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The Basic Requirements for Grad School Admissions

It is my second blog in the series on graduate education in the USA. I previously wrote an introductory post on the idea of graduate school: accessible here. I am also compelled to state that this guide is based on my personal experience as an applicant to various political science graduate programs, so it is best fit for future political/social sciences graduate students.

These are the main requirements for any graduate program:

  1. A bachelor’s degree or 4 years of undergraduate education
  2. Curriculum Vitae
  3. GRE scores
  4. TOEFL scores (for international students)
  5. 3 letters of recommendations
  6. Statement of purpose
  7. Writing sample

Some schools may ask for additional documents but that varies from program to program. Now let’s go into details of each of these requirements.



Bachelor’s degree (or your GPA)

As I mentioned in the previous post, you don’t have to finish a master’s program for applying to graduate schools in the USA; your bachelor’s degree is more than enough.

You can apply even before you finish your undergraduate studies. As the deadlines fall between November and February, you’ll be applying by the end of your 7th semester. That means you’ll need to have GRE and TEOFL scores ready by that time too.

Most schools provide cut-off points for GPA, but even if they don’t, make sure your CGPA is above 3.5. Wait a minute! What if you have a perfect GPA and no body knows about your school?

The brand name (prestige) of your school matters.

If you are competing with someone from Koç University with 3.5 CGPA, and you have like 4.0 CGPA from Bahçeşehir, the admissions committee will certainly prefer the applicant from Koç simply because Koç has establish a good reputation as a rigorous research institution. So what matters at the end of the day is:

A reputed school + high GPA = high chance of acceptance

There are ways to compensate for the reputation of your school. One of them is high GPA and other is high scores on standardized tests like GRE and TOEFL.



GRE Scores

GRE is a standardized test consisting of three portions: verbal, quantitative, and writing assessment. The test is marked on a scale of 140-170 for the verbal and quantitative sections, and a scale of 1-6 for the writing section.

To get into a top school, you need to score 160+ and 4.5+. 

However, if you score 150+ on verbal and quantitative sections, and  3.5+ on the writing section, you still have a decent chance of getting into an average school.

But that also depends on other factors like the letters of recommendation and your writing samples.

People will tell you that GRE scores don’t matter. Well, the simple answer is, they do! Admissions committee are unaware of the quality of education in your country or how good your school is. So the first thing they look at is your school’s name, your GPA, and your GRE scores.

If you come from a relatively unknown school, your GRE scores can serve as an objective measure of your competence. 



TOEFL scores

TOELF is an English language competence test with a maximum score of 120. Graduate schools want to accept people with good language skills for obvious reasons. One of them is that you’ll be serving as teaching/research assistants and you’ll need to communicate well with your audience.

A TOEFL score of 100+ will get you into a decent graduate program.

The higher your score is, the better off you’ll be.


Letters of recommendation

You’ll be asked to produce 3 of them. They should come from your professors unless you are working for more than a year in a job. Still, at least 2 of them must be written by your professors.

Ask professors who know you personally to write these letters, because they can talk not only about your academic life but also about personal circumstances and potential. Provide them enough information to write.

Talk to them on several occasions about these letters. Remind them if they are forgetting. You already have your ‘foot in the door’, you should be asking for more and make sure they write a good letter for you.

I’ll write an separate post on the letters of recommendation.


Statement of purpose

This is probably the most crucial part of application. Schools usually give limits for SOPs like 500 words or two pages. Don’t be afraid to cross that limit, but don’t try to put everything on the statement. You’ll have your curriculum vitae for your career history.

Focus on your research interest, skills, and capabilities. Provide a clear research puzzle, demonstrate that you have enough prior knowledge to work on that topic, and make use of your natural advantages (background, language, technological skills).

I repeat, do not write too much details.

I’ll write an separate post on the statement of purpose.


Writing sample

Graduate schools will ask you to provide your 10-20 pages long best piece of writing. You can either give them one of your assignment, or write a new one. I would suggest write a new one.

Providing a writing sample based on your research interests can demonstrate your prior knowledge about the topic and how far your imagination can reach to solve the research puzzle that you have provided in your statement of purpose.

Another thing, use quantitative data even in the form of simple tables and graphs.

American social scientists love quantitative data. So, a writing sample that contains quantitative research can impress the admissions committee.

I’ll write an separate post on the writing sample.

I look forward to your feedback.

Feel free to ask me questions. Meanwhile, stay posted: 

Do let me know if you find any mistakes in this post. I’ll be updating this post.

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