4 steps to craft an outstanding graduate program application

Boost your confidence and achieve academic excellence

Headshot of Derrya Mathis

Derrya Mathis, outreach and engagement intern

Hi, I'm Derrya. I was recently in the process of applying to grad school. I personally found the application process a little daunting. 

After seeking advice and utilizing the resources available to me here in the College of Allied Health Sciences, I found a few tips that gave me the confidence I needed to take the next steps for my career. Here are some tips I used that I think might be helpful to you, too!

1) Map out a timeline

When applying to graduate school, it is easiest to begin reviewing the application time line at least two years before the intended enrollment date. Most graduate applications require that applicants submit their materials at least nine to 12 months before the intended enrollment date. For example, students applying to begin graduate school during any of the following semesters: summer 2024, fall 2024 or spring 2025, began their applications for their prospective professions common application beginning in summer 2023.

After creating a calendar of your application deadlines for the common application for your profession and the program-specific applications, you can begin to consider the objective and subjective information that will compile your applicant package. Many graduate programs require a minimum of two positive letters of recommendation. Because the content of a recommendation letter requires compassionate planning, it is considered most respectful to allow your recommender at least one month to complete such a task.

Overall, this is a tedious process, but with adequate planning, it is quite manageable around a full course load, as is the experience of many students applying for graduate programs.

2) Acquire the required applicant materials

Now it's time for the fun part: Show the programs you are applying to just how great you are! Optimize the objective and subjective information you share in the required documents. Objective information can be proven through fact and or observation. 

Examples might include: 

  1.  Official college transcripts
  2. Employment/experience resume
  3. Service learning/volunteer work experience log

Subjective information is based on personal experience and interpretation, and the items used in applications are personal statements, recommendations and supplemental essays. These documents can help programs learn more about the personal life experiences that guided the applicant to make a decision.

Examples might include:

  1. Personal statement or letter of intent/purpose
  2. Recommendation letters
  3. Supplemental program essay

3) Begin initial review

Give yourself a pat on the back! You have finally compiled all the necessary applicant information, and you think that you are ready to click that submit button — wait! Before submitting, allow another person to review your subjective data for clarity, grammar and understanding.

It's normal to go over your personal statement. When you arrive at a point where you think your work is absolutely perfect, hand it to someone who you trust to be unbiased and honest. It might also be beneficial to submit your essay to the University of Cincinnati’s Academic Writing Center. It's easy to get lost in your story and lose sight of grammar and clarity. 

Getting adequate feedback should allow you to gain confidence in your own story, which is necessary for the continuation of the graduate application process. 

4) The interview

Most graduate programs require an interview at some point in the admissions process. Much like a pre-employment interview, the graduate application interview allows the program to learn more about your personality, communication style and ability to digest information.

Talking about yourself is hard for most people because it makes you the center of attention, but it can become an easier task through preparation and practice.

First, graduate programs use various online interviewing software you might not have used before. It's important to familiarize yourself with the interviewing platform you will be required to use. Doing so will alleviate unnecessary anxiety about technical components, allowing you to focus on the conversation that will ensue. 

Look up common interview questions for graduate interviews. There are many resources you can find online to help you prepare! Questions are typically about your personality, educational background, motivation for learning and excitement for your future profession and university. Prepare for questions that seek to understand how you work in group settings with others who are different from you and how you can lead a team.

Before the interview, I'd like you to practice answering questions under a time constraint. It's best practice to be concise and allow time for as many questions as possible within a given time frame. That said, asking for additional time to ponder the question and consider your response is OK. When practicing, time yourself a lot for around a minute of probation time after each question.

Above all else, aim to be authentic! If there's one thing I can guarantee, it's that you're the best at being you. You're the expert! Speak confidently as you answer questions and use honesty to share from the heart when responding to questions.

Featured image at top: A person types on a laptop. Photo/Glenn Carstens-Peters via Unsplash

Headshot of Derrys Mathis

Derrys Mathis

Outreach and engagement intern, CAHS Student Affairs

Apply to graduate school

Start your graduate school journey with confidence.

Visit the College of Allied Health Sciences at the University of Cincinnati for resources and support. Turn your academic dreams into reality. View the complete list of graduate programs in the College of Allied Health Sciences.

Related Stories


Uplifting stories help #UCtheGood

July 16, 2020

UC Marketing + Communications gathers recent uplifting stories to help the community focus on the good during coronavirus pandemic.