Are You Thinking About Applying to Graduate School?
Here you will find information about suggested timelines and recommendations for the application process.
Graduate School Timeline:
In your first year, we recommend you look into what Graduate school is and if it is the right fit for you and your future goals.
What is Graduate School?
Graduate school is an advanced program taken after the completion of an undergraduate degree. A graduate program is typically focused on a particular academic discipline or profession. Graduate programs center on generating research in a specific discipline, developing skills and knowledge for a specific profession or a combination of both.
There are two different types of degrees:
1. Master's Degrees
- are typically offered in many fields of study
- can be a degree leading to a doctoral degree or a profession
- typically take 2 years to complete
2. Doctoral Degrees
- these are the highest degree possible
- typically require the creation of new knowledge through research
- typically take 5-7 years to complete (including the time to write and defend a dissertation)
Why should you consider it?
- Long term/higher earning potential
- Most people think more school = more money, however there are great financial packages from institutions, grants, TA positions, and campus jobs to supplement
- Most programs are only 1-2 years
- More marketable skills
Consider participating in the Undergraduate Research Conference. This is a great way to get involved, get experience and make yourself stand out!
How to Narrow Your Focus
You have decided you would like to pursue graduate school following your undergraduate degree. Your second year is time to narrow your focus and determine what you are interested in.
Things to consider:
- What area are you interested in studying?
- Are you wanting to do research or a degree for a specific professional program?
Once you know these, start to research graduate programs.
- the program layout
- the courses
- the intake average
- the faculty (Are there faculty who have similar areas of interest for research?)
- the program & school mission, vision, & values
- get recommendations from your faculty
- speak to current students in the program
These considerations will help you narrow down your top choices of institutions & programs.
How to Apply to Graduate School
Third year is the time to start looking into your top school's application processes.
Start to draft your application pieces, seek feedback from a Career Counsellor, Faculty, and your peers.
*It is significantly easier to write quality applications when you are not under stress of meeting deadlines.*
See below for details on how to develop your application.
Look into & apply for Funding
Research, review, and look into funding and scholarships. Often the application deadlines for funding are due before program applications are due.
Look into funding options within your chosen institution, as well as external funding agencies.
In your fourth year, you should start to gather your references and complete your application.
Gather Your References
You should have already started approaching your references. Now is the time to start to collect them and provide clear deadlines for when you need them by.
Start Your Application
Start to compile your application package for your program(s) of choice in the Fall semester. Review your application pieces, make any necessary edits or updates, and follow up with your references.
If you are hoping to start your graduate program the fall after your graduation, applications typically close in January.
How to Apply to Graduate School
Letters of recommendation or reference are typically required for graduate school applications. While the number of letters vary school to school, typically they ask for three. It is recommended that you only submit the required number of references, as the Admissions committees may not review extra materials.
Who should you ask?
The best people to ask for letters of recommendation are the people that know you well and can provide an evaluation of your ability to succeed and meet graduate level academic requirements.
Each institution will tell you what kind of reference letters they are looking for. Usually they require academic references and a personal reference.
The best people to ask for a reference are:
- someone who knows you well
- A professor you know well
- Someone who has earned the degree you are seeking to take
- Someone with an advanced degree who has supervised you in a job or internship that aligns with the program you are pursuing
- Someone who has academically evaluated you in your high level courses
When do you ask for reference letters?
Be considerate of your letter writers' time and try to approach them at least two months before you need the letter. The sooner the better.
If you plan to take time off before applying for graduate school, don't wait to ask for reference letters. Your professors may leave that institution, go on leave, or may not remember you as well if you wait too long.
How to ask for a Letter of Recommendation/Reference?
Start in your undergraduate years by making an effort to get to know your professors. You can do this by speaking up in class, choosing courses with small class sizes, taking more than one course from the same professor, becoming a Research Assistant or Teaching Assistant, attending office hours or departmental gatherings, etc.
When you ask someone to provide a letter of recommendation be sure to ask if they feel they know you and your work well enough to write a good letter. Folks can feel uncomfortable saying "no" even if they don't feel like they can write a strong or positive endorsement. You do not want a negative letter submitted on your behalf, and this gives a potential reference a graceful out.
What information will a Reference need?
Once someone has agreed to write a letter of recommendation, be sure to provide them will all the information they may need. This can include, but is not limited to the program(s) you are applying to, your contact information, how to submit the letters, recommendation forms (if required), your unofficial transcripts, your draft statement of intent and draft statement of research, a copy of your best works (essays, projects, lab evaluations, etc.) with instructor comments, your resume, and what skills you are hoping they will highlight. This will ensure that the letter includes concrete details about you, not just your grades and that your letters have breadth (i.e. they are not all referencing the same quality).
The more detailed the letter, the more it highlights the reference's knowledge of you, your work, and your potential, the more credible it will be.
Statement of Research Interest/Research Statement
What is a Research Statement?
It is a short document that outlines your experience with research and the future research you hope/intend to complete. A research statement can be a major factor in the admissions committee decision, as it helps them determine if the applicant's interests and past experience fit with the program and institution.
This is also your opportunity to show off your academic writing skills. The Admissions Committee wants to know what your research area of interest is; what your dream is.
You want your statement of research intent to capture people's attention!
What should it look like?
Typically they are one to two single spaced pages. Be sure to read and stay within the length and content requirements for each program application.
What should it include?
- The research questions you are interested in answering on a broad level
- Articulate your specific area of interest, even if it isn't fully formed
- Share a brief history of your past research
- What did you initially set out to answer?
- What did you find?
- How did it contribute to your field? (academic publications, conferences, collaborations)
- How did you past research propel you forward?
- Address any present research
- What questions are you actively researching?
- What have you found so far?
- How is it connected to the larger academic world? (publications, upcoming conferences or other professional engagements)
- What are the implications for your work?
- Describe the future trajectory you intend to take your research
- What questions do you want to solve?
- How do you intend to get these answers?
- How can the institution you are applying to help?
- Are there broader implications of your potential results?
- Make sure you show progression in your work
Make sure that your research idea has not been overdone and that it can be completed at the institution you are applying to.
Be confident in yourself. This is your opportunity to share your motivation and passion.
It is important to note that your Statement of Research Intent and Statement of Intent/Motivation may be combined depending on the institutions' application processes.
Statement of Intent/Motivation
What is a Statement of Intent?
A statement of intent can also be called a statement of motivation, personal statement, letter of intent, or statement of interest. This is one of the more important documents in your application. This is a typically a short essay where you sell yourself to the Admissions Committee through your undergraduate degree/education, extracurriculars and work experience, demonstrating that you are a serious candidate.
What should be included?
your opportunity to tell the Admissions Committee:
- A brief description of the research topic you are interested in
- The faculty that you are interested in and how your research topic connects to their areas of interest
- How your previous experiences and education have prepared you for graduate school
- Mention any publications, presentations, or conferences you have been a part of
- What you hope to achieve through the program
- Why you are interested in that particular program
- That you have done your research into the school
Essentially, you are trying to prove that you are a good fit for the program and institution, focused, motivated and excited.
Things to remember:
You may need to start over a few times before you get it where you want it to be. There is no template for how to do this or one-size-fits all format.
It should reflect your personality and meet the school's requirements. Be yourself & be unique.
- Make sure you follow each program's specific guidelines (i.e. word limits, pages, answering specific questions, etc.)
- Customize your statement to each program you are applying to. Institutions want to see that you have researched their school and that there is a reason you want to attend their program. Highlight connections between your research, the faculty and your future goals.
- Seek feedback and ask for help. Show your statement to people you trust for proof reading and feedback. Speak to your references and your faculty.
- Be concise. Typically, these should be no longer than one page, so make sure you keep it succinct.
- Proofread. Check for spelling and grammar! Little mistakes make it possible for your application to be overlooked.
What is a CV?
A CV or Curriculum Vitae is similar to a resume, but more detailed. A CV is credential-based and provides a summary of your experience and skills. CVs are longer than resumes and include more information related to your research and academic background.
What should be included in a CV?
A CV should provide a comprehensive list of your education, certifications, research experience, professional affiliations/memberships and experience.
You want to highlight your academic achievements over your professional experiences. Include both, but provide more information about your education.
- Your Alma Mater
- The diploma you earned
- When you graduated
- Some of the relevant courses you took
- Academic awards you earned
- Volunteer work
- Teaching experience
How to structure a CV?
- Header with your name & contact information
- Clearly defined sections (i.e. Education, Relevant work experience, Areas of Scientific Interest, Laboratory skills and techniques, etc.)
- Research Interests
- Honours and Awards
- Teaching Experiences
- Work Experiences
- Computer Skills
- Language Skills
- Brief descriptions (usually 2-4 bullet points)
- Organized in reverse chronological order (most recent to least).
Proofread, proofread, proofread!
Check out https://ccv-cvc.ca/ for resources on developing a Canadian Common CV!