Application Essentials

The application for an advanced degree is an opportunity to describe your past accomplishments, express your desires and goals for the future, and generally attest to your strength and determination in meeting life’s challenges.

In addition to filling out a form which includes your name and address, test scores, and schools attended, you will need to write an essay, or perhaps two or three, depending on the degree and university to which you are applying. In this section we will look at some of the standard components of a graduate school application and some examples of each kind of written product. Some programs and universities require interviews, but for many, the essay is the one place where you are able to “speak” about yourself in terms other than the numerical representations of grades, GPA and test scores. For some applications you will be required to include all of these written forms and others will require only a few. Still other universities may conflate the Statement of Purpose and Personal History or even ask you to address a particular question as a prompt for an essay. Knowing the requirements of the forms described here and writing drafts in advance of the application deadline, will help you prepare for nearly any kind of question you might be asked.

A few other important issues about applications:

All universities now have online applications but they aren’t open year-round and changes are often made in the summer months. It is best to check the application requirements a year ahead if possible or review the application as soon as it opens, even if you aren’t going to apply until the deadline.

There is often a general graduate school application for any program at a given university, with each degree program having special requirements. Make sure you check the department page for your degree to make sure you have followed all application instructions.

Some applications are “dynamic” which means you won’t see all the application requirements until you input the program you are applying for — then the application adjusts and opens the required tabs or links for that particular program. Make sure you are aware of all the documents you need to prepare for an application so you can plan your time accordingly.

Below is a short description of each component. You can find more information and examples from successful applicants by going to each page from the pull-down menu above.

  • Statement of Purpose: This essay summarizes your achievements to date, describes your research interests, and articulates your future goals.
  • Personal History or Personal Statement: Your personal history is not “personal.” This essay gives the reader a sense of you as a person outside your research and career goals. You can describe family background, obstacles you’ve overcome, extracurricular and/or leadership activities. You can also address academic difficulties that might raise a red flag for the reader.
  • Personal Statement: Law schools, medical and dental schools, and other health related professional schools often ask for an essay called a personal statement. This is usually written as an essay that combines elements of the Statement of Purpose and the Personal History. The prompt is usually some variation of: Explain why you want to be a lawyer, doctor, dentist and/or physician assistant.
  • Fellowship Statement: Some schools use the Statement of Purpose and Personal History Statement to award funding but other schools require an additional essay. This could be a general merit based award or funding provided for a specific discipline or program. The essay can include information from your other essays but should be written to specifically address the intent of the fellowship or scholarship.
  • Resume and Curriculum Vitae: You may already have a resume but you will want to insure it has the correct orientation for graduate school. A CV is an academic form of a resume which focuses primarily on your research activities.
  • Potential Mentors: You will want to incorporate the names of potential mentors in the departments to which you are applying in your Statement of Purpose.
  • Recommendations: Most applications generally ask for three recommendations. PhD programs will want references from professors but some professional programs will also want to hear from supervisors and administrators with whom you have worked.
  • Applications for Private Universities: You may encounter requests for different kinds of information on private university sites. A few examples are provided in this section you give you some idea of the range of information that may be required.