Applying to Graduate School

Use the following links to guide you through the process of deciding upon and applying to graduate school:


If you haven’t done so already, take the necessary standardized tests for admissions. You will either take the GRE, MCAT, LSAT, or DAT, depending on what your program requires.

  • Gather graduate program brochures (which you’ve collected over junior year and the summer or are working feverishly now to obtain) and narrow your choices
  • Consider which faculty members to ask for letters of recommendation.


  • Research sources of financial aid.
  • Carefully examine each of the program applications. Note any questions or essay topics that will require your attention.
  • Write a draft of your statement of purpose.
  • Ask a faculty member or the career/grad admissions counselor at your school to read your essays and provide feedback. Take their advice!
  • Ask faculty for letters of recommendations. Provide faculty with a copy of your transcript, each program’s recommendation form, and your statement of purpose. It may also be helpful if you provide the professors with sample recommendation letters. Ask him or her if there’s anything else that you can provide to help them.


  • Arrange for your official transcript to be sent to each program to which you apply. Request that the Registrar hold your transcript until the Fall semester grades are in.
  • Finalize your essays and statement of purpose. Don’t forget to seek input from others.
  • Apply for fellowships and other sources of financial aid, as applicable.
  • Check and record the due date for each application.


  • Complete the application forms for each program. Reread your essays and statement of purpose. Spell check!
  • Mail your applications – or submit them on-line.
  • Relax and breathe!
  • Most schools send a postcard or confirmations email upon receipt of each application. Keep track of these. If you don’t receive a confirmation notice within a reasonable amount of time, contact the admissions office by email or phone to ensure that your application has been received before the deadline.
  • Fill out the Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application. You’ll need your tax forms to do this.


  • Depending on your field, start planning for the admissions interviews. What questions will your ask? Prepare answers to common questions.


  • Visit schools to which you’ve been accepted.
  • Discuss acceptances and rejections with faculty member or the career/graduate admissions counselor at your school.
  • Notify the program of your acceptance.
  • Notify programs that you’re declining.
Remember that most graduate programs are strict about application requirements and deadlines. Do your research early and understand what information you will need to gather from each program. Most programs require GRE or other standardized tests, official transcripts, and letters of recommendation. Plan ahead in order to allow enough time to study and register for the test, and request your transcripts and letters. Also, be aware that most programs have a required application fee, although some programs may be able to waive the fee for instances of financial need. If you are unable to pay the fee, inquire with the program to see if a waiver is possible.

As you start to consider different programs, think about how you are going to pay for school. Inquire about GRAs, scholarships, fellowships, and other types of financial assistance at each school. Remember that the application deadlines for financial assistance may differ from the general admissions deadline.

 What Admissions Counselors Look For

Undergraduate GPA (especially from the last two years of college)

Grades are important – not as a sign of intelligence, but as a long term indicator of how well you perform your job as a student. They reflect your motivation and your ability to do consistently good or bad work. However, not all grades are the same. Admissions committees understand that applicants’ GPAs often cannot be meaningfully compared. Grades differ between universities an amongst professors from the same university. The admissions committee will take these issues into account when considering your GPA. The committee will also likely examine the context of the GPA. For example: What courses were taken? Were the courses challenging or the easiest courses at the school?

Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores (or GMAT, LSAT, etc.)

The GRE and other standardized tests provide information about how your rank amongst your peers. Because they are standardized, results can be compared between applicants. The way admissions committees evaluate GRE scores, however, varies. Some committees will use the scores as cutoffs to eliminate applicants. Others will use them as criteria for GRAs or other funding opportunities. Still others use GRE scores to offset weak GPAs, or will overlook some poor GRE scores if an applicant demonstrates significant strengths in other areas.

Some students will take a commercially available GRE test-prep class to prepare. Others will self-study using a preparation text. There are free test-prep materials and practice exams available on ETS’s GRE webpage which may help you assess the best way to prepare for the exam.

Recommendation Letters

Letters of recommendation provide context within which to consider an applicant’s GPA and GRE score. It is important that the faculty members who write your letters of recommendation know you well so that they can thoroughly discuss the person behind the scores. Generally speaking, letters written by professors known to committee members tend to carry more weight than those written by “unknowns.” Letters written by well-known people in the field, if they signify that they know you well and think highly of you, can be very helpful in moving your application towards the top of the list.

When considering who to ask for a letter, consider faculty members, administrators, internship/co-operative education supervisors, and employers. The person you ask to write your letters should:

  • know you well
  • know where you are applying
  • know your educational and career goals
  • have a high opinion of you
  • be able to write a good letter

Keep in mind, no one person will satisfy all of these criteria. Aim for a set of letters than cover the range of your skills. Ideally, letters should cover your academic and scholastic skills, research abilities and experiences, and applied experiences (e.g., co-operative education, internships, related work experience).

  • The best thing that you can do to ensure that your letters cover all the bases is to provide your referees will all thee necessary information. Don’t assume that they will remember anything about you.
  • Make an appointment to speak with your letter writers. Give you letter writers plenty of time (three to four weeks at minimum). Provide a file with all of your background information. (transcript, resume, admissions essays, courses you’ve taken with them, research experiences, internships and other applied experiences, honor societies to which you belong, awards you’ve won, work experience, professional goals, due date for the application, copy of the application recommendation forms)

Personal Statement

  • The personal statement, also known as the admissions essay, statement of purpose, and personal goal statement, is your chance to introduce yourself, speak directly to the admissions committee, and provide information that doesn’t appear elsewhere on your application.
  • Faculty read personal statements very closely because they reveal lots of information about the applicants.
  • Your essay is an indicator of your writing ability, motivation, ability to express yourself, maturity, passion for the field, and judgment.
  • Admissions committees read essays with the intent to learn more about applicants, to determine if they have the qualities and attitudes needed for success, and to weed out applicants who don’t fit the program.
Master’s programs are designed to give you a solid education in a specialized field. Most master’s candidates spend one to two years earning their degree before returning to the professional world. A handful continue on to earn a PhD

PhD programs are designed to give you extensive expertise in a specialized field; they train you to pursue a life in academia as a professor or researcher (although many PhDs do not follow this path). Most candidates spend five to six years earning their degree.

PhD programs often offer full scholarships and a living stipend. Master’s candidates receive less financial help; in many cases, they receive none at all.

Remember that within some programs, you can enroll for a master’s degree and later choose to pursue a PhD if you are so inclined; conversely, you can enroll in a PhD program and leave after earning your master’s if the academic lifestyle fails to entice you further.

The path to a master’s degree

First year master’s students take courses to fulfill degree requirements, just like in college. However, the workload is heavier, the course topics are more specific and much more is expected of you than in college.

At the beginning of the master’s program, you choose (or are assigned) a faculty member who will serve as your advisor. This person will help you develop an academic focus and potential topics for your thesis or final project.

As a second–year master’s student, you decide on your research focus and—in one semester or two–complete your master’s thesis or final project. If you show promise, you may be encouraged to continue toward a PhD.

The path to a PhD

In the first three years of a PhD program, you take courses to satisfy your degree requirements and gain a broad knowledge of the field. You choose an advisor and write a dissertation proposal, and you develop a working relationship with other professors in your department. Most doctoral students also work as teaching assistants for one or more undergraduate courses during this time, and some work as research assistants.

At the end of the second or third year, PhD students complete a thesis, take comprehensive exams or both. The thesis and/or exams demonstrate your qualification to continue with doctoral work.

In years four through six, you take fewer (or no) courses and focus on writing your dissertation, which is supposed to constitute a new and meaningful contribution to knowledge in your field. Needless to say, this is quite a bit of pressure, and most students spend much of these years in the library. You’re not totally isolated, however–you work closely with your thesis advisor and others in your department to revise and refine your dissertation.

When you’ve finally finished, you are required to present and defend your work before a faculty committee. It is not often that one fails a dissertation defense. After all, you should know more about your subject than anyone else in the room. If a committee member does uncover a flaw in your argument, you can generally address it in your revised dissertation.

Which degree is right for you?
It depends on your interests, field, motivation, and career goals. Read more about your field and consult faculty advisors to learn more about which option will fit your career goals. Consider:

  • What types of jobs to master’s and doctoral degree holders have? Do they differ? How?
  • How much will each degree cost? How much will you earn after obtaining each degree? Is the outcome worth the cost?
  • Are you interested enough to pursue many years of schooling?
  • Will earning a doctoral degree offer a substantial benefit in your employment and advancement opportunities?
  • Explore graduate programs at Andrew Young School of Policy Studies.

Below are descriptions and contact information for a variety of nonprofit and public policy fellowships.

International Fellowships

Acumen Fund Fellows Program is a 12-month fellowship for individuals with the dedication of serving the poor in the developing world and the business skills to effect change. Fellows will be responsible for overseeing and managing a variety of investments currently in the Acumen Fund portfolio and will provide leadership on projects for organizations that offer goods and services to impoverished populations. At the same time, fellows will play an instrumental role in scoping and developing new investments.

African Woman Public Service Fellowship expands the opportunity for African women to prepare for public service in their home countries. As fellows at NYU Wagner, African women study in one of two graduate programs: the two-year Master of Public Administration or the one-year Master of Science in Management of International Public Service Organizations. The awards for either program will support tuition, housing, travel to and from the United States, and a small stipend to cover books and miscellaneous expenses. Applicants commit to return to their respective home countries at the conclusion of the program with the goal of assuming a leadership position on the continent where they can meaningfully contribute to the challenges currently confronting Africa.

The Alfred Friendly Press Fellowships (AFPF) is a unique, on-the-job training program for print journalists from developing and transitional countries with an emerging free press. Mid-career reporters and editors spend five months in U.S. newsrooms for an in-depth, practical introduction to the professional and ethical standards of the U.S. print media. In 2003 a Daniel Pearl Fellowship (DPF) was created under the auspices of AFPF to honor slain journalist Daniel Pearl.

The American India Foundation Service Corps Fellowship is a selective program that builds bridges between the United States and India by sending talented and skilled young U.S. nationals to work with leading NGOs in India for a period of nine months. The Fellowship runs from September to June each year. During this time, the Fellows immerse themselves with organizations working on causes related to livelihood, primary education, public health, and human rights.

Ashoka Fellows is an international nonprofit program that supports social entrepreneurs in Asia, Latin America, Africa, East Central Europe, the United States, and Canada. Ashoka Fellows focus their talents on serving the public good by creating projects with a broad social impact on issues such as health, environment, education, legal rights, women, children, and development.

Carnegie Moscow Global Policy Fellowships aim to bring senior U.S. experts from a wide range of fields important to the future of the U.S.-Russian policy agenda to spend time in Moscow. The program is open to individuals with significant experience working on issues of major policy concern but who are not “Russia hands.” Applicants should be able to demonstrate an ability to influence relevant policy discussions upon their return. Knowledge of Russian or prior experience in Russia is not required; fellows are expected to remain employed at their U.S. organizations throughout their term in Moscow.

Deshpande Foundation’s Sandbox Fellowship is part of their global exchange program which puts into practice a vision for global exchange specific to development and innovation, relative to the “Sandbox” region of Northwestern Karnataka, India, serving as a development lab for entrepreneurship. The fellowship is a year-long program for dynamic professionals or post-graduate school candidates who have experience working in on-the-ground development and/or social entrepreneurship and are seeking an extended experience working in India on these issues. Fellows work to address challenges at various NGOs working in the fields of Agriculture, Livelihood, Education, and Health.

Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) Colombia Peace Presence is an accompaniment project begun in the Peace Community of San Jose.

Career Planning Handbook

Whether you are just enrolling in your program, are close to graduation or are an AYS alum, the AYS Career Services Handbook is an excellent resource for to help you plan your career.

Click here to download the Handbook

Employer Guide

If you're considering working with the Andrew Young School to recruit students and alumni, take a look at our employer guide:

Click here to download the Employer Guide