Applying for graduate school

A page within Academic Advising Center & Career Services

Decide on a program expanding section

Find a reputable website for graduate program listings. Good places to start: 

When comparing programs, consider:

  • Campus size - Do you like the size of UWL?  Do you want to try something smaller?  Larger?  Is it time for a change or not?
  • Tuition - This isn't always the most important consideration, as quality matters; however, it can be a deciding factor between two otherwise similar programs.
  • Faculty - Research the faculty.  Do their areas of specialty match your interests? Learn what you can about their reputation.
  • Location - Graduate school can be an adventure.  Do you want to experience a completely different region of the county - the world?  You can always return once you have your degree.
  • Placement  - Contact the Career Services Office at that campus.  Check out graduation rates, placement in related fields, potential employers and salaries of graduates.
  • Emphasis area  - Academic programs can have identical titles at two different schools yet be very different. It is important for you to decide what you want to learn and then find a program that matches your interests.
  • Thesis, comprehensive exams, or both - Some schools require an exam at the completion of the program, while others require a thesis. Still others allow students to choose.
  • Degrees and certifications offered - It is important to know exactly what degree or certification you wish to obtain.  Masters' programs differ significantly in length, internships, practicum, requirements, etc.
  • Application details - Does the school participate in a centralized application service? Are you required to apply to both the specific program and the graduate school? What is the deadline? Note that they vary by program and are generally listed on the program website.
  • Profile of students in program - The  minimum GPA to apply may not tell the whole story about the competitiveness of the admissions process at particular schools.  Some programs may list a minimum GPA (say 3.0), however the GPA of students typically entering the program may be higher.  Ask to see the profile of the most recent entering class to see if you are a fit.
  • Work experience first - Some graduate programs require that graduate students have "real life" experience.  These students are better able to contribute to class discussion.
  • Financing - Many schools offer assistantships which can help pay for your education.  Some even pay the entire cost.  You may receive a stipend, tuition waiver, or both. Scholarships are sometimes available. It is important to research the possibilities!
  • Entrance exams - Many graduate schools require applicants to submit scores from a standardized examination Information on the test dates, times and places can be found at the Counseling and Testing Center on the second floor of Centennial Hall.
  • Professional goals - Do you want an M.S., M.A., Ph.D.?

Do not hesitate to attend "visit days" to learn more! An example from UWL.

Write a strong essay expanding section

1. Set a due date

  • Make it realistic - recognize that your final draft may be radically different from your first rough draft
  • Plan to apply as early as possible, not simply "by the deadline"

2. Schedule times to work

  • With coursework, involvement, testing, work, etc. it's easy to let your essay fall low on your to-do list
  • Plan to work several hours per week leading up to your deadline

3. Set meetings with support people

  • Ask them ahead of time if they would be willing to support you
  • See tab on finding support people

4. Brainstorm ideas

  • Brainstorming does not include editing - anything you think of can be included initially
  • The Writing Center will host personal statement workshops during Fall and Spring - plan to attend!

5. Start writing based on your brainstorm

  • Flesh out your initial ideas - again, avoid being too critical of your ideas just yet
  • Develop your system - for some, this early draft might be a list of bullets in a Word document; color-coding might work for others; still others might use pencil and paper

6. Flesh out each of your ideas

  • Back up each idea with necessary details and support
  • For example, one of your bullets might say "My experience as a lab technician has helped prepare me for dentistry" - back that up by asking yourself, what do I mean, and how do I know this is true?

7. Organize your ideas

  • Combine ideas that are similar and/or might be too simple on their own
  • Subtract anything that is redundant or doesn't paint your unique picture
  • Figure out what's missing, and add it
  • Begin to move parts - put your best and most interesting ideas in the earlier paragraphs

8. Edit the overall structure; make note of any themes

  • This is a great time to bring in an extra set of eyes to help you prioritize your ideas

9. Start to write your introduction and conclusion based on your themes

10. Edit, have others edit, and take ownership - it's your essay!

Reach out to the Writing Center, Career Services, faculty, and any mentors you might have for support as you prepare, write, and revise your essay. Do not make the mistake of leaning on one person as your go-to for the direction and editing of your essays. The different advice you might get from different support people will only help you refine how you think about YOUR essay.  

Overall, do not be afraid to ask for support. This will be a long process and you will need all the help you can get!


  • Grab the reader's attention with an opening that’s indirectly tied to your experiences and goals
  • Be sure to introduce the purpose of the essay, and hint at topics you’ll cover
  • It is sometimes best to write your intro last!

Body paragraphs (details and support):

  • Follow the suggestions in the "Have a process" section above
  • Within each paragraph, make an argument that addresses the prompt
  • Support each argument by providing concrete and relevant examples, taken from your experiences
  • While editing, make sure you provide clear transitions and connections throughout the essay


  • The final part of your essay brings your theme to a close
  • Reiterate your interest in the particular profession and/or program/institution, if applicable
  • This is an opportunity to look to the future - you might mention lofty goals, possible future interests

Use your experiences to highlight your:

  • Related skills - what skills have you developed?
  • Interests/goals - how have your interests changed?
  • Values - how has what you deem important changed?
  • Knowledge - what have you seen, what have you heard, and how have you processed the information?

Show them who you are:

  • You're a good writer and thinker
  • You're human; more than an application/GPA/test score
  • You've faced failure/obstacles and overcome/improved
  • You're mature and self-aware
  • An asset to their next incoming class!

Be concise, but use specific (even vivid) examples as evidence

  • This makes your essay unique, more interesting to read
  • Also makes you more memorable 
Interview expanding section

Many graduate programs will have an interview process - they vary in terms of formality, format, setting, and duration. While it is important to ask the program what you might expect for your interview, here are some tips that might help get you started.

Check out the Grad School Prep Pack , created by Career Services and the Pre-Health Center, for additional tips!