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Career and Professional Development

» Building a Graduate School Application Strategy

Thinking about graduate school?

Graduate school is a huge commitment and requires strong self-motivation and focus. It’s a time to push yourself more than ever before, but earning a graduate degree gives you an edge over other candidates in today’s competitive market. And when it comes time for advancement, you’ll be given extra consideration. The information below should help you better understand the process and requirements to decide if graduate school’s right for you.

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Researching Programs

Give yourself plenty of time to research your options. Start gathering information, networking, and visiting campuses at least six months before the application process begins.

Consider career choices, the job outlook upon graduation, how responsive the school department is, cost of living, and the safety of the environment and community — you’ll be living there for at least the next two years!=


Graduate and Professional School Visits

Make the most of your campus visit:

  • Take a campus tour

  • Explore the city or town

  • Visit the financial aid office

  • Make an appointment for the admissions interview

  • Sit in on a lecture, if possible

  • Interview current students


  • Grad Source This is a good source of information for programs, admissions, facilities, and expenses to help compare schools. Some schools even offer virtual tours!
  • This site nicely lays out what to consider in regards to attending grad school, including good reasons to attend and bad reasons to attend. Make sure you’re applying for the right reasons! A campus visit is critical for you to be 100% confident in your graduate school choice, but it also helps the admissions office to get to know and like you!

Application Timelines

If you’re considering applying to grad school, you should allow at least one year to research your options. You should start visiting campuses at least six months before the application process begins.

Once you’ve decided to apply to grad school, every decision you make (course schedule, organizations, internships, jobs, etc.) should be made with your ultimate goal of grad school acceptance in mind. Acceptance is the first step to achieving your dream. Keep that determination!


Application Process

Every graduate school application process is unique. The processes for law school, MBA programs, and medical fields are especially unique. If you’re are interested in these, be sure to read their specific information below. All application processes require you to complete their specific admission requirements and pass entrance exams.

Typical Admission Requirements:

  • Bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution of higher education

  • A minimum G.P.A. in the last two years of undergraduate study generally ranging from 2.75 to 3.0 on a 4-point scale

  • Preparation in the proposed field of study (an acceptable G.P.A. on undergraduate coursework can fulfill this)

  • Experience which is relevant to the proposed field of study

  • Personal Statement

Additional Requirements May Include:

  • High score on entrance exam — GRE, MAT, GMAT, LSAT, MCAT

  • Undergraduate transcripts

  • Letters of recommendation

  • Interview

  • Special admission requirements: Work sample or portfolio

Entrance Exams

Most graduate programs require a standardized test score as part of the application procedure. Before you take any graduate school test, make sure you know which test your school or program requires.

The GRE General Test and the GMAT tests are computer-based and can be taken year-round.  You can see your scores immediately after the exam before deciding where to have them sent. Schools receive them in about 10–15 days after testing. The LSAT, MCAT, and GRE Subject (subject-specific) tests are paper-based.


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Is it okay to go to graduate school if you aren't sure what you want to do?

If you have no idea what you want to do, attending graduate school is risky because there is no guarantee that you will have a better idea of what you want to do when you are done. As Robert L. Peters states in his book Getting What You Came For: “If you aren't yet certain what career you want, grad school might give you insight, but there are certainly more cost-effective ways of figuring out your life.” See reasons for attending graduate school.

Do I need to work first before going to graduate school?

It depends. Learn what is expected in your chosen field. Some programs either require or give preference to those who have work experience (MBA programs are classic examples). For other fields, additional education is the minimum requirement for entry-level positions. Once you know the expectations, gauge whether or not you need a break from school, need time to investigate a field further, develop motivation or save money. All of these may be reasons to work before returning to school.

How should I decide what kind of degree to get?

There are a wide variety of degrees that you can get, including a Master's Degree, Ph.D., and a professional degree. It is best to give some thought to what you want to do and then look at the degree that will get you there. This will involve researching career fields. Oftentimes, there is no one simple route to your career goal and no one graduate degree that will fill it. See what graduate / professional school is all about.

What is the difference between a Master's and a Ph.D.?

Generally, a master’s degree is the next level above a bachelor’s degree. It is more intensive study of a selected subject matter and requires 1-3 years of study, depending on the program. A terminal master's program does not lead into a doctoral (Ph.D.) program; a non-terminal master's will. A professional master's degree is designed so that the student can enter the job market without further education. Examples of professional degrees include the Master of Business Administration (MBA) and Master of Education (M. Ed.). An academic master's is usually a Master of Arts or Master of Science followed by, “in biology” or “in art history,” for example. A Ph.D. is the highest academic degree available and is heavily focused on research. Many people who seek Ph.D's want to teach and do research in higher education. A Ph.D. can take from 3-7 years.

My grades aren't the best, but I want to go to graduate school. What can I do?

If you had a bad first semester or two, don't discount your chances of getting into graduate school. The most important grades are your last 60 hours, especially if you can show a gradual, steady improvement in your grades. In general, a 3.0 undergraduate degree is considered the minimum for many graduate programs, although competitive programs have much higher expectations. Excellent graduate entrance exam scores and outstanding recommendations might help overcome low grades. Another approach is to prove that you can handle further education. If you are trying to enter a Ph.D. program right from a bachelor's degree, consider a master's degree first. Another option is to take further undergraduate courses that relate to your intended graduate degree, to prove you are capable of mastering the material.

I have so much debt from my bachelor’s degree. Can I afford to go to graduate school?

Graduate school can be expensive, especially when you calculate lost wages into the total cost. There are good opportunities for financial aid.

How different is graduate school than undergraduate?

In graduate school, you tend to affiliate more with your department than with the institution. The programs are generally more intense with fewer tests, more papers, and more reading. Fewer courses each semester are taken. A full load is no more than 15-16 credit hours; it may be 9-12 hours. A heavier emphasis is placed on research at the doctoral level.

What criteria should I use in selecting schools?

Start by assessing your personal needs and then explore the following areas:

  • Department offerings
  • Flexibility of curriculum
  • Library Resources
  • Research taking place
  • Prominence of professors
  • Teaching/Learning styles
  • Attrition
  • Faculty
  • Female graduate students
  • Work experience
  • Future
  • Flexibility
  • Geography
  • Size
  • Nature of program
  • Quality
  • Student/faculty ratio
  • Opportunities
  • Social activities and interest areas
  • Affirmative action/equal employment
  • Minority students
  • Financial aid
  • Practicum or external experiences

Popular Paths

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Law School (JD)

Decided to apply for law school? Congratulations! Being a lawyer is a demanding and rewarding career. It enables you to devise creative solutions and fight for issues that make a real difference in someone’s life.

Start researching how to get your law degree.

  • Chapman University Dale E. Fowler School of Law Admissions and Admission FAQs.

  • PowerScore Test Prep offers a very nice explanation of application process and a timeline starting from senior undergrad year. It also includes links for different steps of process like the personal statement, letters of recommendation, LSAT prep, etc.)

  • Princeton Review provides a short overview of application process and gives links for tips on personal statements LSAT dates, a free practice test, prep courses, etc.

  • The Girl’s Guide to Law School discusses helpful tips to craft your application to make it as competitive as possible.

  • Admissions Dean provides an in-depth, comprehensive timeline of months starting from junior undergrad year and gives steps proceed through a 24-month application process. It also offers guidance: LSAT, personal statement, etc.

  • thoroughly offers Law School Admissions 101, covering every aspect of the application process.

  • Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) has an in-depth explanation how to apply to law school and the LSAT (Law School Admissions Test).

The LSAT (Law School Admissions Test)

The LSAT measures skills that are essential to succeed in law school:

  • Reading and comprehending complex text with accuracy and insight
  • Organizing and managing information
  • Drawing reasonable inferences
  • Reasoning critically
  • Analyzing and evaluating the reasoning and argument of others

Master of Business Administration (MBA)

Decided to apply for business school? Congratulations! You’ll obtain a broad understanding of business knowledge that’s transferable over a wide variety of industries. There’s a business aspect to all places of employment. A business degree will enable you to be promoted into management positions where you can help guide the success of your organization.

Start researching how to get your business degree.

  • Chapman University Argyros School of Business and Economics Graduate Admissions.

  • HuffPost (Closing the Gender Gap: Educating College Women about the GMAT and Business Careers)

  • ManhattanPrep lists a month-by-month timeline outlining the application process and key milestones (when to contact schools, GMAT testing, how to prepare, how to be an appealing candidate, etc.)

  • The Economist (Ask the Expert: How to Apply to Business School — an article about applying to MBA programs written by a team of former directors of MBA programs across the country. It includes four parts: First Steps, GMAT and other tests, Application Essays, and Letters of Recommendation.)

  • GMAT has a helpful article laying out the application timeline and a checklist. It also offers tips on applying, your personal essay, selecting recommendations, and the interview.


Test Prep: GRE by Vince Kotchian, Lynda Higher Education Library

Medical School and Health Professionals

Decided to apply for a degree in the healthcare profession? Congratulations! Being in the healthcare field enables you to really affect, or maybe even save, a person or animal’s life. Your work will be appreciated not only by your patient, but by their community of friends and family as well. The resources below will help you start researching how to get your healthcare degree.

Start researching how to get your medical/healthcare degree.

The MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test)

The MCAT measures skills that are essential to succeed in a medical school. While you certainly need to know content to score well, the emphasis is on thought process. The test is made up of four timed sections that each evaluate higher-order thinking skills, such as analytical reasoning, abstract thinking, and problem-solving skills.

Postgraduate Fellowships

Fellowships, scholarships, and grants are financial awards for study and research beyond the baccalaureate degree. These can be awarded by private organizations, by academic department, or by institution.

Receiving Post-Graduate Fellowships

Success in finding awards is usually a function of being an outstanding student, providing evidence of leadership experience, contributing to the welfare of your community and having excellent letters of recommendation. Persistence, determination, and thoroughness will enhance your search. Luck and timing can also play a vital role.

Getting Started

Your research should begin at least one year prior to the time you plan to submit an award application. Meet with the advisor for the award, and talk with other faculty. Many deadlines will be in the fall for grants awarded the following spring or next academic year. So, start your search well in advance!

Gathering Information

Generally you will need to obtain the grant information and criteria as well as an application. You will need to collect or prepare letters of recommendation (usually three), official or unofficial copies of your transcript, a list of honors and activities (sometimes a resume is required), and a personal essay or curriculum vita.

The Essay

This may be a personal statement, proposal of study/research, or both. Remember: the essay often is the deciding factor in who is invited to interview.

  • Present personal reflections in your essay. Show how significant experiences are tied together.
  • Have a firm idea of the connections you need to make among the different elements of your experience. Relate these to the fellowship criteria.
  • Talk to insiders. These are the individuals who advise on the particular grant, faculty members in the related area, and former fellows or recipients of the award. Learn about the grand criteria. List aspects of your experience or achievements that relate.
  • Be direct; get to the point. Be specific and demonstrate ideas with examples. The essay is usually short - about 1,000 words.

Prepare yourself to talk about every aspect of the essay in an interview. Do not include something that you cannot elaborate on in an interview.

Ask two or three professors to read and critique your essay. Write at least three drafts and have someone proofread the final draft.

Letters of Recommendation

Selection committees examine these to flesh out the details of your application and worthiness. Choose your references carefully. Usually they are your faculty advisors or your professors. Talk with these advisors - do they feel they can write a supportive letter? Can they comment on what you want to reflect in your application package? Prepare a packet of information for these references including: a list of your honors and activities, a copy of your transcript, class papers you completed for them, information about the award, and a copy of your proposal for study or research.

Ask for Assistance

To obtain information about the kinds of services Chapman provides in assisting students who wish to explore and pursue fellowships and scholarships, please contact the office of Fellowship and Scholar Programs

Fellowship Listings

Follow this link to Chapman University’s fellowships and scholarship listings page.


Many of these links are managed by organizations other than Chapman University. Always use caution and your best personal judgement when disclosing your personal information. These links are being provided as a convenience and for informational purposes only; they do not constitute an endorsement or an approval by Chapman University of any of the products, services or opinions of the corporation or organization or individual. Chapman University bears no responsibility for the accuracy, legality or content of the external site or for that of subsequent links.

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