Getting Ready For Grad School: Grades, Exams And Application Deadlines


So, you want to go to grad school? Keep reading.

Even though the Fall 2010 term hasn’t even started, it’s already time to start thinking ahead about admissions in 2011.

A year in advance might seem early. But in addition to advancing your education, grad school is also about research and networking. And that starts in the application process.

Even if your program has a late final application deadline, be sure to apply early for programs you are most interested in to ensure your best chances at acceptance and other benefits.

You need to research universities and network with potential supervisors. You need to start planning for exams, taking those last courses, and double-checking deadlines.

Two areas prospective grad students worry most about are their grades and when to apply.


If you are thinking of grad school, as a rule of thumb your grades should fall in the B range for most master’s programs, and at least a high B for doctoral programs. Of course higher grades demonstrating excellence in your undergrad studies will weigh in your favour.

At the same time, however, in more competitive programs, higher grades, co-curricular activities, demonstrated research or discipline-specific skills, and involvement in your department are all strengths you will want to cultivate.

Many people worry about whether or not their grades are sufficient to gain entrance to grad school. While it’s true that high grades will help, they aren’t the only factor, and blemishes on a transcript can be overlooked with supportive letters of recommendation, a strong personal statement, or a good connection with a potential supervisor.

For example, if you’ve got great grades and are applying to graduate history program, as I did, but have a C in statistics, as I had, it is unlikely to hold you back.

Standardized examinations

For some programs you will also need to plan, research, and prepare for standardized examinations.

Because an A might not mean the same thing between universities, departments, or even individual professors, standardized exams offer a way for universities to evaluate and compare candidates. While they may be flawed, they are still used extensively to evaluate potential graduate students. So, if you have other blemishes on your record, be sure to study up and excel on these exams if you take them.

If you are interested in medical school, you’ll need to prepare for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). For law school, the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), and business school, the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT).

And if you want to study in the US, you’ll likely need to prepare the Graduate Record Examination (GRE).

These exams are not available at all locations, and may not be available all year round. If you need to take any of these, be sure to plan in advance, both for preparation, and to book the exam.

Application deadlines

Deadlines for submitting grad school applications are generally in the late fall and winter. Be sure, however, to note the deadline of your particular program, as different programs will have different deadlines, even at the same university.

At the University of Toronto, for example, the 2010 application deadline for philosophy is January 7, linguistics is January 15, and geology February 1.

Some departments have room for flexibility. Also at the U of T, the immunology program suggests that applications be filed by January 15 for September admissions. This is to ensure full eligibility for entrance awards, other scholarships, and prioritization for supervisor choice.

The final deadline, however, is June 1. But applying as late as that in any program risks not finding space, funding or supervision.

So, even if your program has a late final application deadline, be sure to apply early for programs you are most interested in to ensure your best chances at acceptance and other benefits.

And long before you even apply, email potential supervisors with whom you would like to work. This step isn’t critical in all fields. But very often your supervisor will ideally become your primary contact, your intellectual mentor, and your biggest promoter in the department.

Contacting professors in the planning stages of your graduate studies will pay off for years if you end up working with a strong and supportive supervisor.

So, you want to go to grad school? Click here to read more.

Photo credit: Exam No. 2 by Djenan Kozic on Flickr
About the author

Justin Bengry completed a PhD in History and Feminist Studies at the University of California in 2009. He is an avid writer, photographer, and traveler, with the past 6 years having seen him move at least a dozen times across 2 continents and 4 countries. He now finds himself in Waterloo, Ontario (for the time being). Justin writes articles, book reviews, and blogs on education, history, queer studies, and travel that have been published in the academic and mainstream press.