It does not take one day to complete a graduate school application form. Depending on how well you prepare, and get your stuff together, it could take days, weeks, or months to finalize your graduate school application. Effective preparation comes a long way in ensuring that you have all the necessary documents needed once you decide to begin your application. Although each school has their own application requirements, this post provides generalized information on materials you can expect to provide, which runs same across many institutions.
1. Official Transcripts - Applying to Graduate School means you will have or be in the process of obtaining an undergraduate degree. Every school will require you to submit transcripts from all college coursework as part of your application. As already stated, each school is different, so while some may review your application with a copy of your transcript uploaded, others will require that you request for your official transcript(s) from all institution(s) attended to be sent to their office, before your application is reviewed. If you have transferred between undergraduate schools, some institutions are a little lenient, and would accept only one transcript once all your college coursework grades are on the transcript from your graduating institution. Regardless, official transcripts must be sent in at the end of the day, and must be sealed in an envelope with the official stamp of the school on it. For international students whose transcripts are not in English or grading system is not on par with the U.S. , it is usually recommended that the transcript passes through an accredited evaluation agency such as the World Education Service. As always, be sure to check in with your school(s) of choice for any clarifications, before sending in your transcript.
2. Personal Statement - In summary, personal statements are required so the Admissions Committee can better understand your background and how it has influenced your career choice or reason behind pursuing the intended program. For the personal statement, it is advisable you stick to the word limit, if any is listed, avoid grammatical errors, and be clear and concise as possible. Additionally, it always helps to have a couple of friends review your letter to check for errors before submitting the final copy.
3. Standardized Test - Depending on the program you are applying to, you will need to take either the GRE, GMAT, MCAT, NCLEX or LSAT. During your application, you could upload copies of your scores as part of your application, but almost all schools will require you to request for the official scores to be sent to them. Each school has a code, be sure to check it out! To maximize your chances of obtaining some form of scholarship or assistantship, it is advisable to take the standardized test, although there may be a couple of programs and schools that will not require it as part of the admission process. Additionally, be sure to give yourself enough time to prepare and take the test, so you can decide if your scores are good enough or if you will rather prefer to retake the test before submitting your application.
4. Recommendation Letters - Grades and test scores can only prove as much, but recommendation letters could be the real deal breaker. It's really important that at least one of your reference has a strong credential in the field you are applying to, and can speak candidly about your potential to succeed in graduate school. Preferably your reference(s) should include an academic professor you've known for some time and have excelled in their courses, and/or a supervisor who has overseen your work with great satisfaction. As most professionals tend to be busy, it is important you give your potential referees advance notice (~month to your personal deadline) so they do not become the reason you miss your deadline. Usually, a link is sent to the email address of your reference(s) to submit your letter, so be sure to alert them and have them check their spam if they do not receive the email. Additionally, if your references are having trouble submitting the letter via the online link, find out from the graduate office if they will be willing to accept your reference letter in another way. More importantly, remember that the goal of your recommendation letter should be able to positively advance your application, so your ultimate pick should be someone who can vouch for you, and is not a family member or friend.
5. Additional/Optional Documents - Writing sample(s), resume, published works, and a copy of your passport are some of the additional/optional documents you can expect to see as part of the application.
6. Application Fee - A fee is required at the end of the online application to finalize the process. The amount varies from school/departmental programs, and could range from $30 - $250. There may be certain times when the school/department will waive the fee in the case the prospective student identifies with a distinct group such as being a McNair Scholar, or attends one of their open house admission days. For international students, it is very rare that you will qualify for a fee waiver, but it never hurts placing a call or sending an email to find out what your chances are. Once you make your payment, be sure to watch out for a confirmation receipt via email for your records.
The above post is mainly intended for those interested in pursuing a graduate program in the U.S., as there is a slight variation in documents required for those applying for a bachelor's program.