Applying to graduate school does not have to be a difficult process. If you follow the guidelines set out by the school to which you're applying, you can get all the necessary things taken care of easily and then just sit back and wait for that acceptance letter to come in.
- Find out what the school asks for. The most important thing to know when applying to graduate school, after figuring out what and where you want to study, is what the school requires of you. Every program will have its own variations on the standard transcript/recommendation letters/test score/essay formula. So, make sure to know exactly what your grad school program needs from you to make your application complete. Send away for the needed forms. Keep track with any checklist they provide. And make sure to keep an eye on deadlines.
- Get recommendation letters. Most grad schools want to know from your professors or employers that you have what it takes to begin graduate study. When you begin the application process, consider who will most convey to the program things like your work ethic, your aptitude in your field, your achievement so far and your ambition level. Talk to the people who can give you these recommendations and have them on tap. Don't wait until the last minute. And don't be shy, either; professors, especially, write letters of recommendation all the time.
- Order and send transcripts. Most grad school programs need official transcripts showing the courses you have completed, your GPA and sometimes your class rank. If you haven't finished undergrad yet, they may ask for your final transcript or may just want whatever you have so far. If you have been out of college a while, you can send your final transcript. Be careful to note if the grad program requires an official copy or accepts photocopies and if they accept the transcript from students or require the school to send the transcript directly to admissions. Also remember that some colleges and universities let you have transcripts for free while others charge a fee.
- Take the GRE or other entrance tests. Once you know what your graduate school of choice requires from you, as far as standardized tests go, sign up to take that test. Make sure to have the scores sent to the program you're applying to, specifically. If you think you need help with the tests, consider a prep course or consider buying prep books and studying on your own. If you are a foreign student, you may also need to prove your English aptitude with a TOEFL-type test.
- Of course, you will also need to complete the application itself, including any essay or short answer sections. There's no one way to write a good grad school essay, and each program will have its own specific questions they want tackled by prospective students. So, be organized, be honest, be concise, and do your best. There's no harm in having someone review your essay, either, if you think it might need a second set of eyes.
Before you know it, you'll be earning that grad degree and the application process will seem like it was a million years ago. Good luck!