Applying to Graduate School

The Process

Do your might be different for every school. Some require you to apply directly to your program of interest. Others might require a separate application both for the institution and for the program.

Know each program's policies and deadlines. Check their websites, and stay organized.

Give yourself plenty of time to complete all requirements before the deadline.

Components of an Application

In addition to the basic application, which may look different for every school and contain different types of questions, schools generally ask for all of the following items from applicants:

Application Fee

  • Vary by institution (and sometimes by program)
  • Sometimes can be waived due to financial need. Look for a formal program with application fee waivers. If you don't see one, ask!

FreeApp is designed to increase access to graduate education at Big Ten Academic Alliance universities.  Through this program, qualifying prospective students can request a graduate application fee waiver for Ph.D. or Master of Fine Arts programs at participating universities. 

Personal Statement

Admissions committees want to admit motivated students with a strong potential for success in their program, and the personal statement is one way you can demonstrate that potential and passion for your goals.

Articulate your interest in the field, focus on your drive to pursue the degree and the actions you took to develop knowledge and skills in the academic area. Also, be sure to write about your future goals and how their program is aligned with your interests and will prepare you to reach your goals.

Be sure to have your statement reviewed before submitting. In addition to review services offered by The Career Center and Writers' Workshop, you may want to have a faculty member read it.

Resume/ Curriculum Vitae (CV)

Many graduate programs require a resume or curriculum vitae (CV) as a part of the application. Make sure to read the instructions to know what the program is expecting.


Admissions professionals utilize your transcripts to verify your degree, GPA, and prerequisite coursework required to enter their graduate program. Illinois students and alumni can order transcripts through the Office of the Registrar.  Most applications require official transcripts from all post-secondary institutions that you have attended. Pay special attention to exactly where to send the transcripts. Keep in mind that if they require official transcriptions, usually they must be sealed when received.

Admissions Exams

Most graduate programs require completion of an admissions exam. Your field of interest determines which standardized test you take. Many graduate programs require the GRE; most business schools will require the GMAT; and all law schools require the LSAT. In addition, your program may require other specific exams, such as a GRE Subject Test. The TOEFL exam may also be required for non-native speakers.

Use practice content and practice exams provided by the test publishers. Time yourself to simulate real testing conditions.

You can choose to take your exam at a location convenient for you. The University of Illinois Testing Center is the location closest to campus.

Letters of Recommendation

Most, if not all, programs will ask you to submit letters of recommendation to support your application. Letters are a valuable part of your application, so building your network of potential letter writers and requesting letters early in the application process is vital.

See our in-depth guide to Requesting Letters of Recommendation for additional guidance.

Is Grad School Really For Me?

Not sure if you need to go to graduate or professional school for your career goals? Uncertain if this is the right time? Still figuring out how you're going to pay the tuition? Need more help choosing a school or thinking through your options? Check out our other page on considering graduate school for additional guidance.