Applying to Graduate School
The personal statement is a very important component of your application for graduate school. Nearly every program asks for one. The prompts vary, but usually ask you to discuss your motivations for pursuing the degree and specific program by telling a story about your life. Start working on your personal statement as soon as possible, and make sure you share it with your letter writers.
Letters of Recommendation
Graduate programs typically ask for between 2 and 4 letters of recommendation from people who can speak to your abilities as a student and potential as a professional in the field you’re pursuing. The people you ask should know you well, such as professors whose course(s) you’ve taken and/or who you’ve done research for. Ask them early, explain your motivations for wanting to go to graduate school, share your application materials with them (personal statement, writing sample), and keep them informed of deadlines and the submission process. And don’t be afraid to ask them for multiple letters for several programs.
Some graduate programs ask for a writing sample (not all do). If you need to submit one, you want to make sure it showcases your abilities as a writer, researcher, and thinker. It should be recent (not from your first year), substantial (a final paper, not a small two-page assignment), and on topic (not a paper on English literature if you’re applying to psychology programs). Most importantly, it must be perfect: smart and error-free. Even if you got an A on it, reread and revise it, ask your professor for critical feedback, and send it to the Writing Center.
Relevant academic and research experience outside of the classroom—e.g. research assistant positions, fellowships, internships, employment—are becoming more and more important as criteria for admission to graduate programs. Accumulating them as an undergraduate will only make your application stronger. Some programs and fields may require applicants to have such experience after college and before applying for graduate school. Find out what programs may be looking for in an ideal candidate.
Most top graduate programs require the GRE. It is offered regularly at a testing center. There are a variety of prep courses and manuals available that may help raise your scores. More information about the GRE is available here: https://www.ets.org/gre