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After you've finished researching schools and programs, there are several steps remaining to complete your graduate school applications. The Center for Career and Professional Development (CCPD) has compiled important information on some of these steps, which include taking admissions exams, writing a resume and a personal statement, requesting transcripts, and obtaining recommendation letters. Browse the sections below, and contact us by calling (270)-745-3095 or emailing CareerHelp@wku.edu, if you have any questions.
It's never too early to start considering graduate school, but the work of choosing programs and completing applications should begin one year before you wish to attend. Because the process can take so long, the CCPD has developed an Application Timeline to help you manage the many steps involved during that year. We recommend that you print this timeline and track your progress by checking off items as you complete them.
Completing Admissions Exams
Graduate admission exams are an important part of the application process. Many graduate programs require a minimum score that you must achieve to be eligible for admission. Schedule to take any applicable test about one year prior to your expected enrollment date so that you have plenty of time to re-take the test if your scores need improvement.
The following list provides links to information about the various admission exams, including test dates, testing centers, and preparation resources:
- GRE, the Graduate Record Exam, General Test measures verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, critical thinking, and analytical writing skills that have been acquired over a long period of time and that are no related to any specific field of study.
- GMAT, the Graduate Management Admission Test, is a standardized assessment that helps business schools assess the qualifications of applicants for advanced study in business management. Schools use the test as one predictor of academic performance in MBA or other graduate management programs.
- LSAT, the Law School Admission Test, is a half-day standardized test required for admission to all ABA-approved law schools, most Canadian law schools, and many non-ABA-approved law schools. It provides a standard measure of acquired reading and verbal reasoning skills that law schools can use as a factor for assessing applicants.
Other tests that you may be required to take include the following:
- MCAT, or the Medical College Admission Test
- MAT, or the Milers Analogies Test
- TOEFL, or the Test of English as a Foreign Language
Two additional resources for test preparation include
- The Princeton Review, which prepares students for the SAT, ACT, PSAT, GMAT, LSAT, GRE, MCAT, MBE, USMLE, and a host of other standardized tests; and
- WKU's Division of Extended Learning and Outreach, which hosts online test-prep courses.
Obtaining Recommendation Letters
Most graduate programs require two to four recommendation letters from former employers, professors, or other individuals that can provide insight into your academic ability, work ethic, and overall suitability for graduate programs. This is especially true if you're applying to a highly competitive school or program. They want to accept students who will be successful in their program, and recommendation letters are one of three ways (test scores and your GPA are the other two indicators) to predict your potential success in graduate school.
The CCPD recommends that you review the detailed guidelines for requesting recommendation letters, developed by Dr. Sandy Hughes and Dr. Angela Jones, professors in WKU's Department of English. Some general considerations to keep in mind include
- Employers and professors are busy individuals, so it's important that you give them enough time to follow through on your request. We recommend providing 2-4 weeks for each reference to write the letter.
- Make an appointment to discuss your needs and the program(s) you're applying to. This will give you a chance to discuss why you're interested in attending graduate school, remind them of you and your work, discuss deadlines, and provide addresses for the programs you're applying to.
- Follow up with the people writing your recommendation letter, but don't badger them. One weekly reminder and a final reminder three days before the deadline should be sufficient.
Writing a Personal Essay or Statement of Purpose
The personal essay or statement of purpose is one of the most important parts of the application that you will complete. It's like an interview on paper, so it's important that allocate adequate time and attention to it. This essay should demonstrate your academic ability and writing skills, communicate prior work- and school-related experience, and the reasons you are entering your chosen field of study. We recommend that you seek feedback from faculty and staff members, peers, and WKU's Writing Center, but we have listed two articles below to help you begin the drafting stages.
- "Want to Write an Effective Graduate Admissions Essay? Look Within" by Tara Kuther, Ph.D.
- "FAQs About Writing Your Graduate Admissions Essay" by Tara Kuther, Ph.D.
Requesting Official Transcripts
Graduate schools usually want a record, provided in the form of a transcript, of all undergraduate coursework and any graduate coursework you have completed. These transcripts need to be "official" copies sent directly from your undergraduate university or college where credit was awarded. Requests for transcripts should be made after you've graduated, and you will need to provide the appropriate mailing address and deadline for each institution that you're applying to. Many undergraduate schools have a waiting period before they can fulfill transcript requests, so you should verify details with each undergraduate institution before you make a request.
WKU's transcript request guidelines can be found by contacting the Office of the Registrar or visiting https://www.wku.edu/registrar/transcript_request.php.
Writing a Curriculum Vitae (CV)
Graduate schools may or may not request that a curriculum vitae (commonly referred to as a CV) be sent in with your application materials, but it is important to have one prepared in case you need it. Because a CV is similar to a resume, you may review the CCPD's Resume Writing Tips for some general guidelines and strategies to help you begin the drafting process. However, please remember that your CV should primarily focus on your academic achievements and extracurricular activities. Examples of items that you might want to list on a CV include working with a faculty member on a research project or holding a leadership position in an academic organization. As with everything you write for your graduate school application, it's important to seek feedback and assistance from faculty and staff members, the CCPD, and peers.
If you would like someone at the CCPD review your CV, you may email a copy to CareerHelp@wku.edu, or call (270)-745-3095 to schedule an appointment with a Career Coach.
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