Parts of the Graduate School Application

Admissions committees are normally made up of professors who base their decisions on the following:

  • Statement of purpose
  • Grade Point Average (GPA)
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Standardized test scores, e.g. the GRE or GMAT
  • TOEFL or IELTS for international students
  • Transcripts
  • Previous work experience
  • Research experience
  • Co-curricular activities
  • Résumé or curriculum vitae (CV)

When submitting the application, complete a draft of each application first. Make sure you type all paper applications; do not hand-write. Mail all materials well in advance of deadlines and make copies of everything included in the application packet. Print copies of your completed electronic applications. Proofread, proofread, proofread!


The type of entrance exam you will take depends on the type of program for which you are seeking admittance:

USF Testing Services can help you with figuring out which test you need to take and how to set your exam date(s). Be sure to schedule your exam a year prior to the intended graduate school start date. Prep course materials can help you understand the parts of the test and types of questions that will be asked. Check out these resources for test prep help:

Statement of Purpose

The statement of purpose is your only opportunity to let the admissions committee get to know you. This is your chance to personally introduce yourself and make a good impression. The Writing Center in the Library can help you write the perfect Statement of Purpose.

Steps for writing a statement of purpose

  • Write a draft
    • Read the question(s) and requirements carefully.
    • Write without regard for length.
  • Get feedback
    • Professors and the Writing Center are here to help!
  • Revise
    • Think about your audience - what is unique about your statement?
    • Eliminate clichés and generalities.
    • Avoid repetition.
    • Focus on creating an image of yourself as a person, student, and scholar/professional.
    • Consider word count, and if need be, be a brutal editor.

Information to consider

  • Length requirements vary.
  • You'll likely need unique versions for each school. Medical school works a bit differently.
  • Know yourself
    • Why do you want to be a doctor/lawyer/social worker, etc.?
    • What about your life and academic experiences has prepared you?
    • What about the particular program attracted you?
    • What can you contribute to the program?
  • Consider a narrative frame.


  • Don't tell; show.
  • Don't recreate your résumé; give context to your experience.
  • Don't focus on the negative; touch on weaknesses and focus on strengths.
  • Don't lie; be yourself.
  • Don't be conceited; be confident but realistic.
  • Don't use your thesaurus; write in your own voice.

Recommendation Letters

Most applications will require 2 or 3 recommendation letters. Keep these tips in mind

  • Choose someone who knows you well and can write a specific, positive letter.
  • Ask early and politely.
  • Provide your CV/résumé and statement of purpose to each recommender.
  • Clearly communicate the deadline to your recommenders
  • Contact recommenders a few weeks after the initial contact if you haven't yet received anything from them and ask if they need additional info.
  • Let them know when you get accepted!

Transcripts and Test Scores

  • Order transcripts from your current school early, so that they will be received near the same time as your application.
  • Check to see if transcripts can be mailed immediately after fall term grades are recorded.
  • Order test scores to be sent to each school (if you did not do so at the time of the exam).