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Application Process

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The graduate school application process is similar to the process you used when applying to Yale and other undergraduate colleges; there are materials to gather and deadlines to be mindful of. The first step is to closely review the application requirements and deadlines for each program to which you intend to apply. Many students find it helpful to compile a spreadsheet to help them stay organized and avoid missing important deadlines. Assembling all of the materials required to support your application takes time and organization and you need to plan ahead. Whenever possible, plan to send your materials in well ahead of any deadlines. Early decisions and rolling admissions policies are common, even if not explicitly stated. The key components of the application process are outlined below.

Standardized Tests

Standardized tests are used in combination with your other application materials to gage your preparation for graduate-level work. Tests may be general or subject specific depending on the subject and program requirements. Determine which, if any, standardized tests you need to take and gather information on how often the test is offered, testing locations, and cost. The GRE general test is offered throughout the year, while subject tests are only offered three times per year and require advanced registration. It can take several weeks for your test to be scored and the results sent to you and/or your graduate schools, particularly in the case of GRE Subject Tests and GRE General Tests taken over- seas, so plan accordingly.

Standardized tests can be stressful. The best advice is to begin preparing early. Think back to how you prepared for the SAT or ACT. What preparation methods worked best for you? Did you study independently or take a class? The method that worked well for you previously may be the best way for you to prepare now. There are test-prep companies who offer in-person and online classes, as well as a variety of study guides containing practice tests that are available in bookstores and online.For GRE details and registration information, please visit the Educational Testing Service (ETS) website.

Remember, standardized test scores are only one part of your application. Admissions committees have mixed opinions on the merits of standardized tests and give them varying degrees of consideration; some programs choose to omit them from their requirements and instead focus on qualitative factors. If they are required, it’s important to take standardized tests seriously and prepare thoroughly, but make sure the other components of your application receive equal, if not greater, attention.

Personal Statements

Preparing a well-written and effective personal statement (sometimes referred to as statements of purpose or personal essays) that clearly articulates your preparation, goals, and motivation for pursuing that specific graduate degree is critically important. You will need to spend a considerable amount of time and effort crafting these statements. Though you may be able to turn out a 10-page paper the night before it’s due, that doesn’t mean you can quickly write a thoughtful, intentional, and successful personal statement the week before the application deadline. The focus, structure, and length of personal statements vary from program to program. Some will have prompts or questions you need to answer, while others will leave the topic open ended. The length varies widely as well. Read instructions carefully and make sure to adhere to all parameters laid out in the application guidelines.

Clear writing is the result of clear thinking. The first and most important task is to decide what you want to say. You must be highly selective, especially if there is a page or word limit. Decide on a message. Consider carefully which two or three points you wish to impress upon the reader. Remember that your audience is composed of academics who are experts in their fields. Each paragraph should reflect one main idea and the logical flow of ideas should be clear, with movement and progression from one sentence to the next. The statement is your only opportunity to speak about yourself. Your statement should show that you are able to think logically and express your thoughts in a clear and concise manner. Writing your statement will take time. Start preparing early and give yourself more than enough time for revisions. If no prompts are given, you can use the questions below to begin brainstorming content to include in your statement; for more information, see our Writing Personal Statement presentation and associated Prezi

  • What experiences and academic preparation do you have that are relevant to the degree you’re seeking?
  • Why are you choosing to pursue a graduate degree at this time?
  • Why do you want to pursue this particular degree and how will this degree and the specific program fit into your career plans and your long-term goals?
  • What specific topics are you aiming to explore and what does the current literature say about those topics?

Refining, Simplifying, and Polishing

After you’ve written a first draft, start the work of editing, refining, simplifying, and polishing. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Provide specific examples, which will help illustrate your points and convey your interests, intentions, and motivations. Remember that the reader already has a record of your activities and your transcript; avoid simply restating your resume and transcript. Also, avoid overstating your experiences, background or qualifications -- be honest and genuine. Is any section, sentence, or word superfluous, ambiguous, apologetic, or awkward? Are your verbs strong and active? Have you removed most of the qualifiers? Are you sure that each activity or interest you mention supports one of your main ideas? Spelling and grammatical errors are inexcusable. Don’t rely on spell-check to catch all errors; read your statement aloud and have it reviewed by multiple people whose opinion you trust. If possible, have your statement reviewed by a writing tutor.

Tip: For individual assistance with writing your personal statement, consult with the writing tutor in your residential college or the Writing Center within the Yale Center for Teaching and Learning

Letters of Recommendation

Graduate programs will commonly require two to three letters of recommendation. Letters of recommendation allow an admissions committee to understand your strengths, weaknesses, and potential from another person’s perspective. Programs may specify the type of recommendations they require, ranging from academic ones from faculty to professional ones from former or current employers. In some cases, there may be a form that recommenders will need to submit with their letter or there may be specific questions the program requests recommenders address in their evaluation of your candidacy.

Whom should you ask to write a letter of recommendation? You want to ask recommenders who know you well and who can best speak to your qualifications and potential for graduate work. They should be able to describe your work positively and be able to favorably compare you with your peers. Professors, research PI's, summer research or program mentors, internship supervisors, deans, and advisors may all serve as recommenders. Focus on asking recommenders who will be able to write a thorough and meaningful letter, as opposed to recommenders who may have a prestigious title but are unable to speak to your qualifications.

Schedule a Meeting. Once you have decided whom you’d like to ask, contact them to schedule a meeting. In this meeting, you should be prepared to discuss your larger interests and goals for graduate school and why you’re approaching them to write you a letter. You might also want to bring a current resume, a short description of each program, a draft copy of your personal statement (if you have one), any pertinent reminders about the work you have done for this professor along with suggestions for what they could emphasize about you, a copy of your transcript (unofficial is fine) and any extenuating circumstances that may have affected your grades, the official description of the criteria the recommender's letter should address, and the deadline by which the letter is due. Specifically ask, "Do you feel you know me, my academic record, and/or my leadership qualities well enough to write a strong letter of recommendation for graduate school?" By asking this question, you've now given the professor the opportunity to decline gracefully. If the answer is "no," thank them for their time and make sure you have others in mind. 

Ask well in advance of the deadline and follow up. You should give each recommender at least four to five weeks to write your letter, though it might also be helpful to consult with them to see how much lead-time they need. This is especially true for letters to be written over breaks or needed for popular deadlines. Establish a firm deadline; as the deadline approaches, make sure to follow up with a gentle reminder and confirm that the letter was sent.

If a recommender asks you to provide a draft of your own recommendation, you may ethically provide a list of bullet points you would like the letter to address and/or a factual narrative of key achievements (avoid adjectives). Explain that you are unable to write a draft that provides the kind of judgment and comparative evaluation that only the recommender can provide and that helps make for a strong recommendation.

Write your recommenders a note of thanks and let them know what happens.

Placement Files. Your residential college dean’s office will maintain a “placement file,” consisting of letters of recommendation that you have solicited from instructors and other recommenders. On your instruction they will forward copies of your letters to the institution that you designate. Some institutions will require that letters be sent directly from the recommender and will not accept the letters from your Dean’s office; check with the programs to which your applying to learn about their preference. Contact your dean’s office for more information on establishing a placement file.

For more information on letters of recommendation, see our Soliciting Letters of Recommendation presentation and associated Prezi

Application Forms

Program application forms are typically available on the program web site; you can also call the program to request application materials. Pay special attention to any directions given and complete application forms exactly as instructed. Do not simply refer the recipient to your resume; answer all questions completely and thoroughly.


Graduate schools usually require that you submit official transcripts from all institutions of higher education as part of your application. You can request your Yale College transcript online through the Student Information System (SIS) or by contacting the Office of the Registrar. If you completed courses at another college or university or studied abroad, you will need to contact those schools directly to request official transcripts. For courses taken abroad, you may be required to get a translation of your transcripts if it is in another language. 

Resumes and CVs

Graduate programs often require applicants to provide a resume or CV (curriculum vitae). The OCS website provides resume samples and a CV Worksheet that you can use as a guide when developing your document. Before submitting your resume or CV, you should have it reviewed by a OCS Career Advisor or Graduate Peer Advisor to assure it is free of errors and is effectively conveying your skills, background, and experiences. 

Writing Samples and Creative Portfolios

Depending on your discipline, you may also need to submit writing samples appropriate to your intended area of specialization, such as poetry, fiction, or journalism. For those pursuing advanced degrees in performing or visual arts, you may also need to submit a portfolio of your work or audition tapes. Review the specific requirements for the programs you’re considering and speak with your faculty advisor or OCS Career Advisor, Derek Webster, to discuss your needs. 


A graduate school interview should be approached in the same manner as a job interview. Preparation and practice are essential. Be ready to discuss your academic preparation and motivations for seeking a graduate degree, your specific areas of interest within the field of study, and your goals following your degree completion. Also, be prepared to discuss any internships, fieldwork, research, or clinical experiences and the impact they had on you. After the interview, don’t forget to send thank you notes.