Applying to Graduate School


Obtain and complete all forms. Follow instructions to the letter. Take the time to do it right, or you may be rejected for inadequate information. Graduate Schools will not act on your acceptance to their program until you have a "complete admissions file."

A "complete admissions file" contains:

  • A completed, typed application form.
  • A check for the application fee.
  • Graduate admissions test scores (GRE, GMAT, LSAT, MCAT).
  • An original transcript from all undergraduate colleges you have attended. Western transcripts are available at the Registrars Office for $6 each. In order to obtain a transcript from other undergraduate colleges, you may have to pay a small fee.
  • At least three letters of recommendation. These letters must be typed on the forms provided by the graduate school.
  • A written essay or personal statement. The essay is usually part of the application form

Keep a log of all materials (using the checklist enclosed in this handout) mailed to the Graduate Admissions Office. Communicate with the Graduate Admissions Office by phone and letter to make sure all materials have been received well before the deadlines. Budget sufficient funds to cover application expenses (fees, transcripts, tests, postage, travel, telephone, etc.)


The following books can help you write the personal statement/essay section of your graduate school application: How to Write a Winning Personal Statement For Graduate and Professional School; Graduate Admissions Essays - What Works, What Doesn't and Why; Essays That Worked for Business Schools; Essays That Worked For Law Schools; and Beyond the Ivy Wall: 10 Essential Steps to Graduate School Admission, pages. 108-117.

After reading these books and writing a draft of your personal statement or essay, ask a faculty member to review the essay. Remember, a faculty admissions committee will be reviewing your essay and your complete admissions file, so send them a well-written and convincing document.


The most helpful letters of recommendation will be those that attest to your intellect, diligence, and other related personal and academic characteristics. Therefore, you would be wise to select as references those professors who have had a close association with you in your academic work. Ask professors for letters of recommendation to graduate school only if you're genuinely interested in applying. Your professor's time is very valuable. Allow the letter writers two to four weeks to write and send the letters. Do not ask a professor for a letter of recommendation in the middle of a busy hall between classes. Make an appointment to see the professor. Ask whether he or she can write you a strong letter of recommendation.

Provide the professor with the following:

  • A letter-of-recommendation form from the graduate school.
  • A completed "recommendation letter information" form (see enclosed sample).
  • A pre-addressed and stamped envelope, correctly addressed to the Graduate School Admissions Office or to a specific departmental office.



  • Assess your interests, values, and skills and linking these with possible career options.
  • Explore educational options which would prepare you for your goal and research them thoroughly.
  • Determine which schools offer your desired degree.
  • Register for appropriate admission tests such as the GRE, LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, etc.
  • Begin to nurture relationships with faculty members you plan to ask for recommendations.
  • Research graduate programs by talking to Western faculty.
  • Compile descriptions of your academic and work experiences for your resume.
  • Informational Interviews with professionals in positions that you believe you would like to enter after your graduate training.
  • Follow these guidelines:
    • Interview several people to avoid biases.
    • Locate these persons through faculty, friends, family, local professional associations, and alumni groups.
    • Before requesting the interview, read printed information about the field and organization.
    • Ask questions appropriate to your needs, for example:
      • Describe the nature of your work.
      • What are the advantages and disadvantages of this kind of work? How did you prepare for this career?
      • What advice would you give me regarding graduate and experiential preparation for this kind of work?
      • What are the trends in this field, and what is the employment outlook?
    • Send a typed, business thank you letter after the interview.
    • Research graduate programs by talking with Western faculty.


  • Contact the graduate school office, the academic department and the financial aid office to ask for applications and literature from each school.
  • Review school materials to learn all you can about available programs.
  • Take a prep course (if you'd like) for admission tests.
  • Study for admission tests by reviewing sample questions, practicing vocabulary words, reviewing math sections.
  • Get a jump on the personal statements; compose answers to the questions.
  • Rank the schools according to your preferences. Decide which ones you'll actually apply to.
  • Choose faculty with whom you would like to study. Learn their educational backgrounds and their research interests. Use "Who's Who in America?" and the "Directory of American Scholars." Ask faculty advisers to recommend other faculty if possible.
  • Make a list of admission deadlines, including housing and financial aid, for the schools you've selected.


  • Complete your resume and develop a cover letter.
  • Distribute recommendation forms to professors, supervisors or whomever you have chosen.
  • Take standardized admission tests (usually in the Fall) and order scores sent to your chosen schools.
  • Carefully type out the actual application forms, according to their respective deadlines.
  • Register for Graduate and Professional School Financial Aid Service (GAPSFAS) if required.


  • Visit the campus. See how well you like the surroundings, services, geographic area. Revise the rankings you made of the schools you are applying to, now that you know more about them.


  • Make sure the schools you are applying to have all your information. Call to verify their receipt of all required materials.
  • Make sure you have thanked everyone who has helped you through this process.