Common Questions

Common grad school questions



How do I make myself a competitive and attractive candidate?


The attributes listed below are a general idea of what graduate schools are looking for in a candidate. Different schools will weigh some of these attributes differently and it is up to you to find out what is most important to each school.


  • Maintain a high GPA (above 3.0)
    • Don’t worry if your grades from freshmen year or a certain semester are suboptimal.  Admissions committees look favorably on improvement and will focus on the stronger aspects of your application.
    • Graduate schools will focus specifically on your major GPA.  Therefore, you should work hard to get top grades in your math and science classes.


  • Acquire significant research experience outside of the classroom
    • Summer research grants/internships or department research during the school year.
    • Learn the basic techniques in your field of interest.
    • Achieve a diverse research background: this will show that you have developed the necessary skills to succeed in a graduate research atmosphere.
    • Publish your research if possible!  A publication will catch the admission committee’s attention and give you an edge over other candidates.


  • Score high on the GRE
    • While you should try to get a high composite score on the general GRE, science graduate schools are more concerned with your quantitative (math) and analytical writing scores than your verbal score.  You should however strive to score high in all sections.
    • Prepare adequately by studying a couple weeks ahead with the proper GRE study materials.
    • Retake the GRE if you are not satisfied with your scores and have time.
    • If the programs you are applying to require a subject GRE test, get a study guide and study hard!  Some schools don’t place much emphasis on subject test scores while others do.  You will have to contact your programs individually to see what their policy is.


  • Write a good personal statement
    • Reveal your passion and interest without sounding cliché or redundant.  Tell a unique story about yourself (e.g. why you became interested in a specific field).
    • Briefly talk about your research experience.
    • Focus on what you want to accomplish in graduate school, what types of research you want to do, and why they should accept you.


  • Have STRONG recommendations
    • Establish good relations with faculty, mentors, TAs etc. early on in college.
    • Recs are as important (if not more) than some of the other factors mentioned above.  They can pull up a student who has a low GPA or low GRE scores.


  • Win academic awards
    • Department awards, NSF or other government funded grants/fellowships, REU or SURP internships.
    • Look out for these opportunities and give yourself enough time to apply. A "sure bet" student is one who applies with an outstanding background and an outside source of funding.


  • Apply early in the fall
    • Many graduate schools have a rolling admissions process.  That is, they will review your application on receiving it, and make a decision whether to invite you to an interview. 
    • The window of their review is typically between November and January.  Thus it is to your advantage to submit your applications plus supplementary material in late October or in November.  Waiting until December or January will lower your chances of receiving interview offers as you are competing with more students for fewer spots.