If you're considering graduate study as your next step, our career coaches can help you think through this important decision and create an action plan. Whether you’re interested in law school or a graduate degree in the arts and sciences, the Boston College Career Center offers resources and strategies to help you at every step of the application process. 

Applying to Graduate School

Print

Admissions Criteria

Graduate school admissions typically are based on six basic criteria:

  • Undergraduate GPA and GRE scores
  • Recommendations
  • Personal Statement and Statements of Purpose
  • Work experience and/or prior research projects
  • Related life experiences, such as travel, volunteer work, and hobbies

GPA and GRE scores are important (especially your GPA in your subject area if you are applying for a Ph.D. program), and experiences outside the classroom also count.

When to apply:
If the schools you’re applying to use rolling admissions or staggered deadlines, it is to your advantage to apply early. Submit the application at least one week before the deadline to make sure it arrives on time.

Specialized programs:
Specialized programs of study, such as law or medicine, will have varying criteria. View resources to apply to these programs below.

The GRE

Most graduate schools require scores from the Graduate Record Exam (GRE). The GRE comprises two parts:

The General Test
The General Test includes a variety of multiple-choice questions to test your verbal, mathematical, and analytical abilities. It is administered on computer terminals at test centers throughout North America and can be taken by appointment on any one of several days each month.

The Subject Test
The Subject Test includes questions in a specific academic discipline. You choose which Subject Test you wish to take, based on the field of graduate study you intend to pursue. Subject Tests are administered as paper-based tests only. All Subject Tests are offered on specific dates in December and April; about half are also offered on a predetermined date in November. Subject Tests are available in the following disciplines:

  • Biochemistry: Cell and Molecular Biology
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Computer Science
  • Literature in English
  • Mathematics
  • Physics
  • Psychology 

More information on the GRE is available from GRE Online, the official website of the Graduate Record Examinations.

When to take the GRE:
Ideally, you should take the GRE in the spring. November is generally the last chance to take the General Test before the first application deadline. Book your seat early, because popular days and times fill up fast. If you think you did not do well on the General Test, you can cancel the scoring immediately after the test and take it again.

Test prep:
Several test-preparation resources are available, including books with GRE practice questions and test-prep courses. Most schools consider only your highest GRE score, but others take lower scores into account.

Recommendations

In applying to graduate school, you’ll need recommendations from people who can describe your interests and abilities and support their comments with specific examples.

Give your recommenders several weeks to write your recommendations, and discuss your application deadlines to be sure your admission packet is completed on a timely basis. Be sure to waive your right to see the recommendations; graduate schools prefer to see “blind” recommendations because they allow the recommender to be more honest.

Provide the recommendation writers with some background materials, such as a resume and a copy of your personal statement, to help them focus on your specific strengths, accomplishments, and interests.

Personal Statement

The Personal Statement

This statement may include your reasons for choosing the graduate school and/or field you are pursuing, some related accomplishments in academics or other extracurricular activities, or something unique about you that may not be covered elsewhere in your application. As a rule, this personal statement should be about two pages long, double-spaced.

Write from personal experience, and write honestly. The most compelling personal statements have a ring of authenticity to them. Write carefully and proofread for proper syntax, grammar, and spelling.

The Statement of Purpose

While a personal statement is about you as a person, the statement of purpose focuses on you as a developing professional.

Indicate how your interest in your subject area began. Review what you did to advance your understanding through academic work (classes and research) and experiences (activities internships and jobs), and discuss what you have learned from those experiences. Describe what you want to learn, professors you want to study with, and what programs you would like to join at the specific graduate school where you are applying. The statement of purpose should conclude with what you want to do as a professional using what you learned in graduate school.

Transcripts

Graduate programs will require an official transcript. Current students can request official transcripts using the transcript request link in the Agora Portal. Alumni may request transcripts by going directly to the National Student Clearinghouse website. Paper transcripts, delivered via regular or express mail, are available for request.

There is no charge for transcripts at this time. Starting September 1, 2020, there will be a $5 charge per electronic transcript and a $7 charge per paper transcript. Additional fees are required for express mail service.

For more information, visit the Transcript Requests page.

Financial Aid

Graduate study is a big investment in your future. If you’re concerned about paying for school, check out these resources to see what kind of financial aid and scholarships are available to you.

FastWeb
Set up a profile, and this free web service will match you with scholarships that fit your profile.

Peterson's Graduate Scholarships and Financial Aid
Information and advice on paying for graduate school.

FinAid.org
Search for scholarships, learn about loans, and more.

Fellowship and Scholarship Opportunities
This Boston College resource helps BC undergraduates compete for fellowships and scholarships.

Michigan State Libraries: Grants for Individuals
A great resource for specific opportunities based on personal identity, area of study, etc.

University of Chicago Center for Scholarly Advancement: Opportunities Database
Database containing a variety of scholarship opportunities 

Considerations Before Applying

Does your intended career path require advanced study?

In some cases, the answer to this question can be pretty clear. If your goal is to be a doctor or a lawyer, then yes, advanced study is an essential requirement. It’s a similar case for careers such as accounting, which requires specific hour requirements attained through graduate study in order to sit for the CPA exam; data science/analytics, where entry level positions require a graduate degree in a related field; and education, where many states require that teachers have a master’s degree.

But sometimes the answer is not as clear. So how can you learn more about different career paths that may require attending graduate school?

  • Explore the resources for each of the Career Center’s career clusters. On each cluster page, you can explore different industries, each of which includes information about whether graduate school is required. 
  • Use career intelligence resources like Vault to find out about the types of graduate degrees that may be required, as well as other important up-to-date information about what it’s like to work in your industry of interest.
  • Network using resources like Eagle Exchange and LinkedIn to engage with alumni and professionals to learn about their paths, and if graduate study was involved.

Do you have to go right after college?

This answer will depend on the industry. Broadly speaking, the decision as to whether you should go to graduate school right after you graduate is still linked to the nature of your industry of interest and to your longer term career goals. Think about the following:

  • Is a graduate degree essential for starting in my field of interest? 
  • Can I obtain an entry-level position in my field of interest with a bachelor’s degree? 
    • If the answer to this question is yes, it does not necessarily mean you can’t go to graduate school in the future. Instead, in this scenario, graduate study is a way to advance your career, as opposed to being necessary to even start it. In these circumstances, it may make sense to gain work experience and then to apply to graduate school down the road when you feel that it’s needed to gain further expertise in your industry area. What you ideally want to avoid is enrolling in a graduate program immediately after college because you think that an advanced degree will give you a leg up on other applicants.

Do you want to go to graduate school to avoid the “real world?”

Be honest with yourself about this question. Even if you’re terrified of the real world, taking a job will allow you to advance your skillset in a professional setting, network with professionals to learn about other industry areas, and earn an income that will allow you to save for the future. Before you make your decision, make sure you’ve done your research. The best decision to go to graduate school is an informed decision. 

Personal Statement Tips

When you’re competing against thousands of other applicants with similar GPA’s, work experiences, test scores, and recommendations, how do you stand out? One way to polish and differentiate your application is through a stellar personal statement. Your personal statement is an opportunity to engage the admissions committee and tell them why a graduate program would be a good fit for your skills, personality, and future career goals.

Start by writing a draft, then revise, revise, and revise until you have a statement that conveys your desired message well.

Start Early

  • Give yourself plenty of time by thinking about your essays early. The quality of your essay is a very important factor in the admissions process. Make sure you have the time to put in your best effort on each graduate school statement.
  • Start at least two months before the deadline to give plenty of time for revisions and alternative drafts.
  • Research your school’s website and, if possible, read sample essays of admitted students to grasp the expectations for your personal statement.

Analyze the Prompt

  • Carefully read through the prompt and make sure you understand what is being asked of you. What are the specific things that the admissions committee wants to know about you? What experiences, thoughts, and goals can you convey that fit into the prompt? Be prepared to answer: why this degree? What can you contribute to their program? Why do you want to go to this particular school/program?
  • If there are multiple questions in the prompt, be sure to answer all of them thoroughly.
  • Discuss your background and experiences that set you apart. Keep it about you, not a historical event or social issue.

Organize Your Thoughts and Create a Draft

  • Brainstorm about your personality traits and reasons for going to graduate school. From there, you can extract anecdotes and compelling reasons why you are a strong candidate.
  • Create an outline of your statement and decide where you want examples to appear. Don’t worry about making it perfect at this stage. Mistakes can be fixed in later drafts.
  • Develop a flow to your essay by inserting transitions into the beginning and end of paragraphs.

Be Specific

  • Flesh out your outline and provide specific examples. The admissions committee should be able to clearly understand your interest in the field and graduate program through the example(s) you use.
  • It is often easier to trim words than to add paragraphs, so feel free to write beyond the word limit. Revising can come later to pare down your thoughts.
  • Draw from experiences such as, but not limited to, internships, school leadership positions, volunteer work, and other personal anecdotes, to demonstrate your interest in the field
  • Show, don’t tell! Make sure to back up any assertions about your character with supporting evidence (e.g. I am a strong problem-solver and can confidently lead a team. For example, at work I was assigned to…).

Find a Creative Angle

  • Write in your personal style! However, make sure to stay genuine and professional in your writing. A common mistake students make is to get too creative and stray from answering the prompt.
  • Starting with an anecdote or weaving a theme throughout the essay, is a good way to add flow and creativity to your personal statement.
  • The opening paragraph can be creative or catchy to draw the reader in, but it doesn’t have to be.
  • You don’t have to pick a topic that is completely unique, as long as your essay is still infused with reflection, insight, critical thought, and strong writing. 

Multiple Revisions

  • Always revise your essays and have multiple people read them. Your personal statement must not contain any errors. We suggest having at least three people read your essay, including a professor, friend, and a third-pary, such as one of our career coaches.
  • Read your essay out loud. Doing this will help you find awkward wording in your essay and ensure that the document is in your own voice. Check to make sure you vary the beginning of your sentence structure, and don’t start too many sentences with “I.” Utilize transition words or phrases to vary your “I” statements.
  • Make sure your personal statement demonstrates strong critical thinking, reflection, and writing skills.
  • Keep your writing concise and simple. Using large words for the sake of sounding intelligent often comes across as pretentious rather than experienced.
  • After revising, leave the paper alone for a couple days and focus on other work. Come back with a fresh pair of eyes and see if the paper truly conveys why you want to attend the specific graduate program. 

Tailor Your Personal Statement to be School-Specific

  • Do NOT re-use the same personal statement for every school you are applying to. While you do not have to write an entirely new statement for each school, make sure you read each prompt carefully and tailor your goals and examples to the specific program to which you are applying.
  • In most personal statements, you’ll want to mention why you are specifically interested in the program or school. Do your research to be able to talk about particular classes, professor, initiatives, research opportunities, practicum placements, etc. Law schools typically ask this as a separate question on the application, so be sure to read each essay prompt carefully.

18%

of the Class of 2019 are attending graduate school

Top Programs of Study

20%

Education

17%

STEM

12%

Business

12%

Law

Thinking About Law School?

The Career Center's tips for researching law schools, preparing for the LSAT, and navigating the application process. 
 

Law School Resources