Getting into Graduate School


Deciding to apply to graduate school is the “next step” for many college graduates. While this decision can be tough to make, it can also lead to very rewarding opportunities and experiences. For some, this will be an opportunity to develop expertise in an academic area they’re passionate about. Others may be looking for the opportunity to increase earning potential. Whatever the case, graduate school might be the best move for you, too.  But how do you know which factors to consider while deciding? The reality is that those factors will vary widely from one student to the next. Every student bears different interests and needs. The bottom line is that you’re able to make the best decision to meet your educational and professional goals and we’re here to help you with that!

Below, we’ll list a few things to consider when planning for graduate school:

  • Cost
  • Location
  • School type
  • Major/minor/concentration offerings
  • Program lengths and requirements
  • Accreditation status(es)
  • School climate and culture
  • Educational and professional organizational affiliations/partnerships
  • Opportunities for research, publication, and travel
  • Reputation and overall preparation (particularly for those looking to move on to PhD work)
  • Undergraduate performance
    • GPA
    • Prerequisite coursework necessary for admittance
    • Test Scores (GRE, MAT, GMAT, LSAT, MCAT, OAT, DAT, PRAXIS)

While this list isn’t exhaustive, it offers a good starting point. For more information regarding the process of graduate school searching and preparation, we encourage you  to reach out to the Guilford Guides!

Feel free to utilize resources at the links below for your search and research convenience:

U.S. News Grad School Search

The Princeton Review Grad School Search

Grad School Search Engine

Resumes and Cover Letters

Please view our Resumes and Cover Letters page!

Personal Statements

Sometimes, application processes require personal statements as opposed to cover letters. When this happens, you may find yourself wondering “What’s the difference between a personal statement and a cover letter?” Simply put, the personal statement is a story- your story, told as such.

Personal statements commonly incorporate much of the same information as cover letters. However, they tend to be less formal and prescriptive in nature (even so, you should still adhere to the traditional conventions of writing). These documents allow you to expound upon the information you’ve offered about yourself, especially any misgivings, questionable elements, or gaps in your resume or other expressed experiences and provide the opportunity to apply context and detail to better explain your education and/or professional journey up to this point. Think of the personal statement as a narrative advertisement. When writing them remember these three things: be honest in your sentiments, be thorough in your explanations, and be fluid in your thoughts.

As always, it’s a good idea to have these statements edited and reviewed, just as with cover letters and resumes. We encourage you to make an appointment with a Guilford Guide to further discuss personal statements. Also, feel free to peruse the resources below for more tips and pointers on personal statement writing:

Writing the Personal Statement- Purdue University Online Writing Lab

Personal Statement Worksheet

Recommendation Letters

Most application processes, whether for educational or job searches, necessitate references who will write letters of recommendation for you. The type of reference- professional, educational, personal/character- is usually dictated by the institution or business to which you are applying.

When selecting references, ensure that these individuals have known you well enough and interacted with you long enough to speak positively about your character and abilities. Also, give your recommenders plenty of time- at least a month’s notice- to write a letter for you. Some references may need more or less time, based upon personal request. Below, you’ll find a document that outlines the process of obtaining recommendation letters:

Recommendation Letter Request Outline- George Fox University

Graduate School Resources 

Testing Preparation

Perhaps the most daunting aspect of preparing for graduate school for many students is the testing component. This process can be tedious and costly. Even so, this step in the admissions process is still required by many institutions. If you know you’re considering graduate or professional school after undergraduate study, give yourself plenty of time to prepare, test, and submit scores.

There are several types of tests, each used to measure different academic competencies based upon the nature of the program to which a student intends to apply. You should note that when applying to dual programs, admission to either program is often offered separately, meaning you’ll need to take and pass more than one entrance exam. In some instances, only one exam is required. Also note that many of these examinations offer subarea or specialization tests. Make sure you’re aware of the test(s) your institution(s) and program(s) accept or require. 

Some institutions and programs do not require scores, but still allow students to submit them as a means to strengthen the overall application. In that case, only offer scores if they are considered above average, based upon that particular institution’s statistical compilations. For institutions that require the scores, make sure you’re familiar with score minimums and averages at the institutional and programmatic levels- they can vary! Also remain aware of deadlines for submitting scores. Lastly, remember that most institutions take the entire application package into consideration. While it’s natural to worry about whether or not you’ve done well on a test and many students consider themselves “bad test-takers,” do not let this deter you from applying. Apply anyhow!

We’ve provided some resources below to better explain the tests and their intricacies.:

General Record Examination (GRE)

Miller Analogies Test (MAT)

Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT)

Law School Admission Test (LSAT)

Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)

Dental Admission Test (DAT)

Optometry Admission Test (OAT)

Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT)


Assessment Technologies Institute Test of Essential Academic Skills (ATI TEAS)

**Note: Some institutions provide waivers for test prep courses and examination costs. Inquire with each school to learn whether or not you’re eligible for those benefits.**