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Applying to Graduate School

Graduate or professional school programs can be a great opportunity to enhance your knowledge of a certain topic, develop new skills, create new experiences, and prepare you for professions or promotions. 

However, it is also a big investment of time and money. Think carefully about your reasons for going to graduate school, what degree and area of specialty you want to study or pursue, and how to begin your search.

Each year, nearly one-quarter (16%-24%) of ESF students continue directly to obtain an advanced degree.

Discuss with members of your support system, including faculty, supervisors, and Career Services. You can also attend the Graduate and Professional School Fair.


Ask yourself these questions before applying to a program:

Career goals: What is your career goal and will a graduate degree help you?

Degree program: What courses are taught? What type of research will you conduct?

Location: Where are you willing to live while attending school?

Faculty: Who are the faculty and what are their backgrounds? What kind of research have they done and how many publications do they have?

Facilities: Are the labs, research and computer facilities up to date? What facilities are available to graduate students?

Reputation: Consider the reputation of the program and the faculty at for each program. Another ratings site is

Campus environment: What size is the school and the program? Try to visit the campus and speak with faculty, current students, admissions and financial aid representatives. Does the campus environment feel comfortable to you?

Graduate internships: Are internships a required part of the degree program? Ask where students have done their internships. Does the school help with finding these opportunities?

Application requirements: Find out the admissions requirements (GPA, test scores, etc.) What is the application deadline? Is a personal statement or essay required?

Placement information: Ask to see the placement information for past graduates of the program to find out the placement rate, the types of jobs and which companies graduates worked at upon graduation, and salaries graduates received.

Cost and Financial Aid: Create a budget for each school, including tuition, room & board, books, fees and living expenses and determine if you can afford to attend each college you are considering. Check with the Financial Aid Office at every school to learn what they offer to graduate students. 

These are the most common materials required to submit to graduate school:

  • Application: Either through the institution’s website or an application system
  • Nonrefundable fee
  • Resume or CV
  • Personal statement; sometimes an additional writing sample will be required
  • Official transcripts from all colleges and universities attended
  • Test scores
  • Letters of recommendation from 2-3 individuals
  • FAFSA and additional financial aid applications 

Check with every college to find out if an admissions test is required, and if so, which exam. We recommend that you reach out to the Graduate Admissions Office at each institution as a place to start. For most master’s programs, the GRE or the MAT or the common options.

Make sure you practice the tests before taking them! Practice tests are offered by the websites for the different tests, as well as books. Part of the decision for acceptance to a program will likely depend upon your test scores. Many Kaplan test prep materials have been moved to their online platform and most information is available to download.

These tests are offered typically in a testing center or can be proctored at home online.

Common Tests

GRE Graduate Record Examinations that include a general test, subject tests, and a Writing Assessment

GMAT Graduate Management Admissions Test – for business school applicants

LSAT Law School Admissions Test

MCAT Medical College Admissions Test

MAT Miller Analogies Test - given in the form of analogies; tests general information on a variety of subjects

TOEFL Test for English as a Foreign Language 

A personal statement is your opportunity to share your interests, goals, experiences, and writing ability with an admissions committee and/or faculty in an academic department. It is a written essay where you demonstrate why you should be admitted into the program beyond your grades, test scores, and resume. The personal statement is also known as a letter or statement of interest or purpose. The length varies; some are as short as 250 words while some have no limit. The average is about 2-3 pages, double spaced.

Readers will look for your well-thought-out goals for pursuing an advanced degree and your passion for the field of study. They will also look for what makes you unique and prepared to pursue graduate school. This statement can be a deciding factor in whether you are accepted into a program. The statement should be tailored for each program. Be sure you answer ALL the questions and share your story, not what you think the reader wants to see.  

Writing a strong graduate school statement takes time to plan, write, edit, and re-write. Be careful with grammar, spelling, and presentation. You are encouraged to write the statement in first person. Give yourself plenty of time to craft the statement; you will probably go through several drafts. Seek input from a variety of sources including faculty, the Writing Resource Center, and Career Services, and incorporate suggestions where appropriate.

What to include in your personal statement:

  • Interest in field of study and/or profession
  • Experiences have prepared you for the field
  • Unique strengths and attributes
  • Academic and career goals
  • Weaknesses/opportunities for growth

Graduate school is expensive and financial aid is an important part of the decision-making process. Check with the Financial Aid Office at each institution to determine the types of funding available for which you are eligible. Funding is often provided by the academic departments.

Assistantships: These typically offer a tuition waiver or reduction and some level of stipend for living expenses.

Teaching Assistantships: You assist a professor in class or you teach a class of your own. Typically involves working 10-20 hours per week.

Research Assistantships: You assist a professor with some type of research. The work is often related to your own research interests.

Other Assistantships: There may be graduate assistantships available working in offices such as Financial Aid or Career Services. You may help students, assist with office work, or present to groups of students.

Resident Assistantships: Some colleges offer a stipend, room and board, or both to have graduate students work as assistants in undergraduate residence halls.

Fellowships/Scholarships/Grants: These are cash awards usually given to students with special qualifications, such as academic excellence, athletic or artistic talent. They do not have to be repaid. They typically include a stipend for living expenses and cover the cost of registration fees and tuition. The only requirement is that you typically must keep your grades up and make satisfactory progress towards your degree.

Work-Study: This is not offered at every graduate school. This type of financial aid is for students with financial need. Check with the Financial Aid Office about requirements and to determine if you are eligible if it is available.

Loans: A loan is a form of financial aid that must be repaid with interest. There are several different types of student loans, including Stafford Student Loans, Perkins Loans and Plus Loans. Many private lenders offer loans. These are based on pre-set policies and formulas and on the student’s financial need. For more information, check out 

Employer Financed Schooling: Some employers will provide partial or full tuition reimbursement, depending upon the relevance of the course work to the employee’s job and the grades that the person achieves in these courses. If you are employed, check with your employer or human resources department to see if this benefit is offered.

Additional resources:

Spring/Summer before Final Undergraduate Year

(Note: earlier deadline for Medical School applications)

  • Start to identify programs and colleges of interest
  • Research college web sites for degree information and online applications
  • Start reaching out to faculty members you may want to study with expressing interest in their work (science-based programs)
  • Make note of deadlines for each college
  • Determine graduate entrance exam requirements and begin to prepare
  • Investigate national scholarships

September/October before you start graduate school.

  • Continue to research programs
  • Take appropriate standardized tests
  • Write draft of personal statement
  • Research financial aid, assistantships, scholarships, etc.
  • Request letters of recommendation from faculty members and supervisors
  • Attend graduate school fairs and events

November/December before you start graduate school

  • Finalize personal statement; have it critiqued by a faculty member and/or visit the SUNY ESF Writing Resource Center
  • Complete applications
  • Submit requests for official transcripts to the Registrar’s Office to send with your applications
  • Continue to research financial aid opportunities
  • Submit applications at least one month before deadlines; earlier for colleges with rolling admission deadlines this can help with early acceptance decisions and financial awards
  • Write thank-you notes to each person who wrote you a letter of recommendation

January - April before you start graduate school

  • Contact schools to set up a visit and interview with academic departments of interest
  • Fill out the FAFSA Financial Form. Fill out any other Financial Aid form the schools require
  • Check with all colleges prior to their deadlines to make sure your application has been received and is complete
  • Review acceptances/wait list offers
  • Make decision and notify college you have selected — send your deposit
  • Withdraw applications from all other institutions