Applying to US Graduate Schools

Applying to US Graduate Schools

By Jim Crawley

If you are interested in attending a graduate program in the USA you will need to spend time researching the many options that exist in the United States. What specific graduate program are you interested in? What type of university are you looking for? Where in the U.S. are you hoping to live? These are just a few of the many important questions that you need to answer during the search for the “right” graduate program.

Web resources such as, and may be used to search for academic programs that meet your needs. Once you have a short list of options, spend some time investigating the university and academic department web sites. It is important that you have the best information possible before deciding which schools you would like to apply to. It can be a long and complicated process, but the end result is a quality educational experience!

Once the research is done and you have chosen a few universities, what is the next step in preparing to apply for admission? Admission criteria does vary between institutions and graduate programs, however, the following documents are generally required:

Graduate Application for Admission

It is important to fill out the application, completely and honestly. Any missing information could delay a decision, and any required information that is omitted could cause the application for admission to be denied.

Academic Documentation

You will need to have original academic transcripts, as well as proof of degree completion, sent to each U.S. university, from every college or university you have attended. Even if you only attended an institution for a semester (term) or two, or even if you did not do very well, these transcripts must be sent. If the academic documents are not in English, then you must provide certified translations as well.

Personal Statement

Most graduate programs will want to see a personal statement as part of the application packet, and many of them will have specific instructions as to the content of the statement. The statement will be reviewed carefully by the admissions committee to see if the student’s experience, academic background, and professional goals are a good “match” for the graduate program. The statement must be written by the student. If the student will be studying English first, and has limited writing skills in English, the statement may be translated, but it should be stated at the beginning of the document that it is a translation of the student’s original document.

GRE or GMAT Score Report

A GRE or GMAT score is not always required, but when it is required, an official score report will need to be requested from ETS for the GRE or directly from GMAT. Some graduate programs will give a specific minimum score requirement, while others will just require that a test score must be submitted. This is because the admissions committee is looking at all aspects of the application, not just a specific test score. If you will be studying English first, and requesting conditional admission, some schools may allow you to defer taking the GRE or GMAT until later. But the official score report is almost always due prior to a full admission being offered.

Proof of English Proficiency

Unless you will be studying English prior to your graduate studies, you will be required to show that you are proficient in English. Generally speaking, graduate programs will ask for a specific score on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), or they may also accept an International English Language Testing System (IELTS) score. The university website could list other ways of fulfilling the English Proficiency requirement. If you do not have a score yet, or you have received a low score, some graduate programs offer the opportunity to be considered for conditional admission. If conditional admission consideration is available, you would still need to meet all the other academic qualifications required by the department.

Verification of Financial Support

Showing that you have full financial support is usually part of the admissions process. The reason is that if you were offered admission, then the school would like to issue the appropriate immigration document with your admission letter. They are only able to issue this documentation after you have shown that you have full financial support. You are required to show enough support for the first year, but it is assumed by the university and by the visa officer that your support will continue for the duration of your degree. Scholarships for graduate study are very rare. Some departments, however, will consider highly qualified applicants for a Graduate Assistantship. These awards are very limited in number, and the application process is highly competitive. Usually there is a separate application that would need to be submitted—conditionally admitted students are usually not considered for assistantships.

Each graduate department decides what documents will be required. It is important to remember that a decision to offer graduate admission is normally not solely based on grades (marks) or test scores, but the admissions committee will look at all of the student’s qualities and qualifications. Very often there are limited spots available in an entering class, and they are looking for applicants who have the best chance of being successful in the academic program.

Good luck in your search to find the “right” graduate program!


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Jim Crawley is the Director of Global Recruiting and Partnerships at Alma College in Alma, Michigan


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