Completing the Applications

Once you have narrowed the list of graduate schools that you are interested in, it is time to begin the application process. The first stage is to request an application and materials from the specific program or download these materials from the website, if available. This can be a time consuming process, so give yourself plenty of time.

What Makes a Strong Application?

  • Strong academic record (your transcript should show successful completion of challenging courses as well as show high marks)
  • Good performance on graduate entrance exam
  • Personalized and persuasive letters of recommendation
  • Unique experiences and qualifications
  • Work experience in field
  • May require well written detailed resume
Check out the Interfolio Online Credentials Management system, available to UMBC students and alumni. Interfolio is an easy and affordable way for: a student to send confidential letters of recommendation to a potential employer or application materials to graduate and professional schools; a teacher to apply for a new position; or a PhD to send academic credentials to a search committee. All you have to do is sign up for an account and then provide those who have agreed to write letters of recommendation for you, where to go to upload their letters to your account.

Attaching the Forms- Complete even the more routine forms with care; it is viewed in its entirety by admissions personnel. If part of an application appears rushed or like it was dismissed, it will reflect negatively on the whole of the application. Be meticulous and direct when addressing the details of the form. Most importantly, try not to be overwhelmed by the process and proceed in a direct manner taking one section at a time. Be sure to follow these guidelines:

  • Most schools will now allow you to complete the application online. You can download the application and complete it on the computer.
  • Be consistent and use your full legal name on all forms and admissions tests.
  • If you are sending a hard copy, prepare a rough draft first on a copy of the application.
  • Make sure the application is typed without any errors (this includes spelling errors).
  • Complete the application clearly and accurately, especially the dates and GPA information.
  • Be sure to make photocopies to keep for your records.

Personal Statements and Essays – This is often the most challenging part of the application. Though requirements vary by field, here are some things to keep in mind when writing a personal statement.

  • Be yourself and say what you think, not what you think admissions officials want to hear
  • Talk about your motivations as well as aspirations
  • Highlight what makes you a unique candidate
  • Talk about work/research experience you have
  • Personal accomplishments and triumphs
  • Be diplomatic in language
  • Describe your goals.
  • Following directions carefully, especially those relating to length
  • Answer all questions asked
  • After researching the program, faculty and their areas of research, address how your areas of interest are compatible
  • Use positive, confident and upbeat language
  • Sell yourself; discuss how you'll be an asset to the program/school
  • Proofread and ask faculty and your Career Specialist to proofread your statement.

Obtaining Letters of Reference- Depending on your relationship with faculty this can either be the hardest or easiest step of the application process. You can facilitate this process by establishing a relationship with faculty well before applying. Here are some elements to consider when selecting a writer. The ideal recommender:

  • Has a high opinion of you and your potential
  • Has had you in class (preferably on more than one occasion) and is familiar with your work) and/or supervised you in a research or creative project
  • The writer should know you on a personal as well as academic level
  • Is aware of the program you are applying for
  • Can be seen as an objective judge of you by an admissions committee
  • Has good writing skills
  • Is reliable in submitting your material on time
  • Knows the elements of your background that you want highlighted in the letter.

Once you have chosen your recommenders, provide them with:

  • A copy of your academic and extracurricular record (two page resume)
  • A copy of your personal statement
  • A description of the program for which you are applying
  • Very clear directions about the logistics—any form that needs to be completed and attached, where and how the letters need to be sent, relevant deadlines, etc.

Admissions Tests- Most universities use scores from standardized examinations as one criterion for admission. The particular type of examination needed depends on the graduate school or professional program for which you are seeking admission Listed below are some of the most widely used tests by various universities and professional schools:

Many programs will require you to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). The Graduate Record Examination is for graduate school applicants what the SAT is for college applicants. It is a standardized test designed by Educational Testing Service to measure knowledge and skills; it is scored on a 200-800 scale. The GRE Aptitude Test has three sections: verbal, quantitative, and analytical writing. There are also GRE Subject Tests in specific disciplines, such as French, mathematics, psychology, philosophy, engineering, etc. Find out from the particular graduate programs to which you are applying what subject tests, if any, are required.

International students may be required to take a Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) to demonstrate competency in writing and speaking English sufficient for graduate study.

Other admissions tests you may be asked to take depending on your discipline include:

  • Dental Admissions Test (DAT)
  • Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT)
  • Law School Admissions Test (LSAT)
  • Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)
  • Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT)
  • Professional Assessment for Beginning Teachers (Praxis)
  • VCAT Veterinary College Admission Test (VCAT)

There are several test practice centers that offer test-prep courses where you can learn test-taking techniques and practice taking admissions exams. Some students find these courses to be helpful and, in some cases, they can help improve your score and help to prepare you for what to expect. Some of the test-prep services are:

Kaplan Testing Services
733 West 40th Street
Suite 200
Baltimore , Maryland 21211

37V New Orleans Road
Hilton Head Island, SC 29928

Princeton Review

1-888-KNEWTON (1-888-563-9866)

1620 26th Street · Suite 1000 North
Santa Monica, CA 90404

UMBC Training Centers
1450 S. Rolling Road
Baltimore, MD 21227

Offers English language and communication programs in a cross-cultural setting and TOEFL test prep courses.

UMBC English Language Institute
University Center 207

The cost of these test-prep courses can be expensive and vary depending on the vendor. If you can't afford to enroll in one of these courses, you can purchase a test taking guide at the campus bookstore and most off-campus bookstores and practice on your own. Many students find that this is also very helpful.

GRE Power prep is a free on-line practice exam which provides immediate feedback on your progress. It is available on the GRE website under Test Takers -> Practice for a GRE Test -> GRE General Test.

You will need to submit an official transcript from every College and University that you have attended. This includes even an institution where you completed only one or two courses. At UMBC a transcript can be obtained from the Registrar's Office in the Academic Services Building.


Be sure to request an additional official transcript that you can open and review carefully. This is necessary because your official transcript will vary slightly from the unofficial transcript available on myUMBC. You want to make sure that your records are accurate and reflect all of your transfer courses and credits as well as your UMBC completed coursework and grades. Make sure that your degrees and honors are recorded correctly.

Other Supporting Materials
Some programs may require additional materials to be submitted. For the arts, for example, this may be a portfolio or a recording of a performance. Other programs may require a writing sample. In all instances, select a piece that best reflects your abilities and also your interests.

Making the Most of Interviews, Visits, and Auditions
Some graduate programs may require you to interview with departmental representatives. If this is the case, you want to be prepared. The interview is your greatest opportunity to prove yourself to a graduate school and show that you are a good fit for the available slot and position, for example, a Teaching Assistantship. It is your moment to shine, and you want to be well prepared.

Before arriving for the interview, you should have a good general understanding about the school, the graduate program as a whole, and the particular division or department to which you have applied. The goal is to be able to answer as well as ask intelligent questions that show you know something about the program and have “done your homework.”  It's a good idea to review possible interview questions and practice responses. It's not a good idea to memorize answers as if you were reading a script. You want to come across as well informed, not well rehearsed.

Sample interview questions:

Tell me something about yourself.

How would others describe you?

Why are you a good candidate for our program?

How has your undergraduate education prepared you for our program?

What were your major responsibilities in your most recent job?

How has your past work experience prepared you for graduate school?

What experiences have you had related to (your field of interest)?

What do you do in your free time?

If there was a concept in one of your classes that you didn't understand, what would you do?

Where do you see yourself in the next ten years?

Why have you chosen to study this profession?

What field in this profession most appeals to you?

What and who influenced your decision?

Why did you choose this institution?

What do you consider your greatest weakness?

What have you read recently?

What would you do if you are not admitted?

What do you see as the greatest problem facing (e.g., the health care industry) today?

What was your most enjoyable course in college?

What was your least favorite course?

What extracurricular activities have you found most rewarding?

How do you go about solving difficult problems in your life?

Note: The Career Services Center offers mock interviews. If you are uncertain about how to respond to any of the above questions, or would like to practice interviewing, please call 410-455-2216 or stop by Math-Psychology 212 to schedule a mock interview. There is also lots of information on interviewing techniques available in the Career Resource Center, MP212.

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