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Is It Hard To Get Into Grad School? Here’s the Facts

After you’ve successfully completed your bachelor’s program, the question of “what’s next?” looms over you. Do you jump right into your career, or do you take some time to complete grad school first? You may even want to do both, but is grad school hard to get into?

Generally speaking, it’s challenging to get into grad school. However, the level of difficulty attributed to grad school acceptance relies heavily on the institution to which you’re applying. If you’re applying to a state school instead of an Ivy League university, you’re more likely to be accepted.

In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about how to apply and get accepted into grad school. You’ll also leave with a better understanding of applicants’ requirements and the best ways to increase your chances.

Getting into grad school - How difficult is it?

Applying to Grad School

To even be considered for any grad school program, you need to submit an application, along with any program-specific additional documents. The application process for grad school is pretty long if you want to do it correctly. Beginning with program research and ending with submitting your application, the process generally takes roughly eight months.

During this process, it’s helpful to stick to a set timeline and work through the process one step at a time. Here’s an excellent example of a timeline to follow, provided by the Princeton Review (source): 

  • May: This is the time to start your initial research into the graduate programs you’re interested in pursuing. You should also begin taking various practice GRE tests to help you prepare for the real deal.
  • June: Consider signing up for a GRE test prep course. A test prep course will give you another leg up on what to expect when you take the actual test later.
  • July: Request information from your desired programs and visit the campus if you have the means. This is also an excellent time to meet up with any professors you connected with during undergrad. They may be able to point you in the right direction for exemplary programs and help you make connections.
  • August: Take the GRE general test. Taking the test early allows you to retake it if you aren’t comfortable with your first score. At this point, you should also be starting on a draft for your Statement of Purpose.
  • September: This is the time to sign up for the November GRE subject test if it’s needed for your program. By now, you should’ve finalized your list of schools from which you’re hoping to get an acceptance letter. You should also keep working on your Statement of Purpose during this time.
  • October: Now is the time to request your official transcripts from your undergrad. You should also send your recommenders any supplemental materials that may help them with your reference. These materials include your resume, personal statement, or other materials you think may help your case.
  • November: Recruit some friends to review your statement and tell them to be honest with their critique. It’s also good to ask someone in your desired field of study to look it over. This way, you can be sure it sounds right for your plan of study. You’ll also take the GRE subject test at this time, and you’ll need to remember to have your test results sent directly to your desired schools.
  • December: Now that you’ve drafted your Statement of Purpose and taken the necessary tests, you must submit applications to your desired schools/programs. Get verification that your recommendations have been sent as well.

What Is the Statement of Purpose?

The Statement of Purpose is an integral part of the graduate school application process that tells the admission committees at your desired schools who you are. It also highlights your academic and professional interests, as well as how you’ll be a valuable addition to your intended program.

This statement is generally between 500-1,000 words and shouldn’t be more than one page long. You don’t want to give the committee your entire life story and passions. You want to provide them with just enough to get a good sense of who they’ll potentially accept into their school. 

How To Get Into Grad School

There are four main aspects of the grad school application process that it’s important to keep with you. These are:

  • Understand what the expectations are in your desired field.
  • Ensure your application is a well-crafted narrative of your past, present, and future education and career goals.
  • Show your personality in a professional, relevant way.
  • Maintain (and showcase) enthusiasm for the program to which you’re applying.

Having a solid understanding of what will be expected of you in any respective program will give you a good idea of whether or not the program is right for you. Beyond that, admissions committees will be far more likely to accept someone into the program if they genuinely seem like they want to be there.

With that said, your undergraduate GPA also plays a role in whether or not you’ll be accepted into a particular program.

What Is a Good GPA To Get Into Grad School?

The ideal GPA for your desired graduate program can be anywhere from 2.5-3.5. The minimum requirement to be accepted varies between institutions and programs, respectively. However, most programs recommend applying with at least a 3.0 to make acceptance more likely.

To find out the minimum GPA requirements to apply for grad school, you can likely find the answer for any institution on their graduate school webpage or by calling the institution’s office of graduate studies.

If you’re worried your GPA isn’t high enough to warrant an acceptance, you may still have a chance to get the acceptance letter. The following are helpful if you don’t have an excellent GPA:

  • A high score on the GRE and other tests
  • Having specific industry certifications
  • Solid work experience
  • Good recommendations

It’s also good to submit a personal essay to explain why you want to study in that particular program.

If you’re applying to an art or engineering program, you may also submit a portfolio of your undergraduate work of which you’re especially proud. A portfolio shows the admissions committee that you have talent, and they’re more likely to consider you regardless of your GPA.

See Does Your College GPA Really Matter?

Can I Go to Grad School With a 2.5 GPA?

A 2.5 GPA is considered the lowest possible GPA to justify acceptance into most grad schools. While you can certainly get into grad school with a 2.5 GPA, most schools will recommend having a 3.0 GPA before applying to any program. 

With that said, it’s also important to keep in mind that your GPA isn’t the only factor admissions committees will look at when assessing your application. For this reason, it’s always helpful to include a personal statement, a portfolio of your previous work, and any other documentation you think may help your case.

What Are the Odds of Getting Into Grad School?

Your odds of getting into any particular grad school will largely depend on that school’s grad school acceptance rates. A school with a higher acceptance rate will be far easier to get into than one with a low acceptance rate.

For example, if you’re comparing a state school to an Ivy League institution, it’s likely far less challenging to get accepted into the state school than it is into the Ivy League. Most graduate schools will have their annual acceptance rate available as public information, so it’s always worth checking to have a good idea of your odds.

Can I Get Into Grad School if I Failed a Class?

You can still get into grad school if you failed a class. However, multiple class failures negatively affect your GPA, which can affect your acceptance into grad school as a result. For this reason, it’s always best to retake a course if you’ve failed it so you can cancel out the previous grade.

Does Retaking a Class Look Bad For Grad School?

Retaking a class doesn’t necessarily look bad when applying to grad school. However, multiple failed classes will likely raise the alarm with the admission committee at your chosen school. It’s much harder to explain multiple failures than it is one or two.

See Should I Drop or Fail? (A College Student’s Perspective)

The Highest Paying Grad School Programs

While it’s important to pursue career interests that spark your passions, it’s always a plus when those passions also pay well. Even if you don’t care much for passion in your studies, money is a solid motivator for many career paths.

According to a recent study, professionals who hold an advanced degree make up to 28% more pay than those who don’t. Let’s cover some of the highest paying master’s degrees (source) (source):

  • Master of Business Administration (MBA): $100k-$146k median salary
  • Master of Science in Nursing: $115k-$167k median salary
  • Master of Engineering Management: $144k median salary
  • Master of Science in Finance: $87k-$129k median salary
  • Master of Arts in Political Science: $122k median salary
  • Master of Science in Computer Science: $105k median salary
  • Master of Science in Healthcare Management: $100k median salary
  • Master of Science in Petroleum Engineering: $137k median salary

Master of Business Administration (MBA)

When first starting, those with an MBA typically earn a median of around $115,000 per year. Having a master’s degree in business gives you a wide array of options for career paths. Among those paths is that of an IT Manager, who may make around $146k per year. IT Managers are ranked as the second-highest paying non-medical job field.

Along with that, someone with an MBA may choose to manage marketing, sales, or business operations for any company.

Master of Science in Nursing

Not only is a masters degree in nursing a high paying career field, but there’s also an ever-increasing demand for nurses in hospitals. With the stress of working in a hospital environment, especially when a pandemic can hit at any moment, the need for qualified nurses is more prevalent than ever.

Those who hold a masters degree in Nursing may choose to become a Nurse Anesthetist or a Nurse Practitioner, among other things.

Master of Engineering Management

If you studied engineering as an undergrad, there’s a good possibility that any job you want to take in your field also requires a master’s degree in a related field. For this reason, many engineering undergraduate students tend to continue with engineering in grad school.

Someone with a master’s degree in Engineering Management may choose to become an architectural and engineering manager.

Master of Science in Finance

Someone with a master’s degree in finance may become a financial manager, financial advisor, or actuary. A master’s in finance is an excellent degree because you can translate it into just about any career field.

See Is Finance a Hard Major?

Master of Arts in Political Science

A master’s degree in political science makes you a much more successful candidate in various careers in politics. Those with this degree typically go into economics, law, and politics. If you choose to go this route, the highest paying job would be a Political Scientist at $122k per year.

See Is Majoring in Political Science a Bad Idea?

Master of Science in Computer Science

A master of computer science is a great degree to have, specifically if you’ve focused on software development and engineering. The highest paying job specific to this career path is that of a Software Developer. 

Software Developers are responsible for developing software for different businesses or websites. They also determine an item’s primary function and work closely with IT managers on various projects.

See Is AP Computer Science Principles A Hard Course?

Master of Science in Healthcare Management

While doctors and nurses run the medicinal part of healthcare, healthcare management deals on the business end of things. Health managers, in particular, perform administrative duties in hospitals and typically lead the staff, organize different processes, oversee the hospital budget, and keep up-to-date on the constantly changing regulations in the healthcare field.

Master of Science in Petroleum Engineering

If you want to get into the petroleum career field, getting an advanced degree in petroleum engineering is necessary. The pay for this career is higher than many other fields, mainly because it’s very physically demanding, and the workplace is considered high-risk. 

If this career field interests you, you may also be drawn to bioengineering, environmental engineering, or another engineering sector.

Final Thoughts

Generally speaking, graduate school is a complex process that requires applicants to complete various steps to apply. The level of difficulty in being accepted varies by institution as well as the program to which you’re applying.

With that said, as long as you maintain a solid GPA of 3.0 or better and you complete each step of the process on time, you should be on the road to acceptance in no time.

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