Graduate School Application Process

The admission process for graduate school is different from the application process for undergraduate in several notable ways. First, graduate schools do not have an Office of Admissions with admissions counselors, rather they have admissions committees. These committees are composed of faculty members who teach the graduate courses. These faculty members have a vested interest in selecting the best students because they will be working closely with these students throughout their program.

Another difference between the graduate and undergraduate applications is the value placed on different parts of the application. When applying as an undergraduate, a student’s high school or transfer GPA and SAT/ACT scores are the main determinate of acceptance. On the other hand, graduate programs may utilize a cutoff method based on the GPA and GRE score. If an applicant’s GPA and GRE score exceed the cutoff, they are considered for acceptance. If they fall below the cut off they are usually not forwarded on to the admissions committee. The proper combination of coursework will also be reviewed at this point. For research-focused programs, the compatibility of research interests between the applicant and the faculty members will be very important in the admissions process.

Once the admissions committee receives the applications that have met the cutoff, they will place values upon the strength of the applicant’s statement of purpose, resume, letters of recommendations, work and research experiences and internship or volunteer experiences. The value of each piece of the application is unique for each program and depends on the faculty members’ perception of importance for predicting a successful graduate student. In this way, one can view graduate school application as a qualitative process. Applicants are encouraged to speak with academic advisers, their current faculty members and graduate students about the strength of their application.

GRE General Test

General GRE Information

The GRE General Test consists of three sections: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Analytical Writing. The Verbal and Quantitative sections are each scored using an 800-point scale similar to the SAT exam and the Writing section is scored on a six-point scale.

Registering for the GRE

Computer Based: Contact a CBT Test Center to register for the Computer Based GRE General Test. Subject tests are only offered as paper based. Most UW students use the regional testing center located at Prometric Testing Center in Mountlake Terrace, WA (located about 10 miles from campus). They may be reached at 425-697-3798 or ETS may be reached at 1-800-GRE-SCORE. Have your credit card ready for the $115 fee and know the codes for the universities where you want your scores to be sent. They will provide you with a test date, time and location, and a confirmation number.

Paper Based: The paper based GRE General Test is only offered twice a year in March and October. The Subjects Tests are administered three times a year in November, December and April. You will need to register for these exams 6 weeks before they are administered. GRE registration bulletins are found in the Psychology Advising Office or you may register online.

Make sure to take your GRE early. It may take up to one month before your scores are reported to your desired schools. You may repeat the GRE up to five times within one year. Your GRE scores are maintained for a period of five years.

The GRE website has information on signing up for the exam, sample tests, and testing strategies. A great way to study for the GRE is to take a sample test to determine how much studying you will need to do. Students prepare for the GRE by using a study guide book, taking courses at the Women’s Center, taking an online course or through a professional preparation course.

Statement of Purpose or Letter of Intent

The personal statement provides the applicant with the opportunity to express who they are and why they want to attend a specific program. It is an extremely important part of the application and should be written specifically for each particular program. Some guidelines for the letter of intent are:

  • Outline your educational and professional objectives
  • Describe your academic interests and the area in which you would like to do research if you are applying to a research based program. If possible, identify how your interest in working with a specific faculty member.
  • Provide evidence of your research skills and interests.
  • Demonstrate a commitment to your field of study. Explain how you became interested in this area and discuss your experiences that led you to this decision.
  • Indicate any unique skills or abilities you have that are relevant to graduate study (i.e. computer skills, language skills, etc.)
  • Explain your reasons for wanting to attend a particular school. Show there is a good match between your goals and the goals of the program. Do your research on the goals/orientation of the program before you write your letter of intent.

Make sure to answer any specific questions posed on the application and stick to the page limits.

Regardless of a student’s level of writing skills, students should not submit a statement without having several people read and critique it. Faculty members, graduate students and the Writing Centers are good resources.

Resume or Vita

The vita or resume is a description of the academic, professional and volunteer experiences an applicant has completed. It should include:

  • Name and contact information
  • Professional and educational goals
  • Educational accomplishments listing degrees awarded or to be awarded, honors, scholarships, awards, majors, minors and specializations
  • Research experiences including a description of the research project and your specific role. Include information on the researcher and the responsibilities you had.
  • Teaching or tutoring experiences
  • Work and fieldwork experiences that are related to geography or your sub-field in geography. Other positions held may be listed, but emphasis should be on work experiences that will be the most impressive to the admissions committee.
  • Papers or professional presentations
  • Professional or extra-curricular affiliations

The UW Career Center, in Mary Gates Hall, can provide examples of resumes and vitas and counselors are available to provide feedback.

Letters of Recommendation

In general, applicants will need three strong letters of recommendation. Most programs require that at least two of these letters come from faculty members. Students will want to build solid professional relationships with the faculty members from their courses and research experiences. The letters of recommendation should discuss the applicant’s research interests, academic ability, written communication skills, professional identification, emotional stability, and interpersonal skills. All of these factors go into predicting overall success in a graduate program.

Applicants should ask for letters of recommendation at least two months before they are due. A conscientious applicant will provide their recommenders with a resume, copy of their letter of intent or statement of purpose, all proper forms and a stamped/addressed envelope for each program. After an applicant has received notice that the graduate programs have received the letters of recommendation, they should send thank you notes to their recommenders.

If a student is thinking about taking some time off after receiving their Bachelor's degree, they should make contact with their faculty members while they are still undergraduate students to request letters of recommendation.

Students may use Interfolio, a third party service, to request and send confidential letters of recommendation.