Grad Apps: Application Components

Hi All,

We are back with our 4th post on the graduate applications series. Before this, we have covered GRE, TOEFL and Choosing Grad Schools. So, if you have missed them you might want to check them out. In this post we are going to get into the essential components of each application and give a brief overview of each of them. SO, without further delay let's get into it. 

There are mainly 6 essential components of Graduate School Applications.

Application Form

This is the easiest part. You will need to fill one or two online application form depending on the school. Generally, if there are two application forms, one is for the university and one is for the department you are applying to. You should get the detailed process and order to fill them  from the program website. Application forms generally ask details about your education, personal information, full CV/Resume, program choice, other program related questions like potential supervisor interests, funding information etc. They also act as a portal to upload other application components like Statement of Purpose, Recommendation Letters and Transcript scans. In general you should keep at least an hour time on your hands to complete an application form. They can be lengthy and you should mistakes at all costs. One of the most problematic mistake is if you enter your official name not exactly same as it appears on passport. So, look out for these things.


There are several ways in which grad schools ask for transcripts:

  • Most top schools ask for only scanned unofficial transcripts for decision making purposes. If you are accepted only then you will have to send sealed official transcripts via courier. The instructions will be present on their  website. You just need to keep your eyes open.
  • Some schools ask for official transcript to be mailed during the application time itself. In these cases you have to be careful as if you miss the delivery and/or your delivery does not reach proper address your application shall not be processed in a timely manner.
  • Some, mostly lower tire schools  will ask you to send your transcript some online transcript delivery system like "certiFile". This processes cost extra money (well, so does sending a courier). Be careful to read the instructions and act accordingly to avoid unnecessary hassles.

Statement of Purpose (SOP)

Statement of purpose is one of the two most important components of your application. There are many applicants applying to top schools with  very strong academic  and/or professional background. What in most cases distinguishes them other than letter of Recommendations is SOP. 

An SOP is in general  a 2-3 page long essay you have to write on your own and submit as part of the application. 

SOP reflects the following things about an applicant:
  1. Why the student is interested in the field of study he is applying to.
  2. Why this particular graduate school is best fit for the student.
  3. Personal/Cultural background and mentality of the student i.e.if the student will be fit to work in a research group environment.
  4. How does the applicants analyze his past experience. Remeber, your CV is a list of your past experience. But, your SOP should reflect what you think you learned from that experience and how it is affecting your current endeavours.
  5. If you have any plans/ research ideas/potential supervisors you want to work with, SOP is a good place to reflect that. That does not mean you have to worship the prof you want to work with. Just stating the interest and the reasoning behind may be good enough to get you an interview with the said prof or someone from a similar field of study.
  6. Last but not least, your English writing skills. ALthough TOEFL and GRE reflects the same too, but they are standardised tests and they can be fooled sometimes. But, an independent writing like SOP opens up a separate evaluation criterian.
We shall have a separate post solely on SOP later on our Grad Apps series. So, stay tuned.

Letters of Recommendation (LOR)

Most grad schools ask for 3 recommendation letters. An SOP reflects your own view of yourself to the reviewers. And the LORs reflect 3rd person view of an applicant. So, it is important to understand that these two aspects of the application are the most distinguishing among applicant pool. Many people have strong academic background but very few can present a compelling personal and 3rd person view of themselves. 

In general for LORs you have to give email ID  and other contact details of the recommenders on the application portals. Your recommenders will receive an email describing the process of uploading the same. You don't need to worry about the same. What you want to worry about is whether they remember to write your letter. Else, you may remind them occasionally. This is not uncommon since your recommenders will in general busy persons like your lab supervisor, project manager, professor etc. 

Always waive the write to view your recommendation letters as this acts  as a trust gesture towards the recommender. I did not do so and got mails from two of my recommenders  recommending me to do the same in future.

A recommendation letter reflects the following:
  1. Your research potential. Words of a renowned researcher (with possibly high h-index and i-10 index)  shall definitely give anextra edge to your application.
  2. How it feels to interact with you. A good recommendation letter shall not only talk about research/project work. It will also talk about how nice it is to interact with you in real life.
  3. Where does the recommender rank you among the students he has come across throughout his career.
  4. Testimony for your communication skills,
  5. Any other notable points about you the recommender may think makes you suitable for the program you are applying to. e.g. examples of your diligent behaviour etc.
Obviously you won't in general be able to tell your recommender to write this this and this. But if he is an experienced person he will know what to write.  Your job is to select the correct persons to ask to be your recommender.

We will have a separate post detailing on LOR and what kind of experiences applicants face while hunting for the same. Stay tuned for the same.


This section varies depending on university requirements. SO, read the FAQ and instruction pages for the program you are applying to very carefully. Some schools don't ask for GRE at all. But most schools shall ask for TOEFL/IELTS especially if you are not a native English speaker. Sometime your TOEFL/IELTS requirement may be waived if you are undergrad from a renowned university which uses English as its primary "Language of Instruction". 

Otherwise, as discussed earlier in previous posts on GRE and TOEFLyou have to send official TOEFL and/or GRE scores through ETS paying the required amount each time (for each application).

Application Payments 

Your application will be considered complete only when you pay the application fee (generally $80-$100) before the deadline (around December 15  for most top schools). Most schools shall only accept Credit Cards for the payment. Hence, it will be very helpful if you arrange for a credit card in advance. Some schools shall allow you to modify the application even after the payment, some won't. That is one more thing to keep in mind while deciding to finally pay and complete the application.

We hope this discussion about different components of a Grad School Application was useful to you.

The next posts of our Grad Applications series shall deal with Statement of Purpose and Letters of Recommendations.

Let us know your thoughts in the comments. If you want to support the good work, subscribe and like the page on facebook.  Bye bye! Until the next post.


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