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Graduate & Professional School Application Process
Choosing the “Right” School
Once you have determined that a graduate or professional degree is a necessary qualification for your dream career, your next challenge is choosing the “right” school. To ensure you select a school that is a good fit for you and your career goals, do your research before finalizing your decision. Think about all the factors that may affect your graduate/professional school experience such as the specific academic programs offered at the school, the faculty, the student services, the campus culture, etc.
One place to gather information is the Chicago Graduate and Professional School fair which takes place annually in October at the UIC campus. Usually more than 150 program representatives are available to provide information and guidance regarding applying to their programs.
Questions to Consider in Your Research:
- Is the program aligned with my career goals/interests?
- What is the mission of the program and of the school itself?
- Are there graduate assistantships/fellowships available for students in this program?
- Who hires graduates from this program? What is the employment outlook? Salary?
- Who are the faculty members, and are they experts within the field?
- What is the relationship between faculty members and students in this program?
- What are the research opportunities?
- How diverse is the student population, and how large is the program?
- How can students get involved on campus, and what services are available to them?
Applying to the Program
Application requirements vary by school; therefore, once you decide on a specific school and program, be sure you understand the components of the application process. Below are three important factors you should note:
- Deadlines: Some schools review candidates throughout the year and make decisions when applications are received. Other programs have specific cycles and will only consider applications during a particular time frame. Research your individual program deadlines and apply early!
- Application Materials: Although each program varies, admissions departments usually require a combination of the following materials: completed application form, personal statement, official copies of all college transcripts, letters of recommendation, test scores, financial aid forms, and application fee.
- Required Tests: Each program requires specific tests/examinations for admission. Below are some of the major areas of study and tests required to apply. Our practice tests
page provides some resources to help you prepare.
- Dental: Dental Admission Test (DAT)
- Law: Law School Admission Test (LSAT)
- MBA: Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), Graduate Record Exam (GRE)
- Medical: Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)
- Pharmacy: Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT)
- Science/Liberal Arts: Graduate Record Examination (GRE), Miller Analogies Test (MAT)
Personal Statement Tips
- Ensure that you follow any specified instructions e.g. answer all the essay questions provided and stick within page limitations (standardly, no more than 2 pages).
- Answer these questions: “Who are you, why are you interested in this advanced degree, and why should this school choose you?” Be sure you provide a clear picture of your academic/career goals.
- Avoid unnecessary duplication (is it already in your application materials?).
- Offset low grades or scores with unique life, work, or volunteer experience.
- Show your personality and make your essay original by incorporating a personal story/anecdote.
- Reflect on the content: Is it personal but not too personal? Does it reflect what you want admissions representatives to know about you?
- Avoid using clichés or implying that you will save the world once you obtain this degree.
Navigating the Application Process
The key to a successful graduate/professional school application process is planning, preparation, and organization. To start the planning process, determine your anticipated start date for the program. Are you looking to move directly into your advanced studies, or would it be more beneficial to wait a year or two to gain work experience within your field? Whatever path you choose, start the process early, and develop a timeline of important steps for submission of applications.
The timeline below is a general guideline for the application process, but please be aware of the specific materials/deadlines required for your program of interest. Additionally, the timeline is geared towards students moving directly into advanced studies, but it can be adapted to fit your desired timeframe.
- Research schools and programs to determine if they are a good fit.
- Explore financial aid resources.
- Narrow your list of prospective schools/programs and make note of admission requirements.
- Register and begin preparing for appropriate graduate admissions tests.
- Visit prospective school campuses and speak to students/faculty/staff.
- Identify faculty and/or professors to ask for recommendation letters.
- Check unofficial transcripts from all colleges attended for any discrepancies.
- Take appropriate graduate admissions tests.
- Begin brainstorming personal statement ideas and writing first draft.
- Complete the first draft of your personal statement and request feedback from others.
- Request letters of recommendation (send up-to-date resume or other materials as a reference).
- Order official transcripts from all colleges attended.
- Write final draft of personal statement.
- Complete and submit your applications (keep 2 copies of all documents submitted).
- Apply for financial assistance (e.g. assistantships, scholarships, fellowships, etc.)
- Complete and submit financial aid applications.
- Follow-up with schools to verify your file is complete and try to relax during the waiting period.
- Revisit schools of interest to evaluate your options.
- Interview, if necessary.
- Make decisions, notify all institutions, and submit required paperwork and/or payments.
- Celebrate your success and write thank-you notes to those who helped during the process!
Graduate/Professional School Resources
For additional resources, please visit our Career Exploration Center or make an appointment with a career advisor in our office. You may also check out the following websites below:
Written by: Colleen Monks, Visiting Assistant Director, Office of Career Services
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