you inquire about anything that seems unclear. You should feel empowered to ask as many questions as you need to understand what’s required.
“I follow up after our first conversation with an email that has the program requirements listed in it,” DeLorenzo says. “I ask them to review it and come up with some questions for me, and then I schedule a second call to review the admission requirements.”
While the admissions staff at most schools are happy to guide you through requirements for the program you’re interested in, it’s ultimately your responsibility to stay on track and meet all deadlines. You might try setting regular reminders for yourself throughout the entire process.
Continue your grad school exploration
Now that you’ve gathered some general information about general grad school requirements, you’ll want to start looking into what specific programs request from applicants. These details vary even within a single institution, so make sure to do your research.
If you feel like you could benefit from a bit of extra support, you might consider looking into schools that are particularly experienced in helping adult learners navigate the admissions process. For instance, Brandman University predominantly serves nontraditional students and has graduate programs in nursing, social work, business, education and more. To learn more about whether this institution is a good fit for you, take a look at our article “8 Signs You Belong at Brandman University.”
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