A Checklist for Applying to Grad School

Are you considering applying to grad school and aren’t sure what your first step should be? Well, you’ve already covered the first step by deciding that you want to apply. Maybe you want to apply to advance your career or acquire more knowledge about the issues faced in your field. Regardless of why you’ve considered applying to grad school, it’s important that you’re prepared for what’s to come. Think you’ve covered all your bases? Use our List of To-Do’s created by UMBC’s Office of Professional Programs‘ staff to double-check that you’re set up for success. It’s important to note that certificate programs and graduate programs may have different requirements.

Applying to Grad School 101


The best way to make sure you’re prepared for applying to grad school is to research the program and degree as much as possible. Ask others who have attended similar programs. Talk to an advisor or program coordinator. Go on an informational interview with a company where you’d like to work one day and ask about the importance of educational credentials.

Attend an Open House

Applying to grad school begins with knowing what you want to study. If you’re not sure what program interests you the most, consider attending an Open House. At UMBC, a graduate program open house will give you the opportunity to learn about not just one, but ALL of our available programs. You might even learn about a new program that you didn’t know existed such as I/O Psychology, a program that combines science, engineering, and psychology to apply psychological theories to workplace practices. In addition to a new viewpoint, open houses allow you to network with potential peers and professionals in the field in a low-stress environment.

Get Familiar

Have you picked a program yet? If so, it’s time to research the program, what it entails, and what is needed for its application. Make sure to take a look at the program’s website and familiarize yourself with it. Since different programs require different applications, check your program specifically and begin collecting the necessary documents. If you’re still feeling confused or overwhelmed when applying to grad school, try contacting one of our helpful program coordinators to ask for help.

Find Your Fit

Okay, let’s say that now you know which program feels right. Now it’s time to decide what exactly you want out of it. Do you want the opportunity to work for a company that makes a real difference? Do you want to prove to yourself that this is something you’re capable of? Find out what makes this program fit for you and remember it. When applying to grad school, most applications will ask you to write a mission statement and identify the objectives you want to reach. This is the time to show the application reviewer that you want to be part of this program. Prove to them that you are ready to handle it. Claim this time as the time to explain your previous experiences and qualifications. Own the fact that you are an ideal candidate for the program.

Stay Up-To-Date

Now that you know what is required in your application, update those documents accordingly. It’s imperative that your documents showcase your experience and abilities in the best way possible.


Update your resume with relevant projects and experiences that vouch for your capabilities. Even if you don’t have many changes, update your resume to fit that program specifically. If the program website mentioned wanting a proactive student, emphasis the workplace experiences in which you have been proactive. Or list experiences outside of the workplace, like a volunteer position. It’s best to include any information that makes you a more memorable candidate. If you don’t have as much professional experience in the field, do some volunteering! Volunteering shows that you are invested in that field. It also gives you hands-on experience that you’ll likely use.


Make sure that the people you use as references are dependable. They should know you and what you are capable of. If someone seems to be hesitating on if they will write you a recommendation letter, they may not be the best person to ask.

Improve Your GPA

Your application will likely ask for your undergraduate transcript. If there are blemishes on your academic record you want to cover up, don’t worry! There are ways to fix that. Let’s say your GPA isn’t as high as you’d like. Consider taking courses as a non-degree student first. Taking a course or two as a non-degree student and receiving “B”s and higher can allow you to build up an academic track record that shows you are capable of graduate level work. Make sure to know the school’s transfer credit policy first.

Learn from the Past

Let’s say that there are parts of your transcript that aren’t impressive. That’s okay, as long as you know how to explain it. Try using your essay to explain  that you have changed since that time. Discuss your more relevant contributions to the field. Make it about learning from your mistakes, rather than simply regretting them.

Visit UMBC Career Center

UMBC Career Center has lots of resources and information that they can tailor to the individual student. They also host grad school events as well. Visit their site to get started.

The Time for Applying to Grad School is Now!

Covered all your bases? If you’ve done everything necessary to prepare for your application, then go for it! Good luck and grit going!

Join the Conversation

1 Comment

  1. Caroline Bodnar says:

    Another checklist item might be to make a graduate school appointment at the UMBC Career Center. We have lots of resources and information that we can tailor to the individual student and we host grad school events as well. https://careers.umbc.edu/students/gradschool/

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