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Applying to Graduate and Professional Schools

If you are thinking about attending graduate or professional school, it is essential to explore your options carefully. The decision to go to graduate or professional school requires early planning, including knowing deadlines for admission tests and submission of applications and transcripts.

The highest degree that can be earned in graduate school is the Doctorate (e.g., PhD, EdD, PsyD). Obtaining a Doctoral degree usually requires the pursuit of original research. Professional school emphasizes the clinical application of knowledge and skills (e.g., JD for law school, MD for medical school). Master's degree programs (e.g., MA, MS, MEd) are offered in a wide variety of fields and can be either academic/research focused or professional/practitioner training focused. It may not be necessary to obtain a Master's degree before entering a PhD program.

Before making the decision to attend graduate school, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I have a career objective which requires an advanced degree?
  • Have I explored the career areas and employment outlook related to the advanced degree I am considering?
  • Have I talked with professionals currently working in my intended career area to get answers to some of these questions?
  • Have I discussed my plans with academic advisors, professors and/or career counselors?
  • What are the entrance requirements for admission to the graduate or professional programs of my choice?

Attending graduate school can be a tremendous benefit when:

  • Further education is necessary to attain a career objective.
  • An advanced degree will create additional career opportunities.
  • Learning is enjoyable and provides personal satisfaction.

Attending graduate school may be a mistake if the purpose is to:

  • Postpone making a career decision and entering the job market.
  • Avoid leaving the familiar atmosphere of school.

When should you begin researching programs?

Start early! Some applications may open as early as one to one and a half years before you want to attend. You need to give yourself enough time to study and complete admission tests to ensure test scores arrive before the application deadline. You will also need to give your references time to write their recommendation letters.

Application deadlines for assistantships, scholarships and other financial aid may be different from the deadlines for the program application materials.

Graduate School

Many students begin researching graduate programs in their junior year or earlier in order to complete applications during the summer or fall of their senior year. Most graduate school application deadlines are between December and April for fall admission but some may be as early as November.

Professional School

Application deadlines for professional programs are typically earlier than graduate school application deadlines. Many professional schools require the use of a centralized application service, often referred to as "CAS." Check the CAS opening date and deadlines in your professional area of interest. CAS examples include:

  • Dental school (ADEA AADSAS)
  • Law school (LSDAS)
  • Medical school (AMCAS)
  • Optometry school (OptomCAS)
  • Pharmacy school (PharmCAS)
  • Physical Therapy school (PTCAS)
  • Physicians Assistant school (CASPA)

Suggestions for researching programs:

  • Attend preview or visit days at the schools you are considering. If there are no scheduled preview days, schedule your own visit. Set up appointments ahead of time to talk with faculty, current students and graduate or professional school coordinators and tour the campus and facilities.
  • Use graduate school search websites (e.g., or CAS systems to search for schools and programs.
  • Attend graduate and professional school fairs and information sessions.
  • Talk with your faculty advisor and other faculty and staff.
  • Seek out professionals currently working in your desired field.
  • Connect with current graduate students and follow career or departmental offices through social media. Join LinkedIn "groups" associated with the school and area of study.

Criteria for evaluating programs:

  • Quality of academic program in your area of interest
  • Degree(s) offered, length of program, program requirements
  • Faculty and their areas of expertise, reputation and credentials
  • Accreditation
  • Cost and financial aid available including assistantships, fellowships and scholarships
  • Location and surrounding community
  • Career planning and job search assistance
  • Culture of the program, school, community
  • Physical facilities, equipment, labs, libraries, and practicum/clinical opportunities
  • Additional criteria important or necessary for you to succeed


The application may include some or all of the following:

  • Official transcripts of all college level academic work
  • Personal statement or statement of purpose
  • Supplemental application questions
  • Test scores
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Resume or curriculum vitae (CV)
  • Samples of your work
  • An interview

Different schools and programs may evaluate and place greater importance on different parts of the application. Apply to several programs to increase your options and chances of being selected.

When applying to a graduate program, it is likely you will be required to complete two separate applications, one for the graduate program AND one for the graduate school.

Graduate school admission tests

The GRE General Test is the most often required entrance test for graduate school. GRE Subject Tests may also be required by some programs.

Professional school admission tests

The LSAT for law school, MCAT for medical school, GMAT for business school, and PCAT for pharmacy school are examples of standardized tests that may be required for professional school.

Check requirements of each school to which you are applying and their deadlines so you can schedule your testing date accordingly.

When preparing for standardized tests:

  • Begin early
  • Set aside time each week to prepare
  • Take advantage of free online practice tests
  • Explore private test preparation companies if interested