Graduate School Guidebook (PDF)

Deciding to Go Researching Schools
Admissions Tests Completing Applications
Personal Statements Letters of Recommendation
Follow-Up Funding Your Education
Application Timeline  

Deciding to Go

Career planning is an essential step in the graduate school decision making process. Graduate school is not a good “Plan B”. Although an advanced degree is necessary in areas like medicine, law, and higher education, it is not necessary for every field and can be a costly mistake if you don't take the time to thoroughly investigate your options.

Researching Schools

Peterson’s,, and Affordable Colleges Online are a few good resources for researching graduate programs and schools. Additional resources such as the U.S. News & World Report Graduate School Rankings and The Top American Research Universities can also be helpful to understand program reputation and credibility.

Faculty members are a great resource when researching graduate school options. They will be aware of some of the best programs in your field, and with an understanding of who you are, may be able to suggest universities that would be a good fit for you personally.

A few things to consider:

  • Time commitment (2 vs. 4 year program)
  • Part-time vs. full-time program
  • Private vs. public institutions
  • Entrance requirements
  • Program approaches/specializations
  • Research opportunities
  • Faculty and teaching methods
  • Program reputation/rank
  • Placement success of program graduates
  • Tuition cost and financial aid availability
  • Housing/living expenses
  • Available student resources

Use your research to choose 5 to 10 program possibilities and narrow down your list by talking to faculty, alumni and professionals in the field. You can also schedule a campus visit or meeting with a faculty member at the schools you are interested in.

Admissions Tests

Graduate and professional programs might require exams similar to the SAT/ACT you took when applying to college. The exams differ depending on the focus of the program that you are applying for. Some exams can be scheduled to take at a time that is convenient for you, however, some have pre-scheduled dates that you are required to register for and attend. Below is a list of the most common exams, but not an exhaustive list of all exams that are available:

  • GRE: general graduate programs
  • GMAT: MBA programs
  • MCAT: medical school
  • LSAT: law school
  • DAT: dental school

There are several resources to assist in preparing for these exams including classes, pring and online resources. Princeton Review and Kaplan are two reputable companies that offer these resources.

Completing Applications

In addition to the admissions test, most programs will ask you to submit a resume or CV (curriculum vitae) and a personal statement, in addition to some short answer or essay questions. A CV is a longer version of your resume that displays more of your academic success (classes, research, presentations, conferences, etc.) that you may not have on your resume. A personal statement is a brief essay highlighting your motivation to go into the program, what skills and experience you will bring, and what you aspire to do with your degree upon graduation.

Some programs will also hold interviews on-campus with faculty, current students and admissions representatives. You want to prepare for these interviews the same way you would for a job. Reflect on your skills and past experiences, and do research on the school, program and faculty. Don't forget to practice your interview responses with the Career Development Center, on StandOut, or with classmates, faculty, or friends and family members.

Letters of Recommendation

Most schools will also ask for two or three letters of recommendation. These recommendations need to come from people who know you well enough in an academic or professional setting to be able to speak to your strengths and experience. Your best resources will be faculty members, advisors, and professional supervisors.

Once you have identified who you would like to write letters for you, take time to meet individually with each person. Explain to them your goals, why you want to pursue a particular graduate program, and why you chose them to write a letter for you. Giving each person a copy of your transcript, resume, and related projects or research papers can help them to put together a strong letter for you. Be sure to also bring the official recommendation forms from the graduate program (if needed) along with a stamped and pre-addressed envelope for convenience.

Here are some resources that you can share with faculty who you request letters of recommendation from: Sample Letter of Recommendation, FERPA Forms for Internal and External Letters of Recommendation


It is your responsibility to make sure that all of your materials get to the graduate program admissions office on time. You will be submitting your personal statement, CV and application, but your admissions test scores will come from the company and your letters of recommendation from two or three other people. Before the deadline date, call the admissions office to ask about the status of your application and contact your references or entrance exam company right away if necessary.

Funding Your Education

Funding opportunties are available through OSU graduate programs as well as numberous external programs for fellowships and scholarships. Federal loans which are rewarded on a need-based system would need to be paid back and can accrue interest over time.

Assistanships are typically offered at graduate schools and can include research, teaching assistant positions and administrative jobs. Assistantships can then cover part, if not all, of your tuition. Some schools reserve these positions for second year students, but not all. Contact the graduate programs office at the institutions that you are interested in to inquire about assistantship opportunities.

Graduate Application Timeline

Be aware of application deadlines. Most programs collect applications between December and March, however, not all. Many schools also use rolling admission in which they review applications up until the deadline. In this case, the sooner you submit your application the better. The following is a general timeline to follow but check each schools specific deadline first to make sure that you are handing everything in on time:

Spring of Junior Year/Summer Before Senior Year:

  • Schedule date to take the required admissions exam and request that your scores be electronically sent to each school where you are applying. If taking the MCAT of LSAT, take the test in spring of your junior year.
  • Request application information from the schools you are interested in

Fall of Senior Year:

  • Retake admissions exam if necessary
  • Update and finalize your resume/CV
  • Write and review several drafts of your personal statement or essay
  • Meet with the Career Development Center to review your resume/CV and personal statement/essay
  • Ask a faculty member to review your personal statement/essay
  • Schedule a time to talk with faculty and ask if they are willing to write a letter of recommendation for you
  • Request copies of your transcript be sent to each school you are applying to from the Registration Office
  • Submit completed applications and application fees for each school before the published deadline

Winter of Senior Year:

  • Check-in with schools to make sure that they have received everything in your application
  • Request scholarship/fellowship/assistantship information from each school you applied to
  • File your Federal Income Tax Return in order to apply for FAFSA
  • Complete FAFSA application forms online
  • Prepare for admission/assistantship interviews by scheduling and appointment with the Career Development Center
  • Attend preview days/information sessions/interviews for each institution

Spring of Senior Year:

  • Follow-up with schools that you have not heard from and make your final decision
  • Submit commitment forms and/or fees to the institution you have chosen and register for classes
  • Send thank-you notes to people who wrote your recommendation letters, informing them of your success