Applying to Graduate School

The following is general information about applying to graduate school

Most graduate programs have deadlines in the fall and winter for admissions for the following academic year, and require three letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, GRE scores, college transcripts, details about extracurricular activities and a writing sample (honors thesis or seminar paper). Language skills and practical training in the field and/or on the job is highly recommended.

The UCLA Career Center offers many workshops throughout the year regarding graduate school (how to apply, information on writing a personal statement, etc.) as well as a Letters of Reference Service. Other workshops on getting into graduate school may be offered through the College of Letters & Science, and are available for signup via your MyUCLA page.

When considering going to graduate school, it is important to evaluate your reasons for doing so. Graduate school is a huge commitment. Make sure you choose a program that fits your needs and will help you achieve your goals.

If you want to work in the "real world" before heading to graduate school, there are many positions available to recent graduates. Find out what alums have done with their International Instititute major or minor by visiting the Alumni & Current Student Directory.   Find alumni who work in your area of interest. Of course, use the services provided through the UCLA Career Center for assistance in obtaining a job, and also do your own internet search for current opening.

The Application Process

When applying to graduate school, make sure you complete all portions of the application and submit all supplemental materials. If your application is incomplete when reviewed, it could significantly lower your chances of being accepted. The UCLA Career Center walks you through the application process in their website.

It is important to keep track of important dates and deadlines during the application process. Make sure that you have taken the necessary tests and completed the required courses in time to meet each school's deadline.

Choosing Graduate Programs

In choosing the graduate schools to which you want to apply, you should examine the following:

  • Faculty research interests: It is important to identify a graduate faculty advisor who has research interests similar to your own. Departmental webpages (with faculty research statements) are useful tools for locating and e-mailing potential advisors.
  • Areas of specialization and degree of flexibility allowed in the graduate curriculum
  • Research interests of current graduate students in the program, e.g., UCLA Geography Department
  • Alumni Placement: Inquire as to where alumni are working. Does the university offer career services? What is the employment rate of graduates? Are graduates from this program being hired in the areas that you are interested in? 
  • The department's connections to other centers or institutes on campus, such as International Institutes, Centers for Development Studies, and Area Studies centers

Use this information to determine whether the department has people who work in the same areas in which you have an interest, and whether the department has resources, or connections to resources, that will give you the academic support you need in pursuing your research interests.

Advice from a Current Faculty Mentor

It is important to develop academic or research relationships with faculty members during your undergraduate career. These relationships will enable you to explore your own interests, will provide valuable letters of recommendation, and will allow you to pursue advice from someone established in your field of interest. It is worthwhile to ask your research sponsor or professors which universities are well-known (and well-respected) in your field of interest.

Happiness of Current Graduate Students

Once you have identified potential universities to apply to, it may be helpful to contact current graduate students (ask the Department's Graduate Admissions Office if there are any students willing to talk to potential students). By doing so, you can get a personal perspective on the program and faculty projects. Be sure to already have reviewed the curriculum and requirements to show that you have a great interest and understanding of the program. Some questions you may ask include, "Did you feel overburdened with coursework, teaching, and research requirements? Is the suggested time to complete the M.A. or Ph.D. feasible? Are you satisfied with your graduate education thus far? How much financial support is provided, and do you have to pay tuition/fees?" Remember that another student's satisfaction or disappointment with the program does not guarantee yours, but obtaining information about the program from a potential peer's perspective will enable you to make an informed decision as to the suitability of graduate programs.

A website that you might want to check out is the National Association of Graduate-Professional Students'  National Doctoral Program Survey.

Funding Graduate School

Inquire with individual schools regarding tuition/fees, the amount of guaranteed support (if any), Teaching Assistant opportunities, etc.

UCLA mantains an online database that lists a vast amount of finacial assistance opportunities for graduate students: Graduate and Postdoctoral Extramural Support

Be sure to visit the UCLA Scholarship Resource Center to look into fellowships & scholarships that you can apply to as an undergraduate to finance your first year of graduate school.

Making Yourself a Competitive Candidate

Gaining Internship Experience

Internships can help show that you value learning inside and outside of the classroom.  Students interested in non-profit or governmental organizations should check out the IDS Internship & Volunteer Resource List.  Other resources include theUCLA Career Center Internship & International OpportunitiesBruin View Database of local, national, and international jobs and internships (paid and unpaid) and the UCLA Center for Community Learning.

Gaining Research Experience

UCLA offers some wonderful opportunities to gain research experience and even earn course credit for doing so. Experience can be obtained through participation in the Student Research Program (SRP). SRP is open to all undergraduates but designed mainly for lower division students as an entry-level research experience. The centers provide workshops for students interested in participating in SRP and counseling to help individual students to identify faculty mentors. Contact the Undergraduate Research Center for Students majoring in the Humanities and the Social Sciences, A334 Murphy Hall, 310.825.2935,

More experienced students should consider conducting independent research through Independent Studies courses (199s).  Highly motivated IDS majors and SEAS majors might consider participating in their IDP's Departmental Honors Program.

Conferences: Present Your Research

Journals: Publish Your Research

Letters of Recommendation

From the UCLA Career Center: Letters of recommendation should outline specific accomplishments that you have achieved and should tie into why you are an exceptional candidate. Most schools ask for three to five letters of recommendation. Admissions committees prefer references from faculty who can evaluate your academic performance and graduate school potential. Approach faculty members early in the fall of your senior year to give them time to write before their other academic pressures mount. Schedule meetings with your recommendation writers to discuss your reasons for going to graduate school and why you are applying to specific programs. Provide an abstract of courses taken and grades received, projects completed, and a concise description of graduate school and career plans. The UCLA Career Center offers a Letter of Recommendation service.

Graduate Record Exam (GRE) and Other Tests

Almost every graduate school requires certain entrance examinations. Although the most widely used test is the GRE, please refer to each school for specific requirements.


Exam Preparation Assistance:

Statement of Purpose

The Statement of Purpose is the part of the application where you will write about yourself in essay format. You will include information that will let the admissions committee know who you are, how the education you've already received has shaped you, how you see yourself fitting into their particular graduate program, and what you plan to do with your graduate degree.

The UCLA Career Center offers tips on writing this document. You can also do an internet search for many sites that offer advice on this topic, e.g., some of which were written by professors who review graduate applications.

The best assistance and feedback on your own personal statement for graduate school can come from your current faculty advisor. If you are assisting in a research lab or doing fieldwork, ask your supervisor to proofread and comment on your personal statement. You may also seek assistance from the UCLA Covel Commons Composition Lab. They offer assistance with Personal Statements (approaches to writing and help with spelling and grammar). Call 310-206-1491 for an appointment.

Low GPA/GRE: Prove Yourself in Other Ways

  • Compensate with additional relevant experience (e.g., Research/internships), leading to stronger letters of recommendation
  • E-mail potential advisors at the desired universities. If they know who you are (and your experience) when reviewing new applications, they may help.
  • Apply to additional second tier schools/programs that generally have less strict requirements). Check out US News and World Report for rankings of Graduate and Professional schools
  • Consider completing a terminal Master's Degree program before applying to a Ph.D. program

General Sites

Best of luck to you!