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Graduate School Application, Transcripts and Process

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What consists of a graduate school application?

A complete graduate school application usually consists of:

Most programs will not review your application until all parts of it are submitted. So, start preparing the application components early and send them in as soon as possible (see the Graduate School Timeline for more information).

How do I request my official transcripts for graduate school applications?

To request your official UC Berkeley transcript, contact the the Office of the Registrar. For transcripts from other institutions, contact their Registrar Offices.

When are applications typically due for graduate school?

Deadlines tend to occur in December, January, and February. Schools vary, so check out the Peterson's Guide to Graduate/Professional School or the university's website and see what the deadlines are at the programs that interest you. There may be different deadlines to apply to the university's graduate division, individual graduate department/program, and fellowships/financial aid.

When should I take the GRE or other admission tests?

While graduate school application deadlines vary, most will be in the December-February period. Given the above, it is wise to have your scores by fall of the year in which you will be applying (some 10 or so months before entrance). This will give you time to ensure that your scores are available in advance of the deadline, and possibly to repeat the test if necessary. A good piece of advice is to assume that nothing will work right and plan for plenty of time to correct errors. Hopefully, your application will experience smooth sailing. Further, if you are applying for a fellowship, you may need to meet earlier deadlines. So, determine a time that will allow for some preparation free of other major demands to take the test. See our page on test scores for more information.

Do all schools require a statement of purpose? What should I write in a statement of purpose?

Graduate and professional schools usually require some sort of written statement as a part of the application. Some statements ask for rather specific information, such as the applicant's intended area of study within a graduate field, reasons for attending, plans for the future, and how the applicant is prepared to study the field. Others suggest subjects that might be addressed. Still others are quite unstructured, leaving the applicant free to address a wide range of matters. Some applications call for one statement while others require responses to a series of six or more questions, ranging from 250 to 750 words each. The importance of the statement varies from school to school and from field to field.

Don't be afraid of the essay or statement of purpose. Writing it should help you clarify your motives and goals. Graduate school is rarely a good idea when pursued as a means of avoiding the job market. If you can't articulate your reasons for seeking an advanced degree, your mind may be telling you that perhaps it's not the most appropriate option. For more information, see the page on statement of purpose.

What makes a competitive candidate for a top-notch graduate school?

Many factors go into admission to graduate school. Grades, especially in the proposed area of graduate study, are very important. The GRE counts but not as much as letters of recommendation from those who have taught you, and better yet, from those with whom you have done research. A PhD program usually looks for research and scholarly potential. Talk to professors in the area you're interested in with whom you might want to work and see what they have to say. Admission to graduate school is based on a broader range of factors than just grades and test scores.

What are my chances of getting into graduate school if my grades barely meet the minimum requirements of the school?

If you are applying to a competitive program (and not all programs are competitive) and your grades are low, your chances will be enhanced by your ability to provide additional evidence that your GPA doesn't accurately reflect your abilities and potential. Some programs, for example, will place substantial value on work experience in the field. Or you might be able to overcome a relatively weak overall GPA by undertaking a demanding independent study or research project that demonstrates your true abilities and generates a strong letter of recommendation.

Some schools will list a minimum GPA, but that figure reflects the minimum as opposed to the typical threshold figure or average GPA of those admitted. Schools are often reluctant to list average GPA and GRE information because they are only part of the package examined in the decision making process. You may be able to get more concrete information by contacting a department or program and asking, "In the past few years, what kind of grades and scores have your accepted students presented?"

My GPA is below 3.0 and many graduate schools will not accept such a GPA. Is there any way to improve my GPA or my stats for graduate school admissions? I've heard that taking extra classes after graduation will help my situation. Is this true?

Graduate schools differ on their requirements for admission. Some state they want at least a 3.0; others state a 2.75. Also, some may not hold to their stated minimum. That is, they may take applicants below their stated minimum if those people have other significant strengths to offer. For example, they may have gone to a good school like Cal or have very strong letters of recommendation or test scores. Grades in the intended field or in related fields will be looked at more carefully than overall grades. For example, if a person's grades in the intended field of study were much better than the overall grades, the grad school might be willing to overlook a lower total GPA. For some schools, a 3.0 indicates that you are not likely to possess the academic skills and motivation necessary to successfully complete their program.

If you don't believe your undergraduate record reflects your true ability, post graduate work offers a fresh start with a clean transcript. If your grades are low you may not be able to get into the graduate program of your choice, but a strong performance in getting a Masters (or in the case of medical school, a post-baccalaureate program) may provide entrée to a much more competitive Ph.D. program. It may also be possible to enhance your credentials by taking demanding courses outside a degree program. Take classes related to the graduate field that you want to enter to demonstrate your ability in that field. If you want to go into grad school in English take more advanced courses in English, not biology. These courses usually should be taken at the best four-year institution you can attend.