Applying to Graduate School

The information on this page is designed to assist students considering graduate school or professional programs, by providing information and links that will begin to help you:

  • decide if graduate school or professional programs are for you
  • identify the steps in apply
  • identify on and off-campus resources to assist in the process

Is Graduate/Professional School for You?

The first step to applying for graduate/professional school is to consider your reasons for going. Do your homework about the career fields that interest you and the requirements for getting into them. Graduate/professional school is competitive to get into; be honest with yourself about your chances of getting in. Graduate/professional school can be very expensive and a big commitment. It is important to think about your reasons for wanting to go to graduate/professional school. 

Good reasons to go include:

  • Your career field of interest requires graduate or professional school
  • You are interested in a particular subject and want to learn more about it
  • You want to do research in a particular field 
  • You love school and it would be fun and exciting to continue

Not so good reasons to go to graduate/professional school:

  • Someone else wants you to pursue a career field that requires graduate/professional school but you are not interested in it yourself
  • You are afraid to enter the job market
  • You don’t know what else to do

If you are indecisive about going or confused about your next step after graduation, you may want to use some of the resources in Career Services to help you with your decision-making.  


Career Services has career counselors who can assist you with your decisions regarding graduate/professional school as well as your career planning and job search.  Call 520.621.2588 to set up an individual appointment to discuss your graduate school plans, have your personal statement reviewed, or to practice for your professional admission interview.

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Choosing a Graduate/Professional Program

Select the type of program that interests you. There may be only one type of program in your field of interest or a number of programs will lead you to your ultimate occupational choice. For example, if you want to work as a therapist, you can reach that goal through a variety of different graduate programs: a Master of Science in Counseling, a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, a Masters in Social Work, to name just a few.  

Do your homework about your field. What exactly do you want to do? Toward what career path do different degrees lead you? Which program is going to teach you what you really want to learn? Spend time and effort on this very important step. Talk to professionals in the field. Talk to faculty in your field. Read academic journals in your field to find out who is doing the research that interests you and what institution they are connected with. 

Look at specific programs at specific institutions.  Programs have a great deal of information online. Evaluate faculty and program details. Pick 15-25 programs to review in depth:  

  • What are the requirements for applying? 
  • What is the curriculum like? 
  • Who are the faculty doing research that interests you?
  • What is the reputation and ranking of the school?
  • Do you like the location? 
  • What is the cost of tuition? 
  • Where are the alumni working? 
  • What are the facilities like?

Keep in mind that not all of these things will be equally important to you.

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Law School

The UA has a Pre-Law Advising Center specifically for students interested in applying to Law School. The center can assist you with deciding if law school is for you and is available to assist Pre-Law students with course selection, choice of major, preparation for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) and the law school application process.

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Health Careers

The UA has a Pre-Health Professions Advising Center which provides advising services to students in all majors planning to pursue a health profession. The Pre-Health advisors can help you explore interests, skills, and goals, and examine academic requirements for entrance to professional schools in medicine, dentistry, nursing, pharmacy, public health, and all health related professions.

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You need to determine what  tests are required for admission to the programs you are considering: GRE, LSAT, GMAT, MAT, MCAT, PCAT, or DAT. For some graduate programs, you may need to take the general GRE and then the subject test for your field. Find out what tests are required by the schools you are considering. Not all schools require the same test, even for the same type of program.  

Prepare for and take the admission’s test early! If you take your required test at the end of your junior year, it allows you to do early applications and still have time to retake the test if desired. Most of the admission’s test websites have information and resources for test preparation, including a practice test to help you decide if it would be helpful to take a preparation course. The UA  Think Tank  offers preparation for some of the graduate/professional school admissions tests.  

Make sure you send your results to all the schools to which you are applying.

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Schools use online application processes. In some cases you may need to do an application for the Graduate College and then another one for your specific department. It is a good idea to write a practice copy first. Make sure that you keep a copy of each application you submit.  

Most schools will not review at your application until it is complete, usually including:

  • Application form 
  • Application fee 
  • Official transcripts from all institutions attended
  • Test scores 
  • Personal Statement 
  • Letters of recommendation

Apply to a variety of schools: ones that you are fairly certain you will get into, ones that are more middle level for you and some of your dream programs.

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Personal Statement 

Professional/graduate schools require Personal Statements from applicants. These may also be called Admission Essays, a Statements of Purpose or Mission Statements. Some scholarship applications also request a Personal Statement.

The purpose of a Personal Statement is:    

  • To show your understanding of how a particular program and career path is right for you
  • To focus on the skills and experience you offer which make you a competitive and qualified candidate

Start writing your statement early, long before the deadlines. Brainstorm ideas, write an outline, write, edit, rewrite, ask other people to review your statement, and then edit, edit, edit…  Proofread for grammar, spelling and punctuation to ensure the content is relevant and the writing flows.

  Begin with an outline that covers:

  • Your educational background 
  • Experience - work, volunteer, internships, campus activities, community service 
  • Skills and interests related to your career field 
  • Strengths, weaknesses, personal characteristics and accomplishments 
  • Personal, educational, and career goals 
  • Motivations for the area of study and the influences in your life and special events
  • Challenges you have faced
  • Extenuating circumstances you need to explain (grades, test scores, limited experience, hardships)
  • Uniqueness - how are you special, distinct, different, impressive 
  • Compelling reasons for you to be admitted to a program 
  • Why you are interested in attending a particular program

Tips for writing Personal Statements

This is not a biography of your whole life, especially since most personal statements have a one- to two-page limit. Highlight the most important points about your background, qualifications, and life experiences that have influenced your choices. Many graduate programs will give you some idea of what they want you to address in the personal statement. Make sure you address what they are looking for and individually tailor your essay for each application. Think of your statement as storytelling and make it compelling to read! 

Click here to view Personal Statements for Professional Programs and Graduate Schools a printable Adobe PDF file (approx. 48KB). You will need the free Acrobat Reader plug-in to view the file.

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Letters of Recommendation

Graduate schools and professional programs require letters of recommendation. It is important to get strong letters from individuals who are familiar with your academic and/or research abilities. Strong recommendations will strengthen your application. Each program you apply to will tell you how many letters they require and in what format. Some programs have forms for the letter-writer to fill out; others will want a letter on the letterhead of the letter-writer.  The majority of all schools want letters submitted online. 

Who to ask

The following individuals make the best letter writers:

  • Someone who knows you and your academic background and research work well
  • Someone with the title of “Professor” or "Associate Professor" but not a “Teaching Assistant”
  • Someone who is a professor at the school granting your bachelor’s degree 
  • Someone who has earned the degree which you are seeking in your graduate work
  • Someone with an advanced degree who has directly supervised you in a job or internship aligned with the career you are pursuing
  • Someone who has academically evaluated you in an upper-division class

Letters from family, friends, political figures, influential community members are discouraged and may be detrimental.  

Make sure that you are very confident that the individual you are asking will write you a strong letter. Identify who you want to have write your letters and then ask each one individually if they know you and your work well enough to write you a strong letter of recommendation. In order to make the process as easy for them as possible, give them a file containing:

  • A list of programs you are applying to with the deadline dates and contact name and address
  • A description of what you would like them to emphasize in each letter
  • A copy of your Personal Statement  and your most current resume or CV 
  • List of courses you took from them with a copy of your best work
  • Any other relevant information
  • Information on how they can contact you

Most schools ask that your letters of recommendation be confidential and ask you to waive your right to see them. Schools consider these letters to have more integrity than non-confidential letters. Therefore it is imperative that you trust the individuals who write your letters.  

It is your responsibility to make sure that your letters are received on time. Give your faculty plenty of time to get the letters submitted.  Follow up with your faculty to make sure they have completed your letters.  Also contact the graduate/professional programs to be sure your letters have arrived before the deadline.

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Credential Files by Interfolio

The University of Arizona Career Services has partnered with Interfolio to bring this premier online credentials management service. Interfolio is the easiest and most affordable way to send application materials to graduate and professional schools. Interfolio's online system allows you to build an online portfolio - a complete file of all your credentials. Nearly any document can be stored, including, but not limited to:  

  • Confidential letters of recommendation
  • Resumes
  • Curriculum Vitae
  • Statement(s) of Purpose
  • Writing Samples

Admission Interviews

Many graduate programs and professional schools do not require admission interviews. For professional programs in medicine, pharmacy, dentistry, nursing, physical therapy, social work, counseling, veterinary science, interviews are a standard part of the application process. The key to doing well in an interview is being prepared. Career Services offers many resources to assist students with learning and polishing their interviewing skills.  

The on-line guidelines for interviewing will give you information on how to prepare before an interview, conduct yourself during an interview and follow up effectively:

Mock Interview with a career counselor will give you the opportunity to practice answering questions related to your graduate/professional program and get feedback on how to strengthen your performance. You may schedule an appointment with a Career Services counselor for a mock interview by calling (520) 621-2588.

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Timeline For Application

Junior Year

  • Solidify interest areas and define your goals 
  • Research alternatives to graduate school
  • Research types of programs and specific programs 
  • Save money for your application and testing fees
  • Visit school Web sites
  • Research general financial aid information
  • Take practice admissions tests and test prep class if desired 


  • Take required admission test in late spring or early summer 
  • Check your UA account for any discrepancies and correct them
  • Create your short list of schools you are applying to 
  • Identify faculty to request to write letters of recommendation for you 
  • Some programs start accepting applications during the summer - deadlines vary by school 

Senior Year - Fall Semester  

  • Draft, rewrite and polish personal statement
  • Work on application forms
  • Keep a copy of all completed applications that you submit
  • Request letters of recommendation from faculty
  • Order official transcripts from every school you have college credits from 
  • Follow up with schools to make sure your application file is complete
  • Programs with interviews conduct admission interviews in the fall through the spring 

Senior Year - Spring Semester   

  • Evaluate admissions offers
  • Evaluate any financial aid offers
  • Visit prospective schools, if possible 
  • Inform schools of your decision; send in the deposit to your school of choice 
  • Write thank-you notes to everyone who helped you

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Graduate/Professional School Fairs

The UA and many other schools , offer opportunities for you to talk to graduate or professional school representatives in a fair environment. Career Services sponsors a general Graduate School Day every November. This fair hosts representatives from a variety of universities from across the country.

The Pre-Law Advising Center hosts a Law School Information Expo also in October of every year where you can meet representatives from a wide cross section of Law Schools in the country. Other universities around the country hold graduate or professional school fairs. You may want to see if there is one near your hometown that would be convenient to attend.

If you attend a graduate school fair, you want to make sure that you prepare ahead of time so that you make the best possible impression. Graduate school representatives at the fair are not making any admission’s decisions; they are strictly there to give out information. However, making a good impression is never a bad idea and preparing questions to ask can only be beneficial.

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What if I Do Not Get In?

Many intelligent, well qualified, academically prepared students do not get into graduate school or professional programs. Sometimes there is a fairly good reason, such as their Personal Statement needed a bit more work or their GRE scores were not as high as they wished. Sometimes there doesn’t seem to be a good reason at all: they had great MCAT scores, 3.9 GPA, a wonderful personal statement, and a good interview.  Getting in is an extremely competitive process, especially for medical, law or veterinary school. If you did not get in, it does not mean that you are not qualified. It means that the admission committee chose other candidates over you. You could apply next year and perhaps get accepted. However, not getting in means you must decide on your next step.  

There are a number of options open to you if you do not get into graduate/professional school: re-apply, apply to different types of programs, delay going in order to strengthen your re-application, decide on a different career course that does not require graduate/professional school.  

If you decide to re-apply, you will want to think about how you can strengthen your application. You may need to take a test preparation course and re-take your admission’s test, re-write your personal statement, or get stronger letters of recommendation. You may need more relevant experience. You may need to prefer more for you admissions interview.

You may decide to apply to a different type of program or a broader range of schools. Someone who has their heart set on a career in medicine, may decide that a different type of degree may give them the opportunities they want to work in healthcare. It could be that if you take some time to get experience in your field, you will be a stronger candidate. Taking extra coursework in your academic area can strengthen your application.

Sometimes not getting into a graduate program opens the door to a new career area. You may decide that branching off into a different career area really fits better for you.  Whatever scenario is yours, give yourself some time to think through the different options and how they fit for you. Talk to others; bounce your ideas off of an advisor, faculty member, career counselor, friend. Use your resources, both on and off campus, to help you decide what to do next.

Additional Resources

Applying to Graduate School Web Resources

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