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Career Education

Vassar College

Graduate School Application Materials

Most graduate and professional schools require the following from applicants: an application form, standardized test scores, an essay or personal statement, a resume or CV, transcripts, and letters of recommendation. Some schools require interviews as well. Depending upon the type of program, you may also be asked to submit work samples or a portfolio or to perform an audition. Even if you’re not ready to commit to graduate school, think about collecting recommendation letters and application materials now. That way you will have recommendations if and when you are ready to apply.

Application Form and Fees

Most applications are now online and most programs have an application fee. Accuracy, neatness, and thoroughness are important. If you are submitting a paper form, make copies of the form to use for your first drafts, and type the final version. Proofread your applications carefully and submit them by the deadline (if not earlier). If the programs you are applying to have rolling admission where applications are reviewed and decisions are made as they are received, apply as early as possible so long as it does not sacrifice the quality of your application. 

Standardized Tests

Most graduate and professional degree programs require some form of a standardized test to be completed as part of the application. Commonly required tests are the GRE (academic disciplines), LSAT (law), GMAT (business), MAT (sometimes used for education and psychology), and MCAT (medicine).

The GRE, MCAT, MAT and GMAT are given in a self-scheduled, computer based format at off-campus locations. The LSAT and the GRE Subject Tests are paper based, and typically held on-campus. Scores are available anytime from immediately to 2 months after you take the test (depending on the specific test). Exam scores are usually valid for 3 to 5 years. Closely research the graduate schools you intend to apply to as each program may have specific requirements regarding admission.

The following official websites will provide you with specific information on test content, dates, and locations:

Essay or Personal Statement

The purpose of the personal statement is to articulate your goals and reasons for applying to graduate school in your particular field of study. Discuss how your background and qualifications have prepared you for graduate work and show evidence of your motivation to succeed. Personal statements should represent your best writing efforts and be proofread carefully. Successful essays often go through many drafts and revisions.

Our Writing the Personal Statement publication provides more detail on personal statements and prompts to help get you started. The CCE is available to review drafts of personal statements/statements of purpose (and any additional application materials) prior to your application deadlines. 

Students and alums can submit their statements/essays to our Application Statements, Essays, and Short-Answer Responses Submission Form.

Resume or CV

Come by the CCE or download a copy of our Resume & CV Guide for assistance. Stop by the CCE to receive feedback on your resume/CV draft and work closely with a Career Counselor to ensure that it is polished before you submit your application. 


Request official copies of your transcript from the Registrar’s Office and from every college you have attended (even if you were not awarded a degree). If you are sending a transcript before completing your degree, you will likely also be asked to provide a final transcript at the end of your last semester.

Letters of Recommendation

Graduate and professional schools and some employers, particularly in education or research, will request letters of recommendation. Three letters of recommendation are standard, but applicants should always check each school’s specific requirements. Most applicants request letters of recommendation from faculty for graduate and professional school and from a combination of faculty and previous employers/supervisors for employment.

When asking someone to write a letter of recommendation, do so in person if at all possible, and be sure to ask your recommenders early in the application process. Only ask individuals who know you well enough to write a meaningful reference. Provide your recommenders with appropriate details such as a transcript, resume/CV, example of your class work, or any accomplishments, special projects, or promotions, and any relevant details on the graduate programs you are applying to. Letters which are detailed and specific are usually more valuable to your candidacy.


Some schools will require an interview for acceptance. If the school does not require an interview, it would still be advantageous to schedule a time to meet with a faculty member or chairperson of the department for which you are applying. This meeting will provide you with the opportunity to find out more information about the school and the program. Remember that the goal in any interview is to communicate to the interviewer that you are ready for and excited about their graduate program.

Graduate and professional school interviews can take various forms: one-on-one meeting, group interview, campus/faculty visits, panel interviews, and/or phone/Skype interviews. Here are some general guidlines to help you papre before a graduate and professional school interview:

  • Do your homework: Know the school, the program, and the faculty, especially those that you want to work with while in the program. There was a reason why you applied to this school and chose this field—recall why and convey that during the interview.
  • Know your goals: Consider whether your goal is to teach, to do research, to go into industry, etc. Really think about what area you’d like to specialize in and what topic you might pursue for your dissertation/thesis (if required).
  • Review your transcript: Be aware of “glitches” in your transcript and be prepared to explain them. In addition, remind yourself of commitments outside of academia that may have contributed to making you a strong candidate to succeed in graduate school.
  • Practice: Schedule a mock interview with the CCE or an appointment to discuss interview strategies so you are more prepared for the interview.
  • Prepare questions for the end of the interview: Most likely you will be given a chance to ask your own questions. Ask meaningful questions that demonstrate you have researched the department and field carefully, as well as ones that show you’ve been listening to the interviewer. It’s also appropriate to ask when you can expect to hear from the admissions committee.
  • Be prepared to answer the following questions:
    • Tell me about yourself.
    • What do you know about our program and why did you choose to apply to our program?
    • What other graduate/professional schools are you considering?
    • How have your previous experience and academic background prepared you for graduate study?
    • How will you make a contribution to this field?
    • What are your professional/career goals? How will this program help you achieve those goals?
    • What do you plan to specialize in?
    • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
    • What do you believe will be your greatest challenge if you are accepted into this program?