Applying to online graduate programs can feel quite overwhelming. Fortunately, it will be much more manageable if you can gather your materials and use our single application process. Throughout this guide, we’ll break down each of the tasks you’ll likely need to complete while applying to online graduate programs.
What are the basic components?
Most graduate programs will require applicants to submit a fairly standard list of items. Common graduate college admission requirements include:
An online application with a submission fee
A complete transcript, including your undergraduate degree, granting institution, and GPA
Your standardized test scores, though the tests required will vary based on the program, and some schools don’t require these at all
Two or three letters of recommendation
A personal statement about your goals and interest in the program
An overview of your work experience
Graduate programs will often require you to also complete the following steps before they make their final admission decision:
Submit an updated resume
Share a portfolio with relevant work samples
And in some cases, complete an interview with the admissions committee
With Pearson Pathways, you’ll be able to simplify your search and application process. You won’t have to sift through admission requirements across schools and keep track of dates and progress. Everything you need will be gathered in one spot so you can be sure not to miss anything.
Comparing admission requirements for online graduate programs
There are a few aspects that make applying to online graduate programs different than other degrees:
Testing requirements vary
While some schools will require you to submit your scores, others won’t.
Work experience matters
While your academic background is certainly important, graduate programs may find your work experience and professional goals more relevant to the admissions process.
Graduate programs are competitive
According to the results of a 2019 survey from the Graduate Management Admission Council, schools received, on average, 2.8 applications per open seat in their graduate programs.
That competition is probably due to how valuable employers and graduates consider these degrees to be. The same report found that 86% of employers believed business school graduates would make for successful employees.
Admissions to nursing programs can be competitive and require a high GPA to be considered, but a graduate degree can lead to roles that double your salary.
You might have to complete an interview
While some graduate programs in other fields do not require an interview for admission, many business programs do require them, especially for an MBA.
Should you apply to programs with rolling or fixed admissions ?
This depends on your personal priorities for your online graduate program experience.
“Fixed admission” refers to schools that will accept applications for the coming term only before a predetermined date. Usually, this deadline is in the fall or winter for admission during the following academic year.
“Rolling admissions” means that schools will accept and review applications on an ongoing basis. According to U.S. News & World Report, rolling admission is available at approximately 35% of the schools it classifies as National Universities.
Keep this in mind when considering rolling or fixed admissions:
Prioritize which school best suits your needs, not its application requirements.
Remember that even if you’re applying to a program with rolling admissions, you should still try to submit your application early in the admission cycle.
Take into account your personal needs. Some people benefit from having an external deadline. Apply to some programs with fixed admissions if you think it will help you stay on track.
The components of your application
Let’s take a look at each part of the application process.
One-stop application submission
Submitting applications used to be a process that included fees and keeping track of multiple moving pieces at once. At Pearson, we wanted to make that process as seamless as possible. Now you have a single application that you can submit to multiple universities. We’ll keep track of your progress and let you know when deadlines are approaching. Oh, and the best part? It’s free!
How important is your transcript for graduate program admission?
Submitting your undergraduate transcript is an integral part of the graduate program admission process.
Under most circumstances, the graduate program will need to verify that you’ve earned an undergraduate degree from an accredited institution. Competitive programs will also look for:
A high GPA
Honors or distinctions you earned upon graduation
Alignment between your undergraduate degree and field of study
The reputation of your undergraduate institution
Don’t worry too much if it seems like your undergraduate major is not closely related to your current educational and career objectives. Share how your goals and priorities have evolved in other parts of your application, like your personal statement.
The degree to which your undergraduate experience will influence your chances of acceptance depends on how competitive the admission process is for your desired school. In many cases, undergraduate performance won’t be the final determining factor.
When you use Pathways to submit applications, we’ll request the transcripts you need on your behalf. You focus on the application and we’ll coordinate the transcript files.
Testing and graduate programs
Many graduate programs require you to submit standardized test scores from either the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT). However, there are highly respected schools that don’t require the GMAT or the GRE.
For schools that do require applicants to submit exam results, the program will sometimes publish the score ranges of previously admitted students. Use these to determine if your test results are compatible with admission standards in the program. Remember that you can take these exams more than once. High test scores may also lead to a more generous award letter if you’re accepted.
Start preparing to take the appropriate test based on the online graduate program you hope to attend.
Who should write your letters of recommendation?
You may need to submit letters of recommendation with your application. Recommendation letters should be written by individuals who can speak objectively about your experience.
Here are some pointers:
Go the professional route
Ideally, recommendations should be provided by current and past direct supervisors. Pay attention to the guidelines from individual online graduate programs, though. Some may specifically ask for an academic reference to be included, too.
Give your recommenders lots of time
Provide at least a few weeks’ notice before you need to submit their recommendations. Be sure to avoid rushing your recommenders during times when you know they’ll be busy.
Know where the letters need to go
To ensure their integrity, your recommendations will likely need to be submitted directly by the letter writers. Resources are available to streamline this process and avoid multiple systems.
Help your letter writers get specific
Some schools may ask your recommenders to write their letter from scratch, and writing prompts can be helpful in these situations. Ask your recommenders to share specific examples, and provide them with an up-to-date resume so they know your current title and how you talk about your accomplishments.
In particular, ask letter writers to discuss:
Your unique qualifications
Professional habits and work-related skills you possess
Accomplishments or honors you earned while working with the recommender
Make a strong personal statement
A strong personal statement clearly articulates your goals and qualifications while highlighting how the online graduate program is a good fit for these attributes.
Individual programs will likely have their own guidelines. Adhere to their length requirements and answer any questions the school has outlined.
Here are some general tips for writing a graduate program personal statement:
Start the process of writing your personal statement by looking at your application as a whole. How do you think you come across? What do you think the admissions department will want to know about you based on your academic background, work history, test scores, and recommendations?
Don’t dwell too much on anything that could be perceived as an obstacle to admission, but do use this opportunity to succinctly share any acceptable reasons for specific issues. For example, did your GPA drop due to a family emergency while you were in college? You might want to quickly mention this fact and highlight how it improved after the event.
Focus on how your goals align with the specific program. Is there a faculty member there who is an expert in a field you want to pursue? Does this program offer a concentration that’s not available elsewhere?
Include descriptive examples that demonstrate your aptitude and commitment to completing the program. Explain how you intend to use your experiences in this online graduate program to grow your career in the future.
Does work experience impact your admission prospects?
Demonstrating relevant professional experience is key
Admission departments look more favorably on your application if you can demonstrate that you have professional experience related to your program’s specialization or focus.
Shine a spotlight on your workplace accomplishments
The average grad student spends 1-2 years in the workforce between undergraduate and graduate studies. Work experience paired with a high GPA is a winning combo.
Show them how you’ve grown in your career
More important than the amount of time you’ve been working, however, is evidence of growth and progression in your career. Admissions departments want to see that you’ve acquired new abilities on the job and have been recognized for your efforts.
The specific kinds of experience that are important to your online graduate program may be based on a combination of two factors:
Schools might want to see evidence that you have a background related to the program’s specialty or area of focus.
Programs may want to assemble a well-rounded cohort. So, highlight if you bring something unique to the program that your classmates could benefit from.
Explain any gaps in your work experience
Also, make it clear if there’s a good reason for a significant gap in your resume. For instance, if you took time off to care for a sick relative, you might want to quickly explain that circumstance during your personal statement or interview. If applicable, highlight any unpaid work or volunteer professional experience you acquired with a nonprofit or community organization during that time.
How do you create a resume for an online graduate program?
A professional resume will help your work experience stand out when your application is being reviewed.
Some high-level thought-starters for developing a quality resume include:
Review your resume to ensure it is cleanly and consistently formatted as well as free of errors. Proof it. Run it through a spelling and grammar check.
Tailor the descriptions in your job history to the specific programs you’re targeting. Rearrange bullet points with the most relevant content toward the top.
Use action verbs to describe your responsibilities and accomplishments. For example, saying you “prepared reports” might undersell your achievements. What about saying you “reported” specific metrics?
For more comprehensive resume assistance, check out our Resume Resource Guide.
What goes into an online graduate school portfolio?
Graduate programs may require you to submit a portfolio along with your other application materials. If this is the case, pay careful attention to the kinds of work samples they’d like to see.
If the guidelines are fairly loose, make sure to provide a brief written overview of the documents you’re including. Explain to the admissions staff exactly what it is you’re sharing with them.
Where possible, you should include work samples that:
Highlight personal contributions you made, not just broad-based team efforts. Share how you shaped the project.
Show a lasting impact. Focus on projects that were fully executed, not just draft attempts that were not completed.
Achieve verifiable value for the business. Include reports or testimonials that show how the project influenced your company or team.
After you submit your application
Successful applicants for online graduate programs may be invited to participate in an interview. Here’s some advice to prepare for a face-to-face.
Prepare for the interview
When you interview for a graduate program, there’s some simple advice you can follow to help you leave a positive impression.
During your graduate admissions interview:
Come prepared. Think carefully about your work history and be ready to cite specific examples from your professional life in response to common interview questions.
Do your research. Review information about the program requirements and its history. Know your interviewer and look them up beforehand to better understand their relationship to the program.
We’ve created a separate Resource Guide where you’ll find more comprehensive information about interviewing tips and strategies.
Start the application process today
It seems like an applicant’s work is never done. However, it’s much more manageable with careful planning, considerate coordination, and the Pathways single application. You may even be able to reuse some of these materials when you try to find scholarships or apply for financial aid. Let’s take the next step in your learning journey.