Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo

How to Navigate Graduate School Applications

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Concordia CA chapter.

It’s that time of the year again. Application deadlines for graduate school are just around the corner. For myself, and I’m sure for many others, this process is similar to applying for an undergraduate degree. There is a familiar sense of confusion, stress and unknowing, but excitement, perseverance and learning also fill our minds as we navigate this process.


The way that graduate school applications are often set up assumes that prospective students should suddenly be academically and financially autonomous in their application process. However, we are just students, only having scratched the surface of academia in our undergraduate degree.


That being said, I’ve compiled a list of tips and tricks that have helped myself (and others) to manage stress and put our best foot forward as we work on our applications!



Attend an Open House

If you’re thinking about graduate school, one of the most crucial steps is visiting the institution that you want to apply to. This can help give prospective students a better understanding of the program, a chance to talk to professors and program directions and to get clarification on the program specific application procedures. Studies at the graduate level are much more specific than undergraduate degrees. Many programs are thesis-based and your time spent studying will be largely centered on your research and working alongside your supervisor. Attending an open house will ultimately help you to decide if the school is a good fit for you. If it’s not a good fit, don’t get discouraged. There are thousands of other schools and programs that will be better suited to your interests. It’s totally normal to not know exactly where you want to study. The right program will come to you!



Getting letters of recommendation

A big part of applying to graduate school, similar to applying for an undergrad, is the importance of getting letters of recommendation (often called letters of reference). These letters typically come from professors who have taught you during your undergrad. Contact professors of whom you’ve excelled their classes, enjoyed the course matter and/or have had a good working or professional relationship with. Contact them in advance by email to see if they would be interested in writing your letter of reference. Like you, they are very busy, and the earlier you contact them, the more time they will be able to dedicate in writing you a letter to highlight all your skills. In addition, keep them updated about any changes to the application process, where to send letters, and especially any information you feel would be pertinent to your application process. This includes sending CV’s, transcripts, extracurricular actives, work experience or personal qualities that will speak to the skills needed for your program of choice.

Lastly, keep your professors updated about if you’ve been accepted or not. Professors want to know how your application went, and if you weren’t accepted, they can help you look for other options better suited to your interests that you maybe didn’t even know about.



Learn about financing and scholarship options

Financing your studies at graduate school seems to be one of the most glossed over parts of the application process that students really don’t seem to know a lot about. In general, for a graduate program, department heads and supervisors want to see that a student has academic funding or scholarships for their program. This helps show them that your research proposals are, in fact, fundable. There are a lot of grants and scholarships available at the regional, provincial, national and international level that award students with sizeable amounts of money. Sometimes students can even finance their whole degree through these scholarships. The key is to apply for funding early on. Do research on eligible grants, talk to your financial aid department and most importantly, make sure your program is a financially feasible option.



Find balance

Applying to graduate school tends to coincide directly with undergraduate midterms. It can seem impossible to balance work, school, studying and applying for school at the same time. We are only human and it is vital that we find balance. Take a night off to take care of yourself, see friends, watch a movie, or do something creative that fuels you, so that when you go back to studying and applications, you feel refreshed and don’t burn out.




It’s ok to not know exactly where you want to go. Students in academia are often expected to have their entire scholarly life mapped out. Learning should not be a rush, but a lifelong process. It’s important to know that sometimes, applications don’t fall into place as you expected. There is always time to grow and learn. Know that your area of study will appear to you. Try not to push against yourself to find answers. All in all, try your best be prepared, gather information early on, and go one step at a time because that’s all any of us can do. Celebrate this incredible step in your future! You’ve got this!


Her Campus Placeholder Avatar
Faith Orr

Concordia CA '19

Faith Orr is a Campus Correspondent at Concordia University in Montreal. She is in her final year of studies, specializing in French to English Translation with a minor Women’s Studies. She is originally from a small farming town in Vermont, U.S. but has planted her new roots in Montreal. She has a passion for feminism and LGBTQ activism. In her free time, Faith enjoys studying astrology (#TeamVirgo) and learning about holistic health and medicine.
Kami Katopodis

Concordia CA '19

President of HC Concordia • Poet • Major in Human Relations • Minor in Diversity in the Contemporary World •