Application Process



Clustering: Apply in clusters. Apply to programs where the average GRE score for the most recent entering class is lower than yours. Apply to programs where the average score is on par with yours. Apply to programs where the average score is above yours. Don't rule yourself out of a program you really want--you don't know how the admissions committee will weigh the different components of your application.
Statements of Purpose/Personal Statements
Most graduate/professional schools will have specific questions they wish you to address. Be sure to respond directly to those questions. Commonly asked questions include:
  • What are your immediate and long-term career goals?
  • What experiences, demonstrated skills and accomplishments have made you decide on and prepare you for this program?
  • How will this graduate/professional school and the specific program assist you in reaching your goals? 
    (you may mention specific faculty, research, program emphases, courses, etc.)
  Allow sufficient time to write the essay and have revisions of it reviewed by many people. Customize each essay to each program if possible. Follow the "show, don't tell" rule -- describe experiences you've had that demonstrate your abilities instead of just naming them. Don't include your entire life story, unless specifically requested to do so. Don't make your essay any longer than it absolutely needs to be.
For a complete handout about personal statement click here

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Graduate Admissions Exams (GRE'S, GMAT's, LSAT'S, etc.)

Yes, they ARE very important! Test scores are often a key factor when a program is doing its initial screening. You want your scores to be good enough that the committee considers looking at the rest of your application. 

TAKE NO RISKS! Take a practice test, study extensively, or take a prep course! For GRE and with the ScoreSelect® you will have the option to select the ScoreSelect Most Recent option or ScoreSelect All option for up to four institutions for free. You also can choose not to send any scores at that time. You can decide which test scores to send to the institutions you designate, so you can send the scores you feel show your personal best, giving you more confidence on test day

While most programs require the General GRE Test, some programs also will require the Subject Test in the discipline. It is recommended that the tests be taken on separate days. Few students can complete six hours of intensive examination and score well. While the general GRE is a computerized test offered all year long, the subject tests are paper-based and are held in April, November and December. Although your GRE scores are held for five years, some programs will only accept scores completed within the past three years. 

Unlike the SAT's, programs will see the scores of any LSAT or MCAT test you've taken within the last 5 years. Don't comfort yourself by thinking that if you score low the first time, you can take it again. Although you can take it again, it may very well work against you as the schools will know your first score. Treat these exams as though you only have one opportunity for testing. 

There are varying opinions on when you should take exams. Some students do better on exams if they take them right before or after graduation when course material is fresh (this is especially true for medical programs). However, other students perform better when they've had some time away from school and have a clear objective for attending a graduate or professional program. Take the test when you will be best prepared!

The following organizations offer prep courses:

Cabrillo College (on-line classes;
Kaplan: 1 800 KAP-TEST 
Princeton Review: 1 800-2REVIEW
Testing for the Public 1-888-3-TESTING

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Letters of Recommendation
Most graduate/professional programs require three letters of recommendation. The following are commonly asked questions regarding letters of reference. 

1. Who should write my letters?

You should have letters from people who can comment on your experience and abilities relevant to graduate study in your chosen field and relevant to the professional work you will ultimately be doing. Generally, it is best to have some letters from professors in your academic major. Professional schools often look for letters from employers as well as from instructors. As Ph.D. programs focus a great deal on research and teaching, they put special emphasis on letters from professors who can attest to the applicant's scholarly potential. The strongest letters of reference grow out of an established relationship. Start early! Visit your professors and make sure that you take some small classes or individual study. 

2. What materials should I give my letter writers to help them write a well-informed recommendation?

The materials you give your letter writers should help them write letters that are personalized as well as customized to the field and programs you have chosen. Include a copy of your statement of purpose (give them a rough draft if that's all you have), a copy of relevant class and employer evaluations, papers you have written for them (with their comments), your resume, and any other product or description of relevant accomplishments. Even provide a brief outline of what points you would like the letter to include. 

You can request that letter writers address certain skills or achievements about which they have first-hand knowledge and/or use letters of recommendation to compensate for a weaker part of your application. For instance, let's say you tend to do very poorly on standardized tests so you've received a low verbal score on the GRE's. You have an instructor, however, who has consistently praised your verbal abilities. Make sure you specifically request that s/he address this in his/her letter. Yes, s/he can even acknowledge your trouble with standardized tests. It is wise to put any request like this in writing so the letter writer won't forget. Note that you can't benefit from this if you didn't take the GRE's early enough to have the results already!

3. Is it better to have a high prestige/status instructor write the letter even if they don't know me as well, or is it better to have a lower-ranked instructor write it if they know my abilities better?

Remember, these letters should be as personalized as possible. A letter that begins, "I don’t know this student very well…" will not help in admittance to a graduate program. It is better to have a strong, personalized letter from a junior faculty member than a mediocre letter from a senior person who really doesn't know you. Some prestigious graduate programs will not accept letters from TA’s. Make an effort to meet faculty. If a TA knows you well, ask him/her if he/she would write comments that can be included in the professor's letter. 

4. Is it better for me to waive my legal right to see the letters of reference that are written about me? 

There are varying opinions on this issue. You should discuss your decision with your letter writers. While some people who serve on graduate admissions committees prefer waived letters, feeling they have more credibility, others give equal credibility to all letters. Some go further and are offended by the pressure put on students to waive a legal right. Remember that even members of the same admissions committee may not have the same perspective on this. In addition, members of admissions committees often change year to year so you will be unlikely to know who is on your admissions committee much less the perspective of each member. 

Your decision, then, needs to be based on something else. Pay attention to your own values and concerns. How do you feel about waiving this legal right? 

In summary, there are advantages to waiving your legal right to review your letters and there are different advantages to maintaining that right.

Waiving your legal right to review 
your letters
Not waiving your right to review
  • Some admissions committee members may give more credibility to the letters.
  • Some letter writers will only write letters that the student won't see.
  • You can acquire a pool of letters and can select different letters for different graduate programs.
  • You know with certainty the contents of all your letters.
  • You can hold on to your own copies for your own purposes.

Due to a change in California law, admission committees will be informed whether you waived your right to read the letter. If you waived your right, you may not read or receive a copy of the letter, nor can the GRLS coordinator inform you of the contents.

5. If a letter mentions a weakness of mine, will the letter work against me? 

Particularly if you waive your right to review the letter, ask the letter writer if s/he can write you a positive letter. If an overall glowing letter mentions one or two areas for improvement, the letter may be taken even more seriously than one that makes you sound perfect. The admissions committee is being assured that your letter writer sees you realistically and is willing to be honest. However, if the overall tone of the letter is not positive, this WILL likely count against you. If you want to see a letter because you are concerned that it may not be positive, consider asking someone else to write the reference letter! 

6. If I don't apply to graduate school my senior year but I'm planning to later, when should I get my letters of reference?

There is a lot of debate about this question, too. There are advantages to getting the letters in order before you leave school, but there are different advantages to waiting. Many students worry that their instructors will not remember them. It has been argued, however, that reference letters are professional not personal in nature, and that instructors do not need to remember you to write them. All the materials that you give the instructor (see question #2) should be enough to remind them of your merits as a student and the professional qualities you possess.

Getting letters in order before you leave school Getting letters in order at the time of 
  • You know where to find the instructor.
  • The instructor remembers you.
  • You will have had time to clarify the 
    specific field you wish to study.
  • The information you give your letter writers 
    will be different from that which you would
    have given senior year.
  • The letters will be more customized to the
    specific field and programs you have chosen.

If you do not waive your right to see the letter, you may ask a letter writer if they will write a letter now and then refine it later if you copy it on a disk and give it to them when you know more specifically to which programs you will apply.

The Graduate Reference Letter Service (GRLS) at UCSC does disclose information to schools on whether or not a student has waived his/her legal right to review letters. Please keep this in mind when you choose a confidential or non-confidential letter.

Thank professors who write you letters of recommendation.
Write a warm, sincere thank you letter to each professor who has taken the time to write a letter for you.

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Only a few programs require interviews, although this varies by field. Doctoral programs in the sciences tend to interview prospective candidates. Prepare for interviews by researching the school and being clear about your goals. Be prepared to ask well-informed questions whose answers could not be easily found elsewhere. 

You can obtain handouts with tips for graduate school interviews at the Career Center from the Career Librarian or one of the Career Advisors. 

Follow Up

Even if schools say they will send postcards to let you know what pieces of your application are missing, it is still your responsibility to make sure all your materials have arrived. Take charge! Check early enough that if something is missing, you have time to get it in by the deadline!

Additional Career Center Resources:

Graduate School Workshops (scheduled every quarter) 
The Annual Graduate School Fair in October 
Career Advice Network (CAN) 
Numerous Career Resource Library Books and Other Materials related to Graduate School
Graduate School Test Bulletins (GRE, GMAT, LSAT)

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