Application material: what you should include?
By Tim Rogers - former head of student recruitment at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)
Most grad schools require similar material as part of the formal application process for a Masters program; requirements for a PhD tend to vary slightly depending on the institution and the academic subject area applied for. However, the following will usually be required:
- Application form: a generic form either offered in traditional paper format or, increasingly, online. Information required for completion generally reflects a CV or résumé and includes personal details, your academic record, the name of your chosen program, the results of any tests you are required to take and the names of your referees. Bear in mind that any errors, exaggerations and inaccuracies in the application form will count against you.
- Transcripts: depending on the preference of the institution, you should include originals or certified copies of transcripts (or lists of grades and results) from all post-secondary education courses you have studied. Grad schools often allow you to submit copies to speed up the application process but require you to show the originals at the time of registration.
- Statement of purpose or personal statement: depending on the institution you apply to, you will be required to submit a piece of writing that reflects your reasons for wanting to study your chosen graduate program. These tend to be critical to the application and must include a blend of your personal and professional experience relevant to your chosen program, and an indication of how you hope to benefit from the program of study. Honesty, clarity and coherence are the watchwords here – think of your statement of purpose as an interview on paper and prepare accordingly.
- References or supporting letters: all grad school applications require a minimum of two and sometimes three letters of support from referees. These references tend to be extremely important in all cases and particularly for the more competitive programs at the world’s top universities. Choosing a referee can be a very difficult process and you must be guided by the requirements of the individual program you are applying for. Some programs require only academic references, others only professional, but most accept a mix of both. Choose people that know you on a day-to-day basis, who are familiar with your work and who can comment on your potential. Remember that referees might be busy, so ask them in good time.
- Test scores: most grad school programs now require one or more of the standardized, internationally recognized tests such as GRE, GMAT, TOEFL, IELTS or PTE, as part of the application process. Be sure to submit the results of the tests when they are required so that a decision on your application is not delayed. Many grad schools will only process your application on receipt of the official test results, while others will make a decision based on the application as a whole and make a conditional offer subject to certain conditions related to your IELTS or GRE score.
- An application fee: these are increasingly common amongst international grad schools and are intended to cover both the cost of the application process and act as a screen to the less serious applicants. If you cannot afford to pay the application fee, contact the admissions office directly to explain why. Without an application fee, many graduate programs will not process your material and delay a decision.
In addition to the common elements described, certain programs may require other, more specific components such as a sample of academic writing, a piece of project work and, for PhD applicants, an extended Statement of Purpose that outlines the area of research they wish to focus on. In all cases, the graduate program you are applying to will make it clear what is required as part of the application process. However, it is your responsibility to meet these requirements and a failure to do so will either result in a delayed decision or, at worst, your application being rejected.