Search Search

Applying to Graduate School

The Caltech Career Development Center offers services to students planning to apply to graduate programs.

  • Application/Personal Statement - Most graduate schools will require submission of an essay which summarizes your experiences, interests and future goals. This essay is a crucial part of your application, as it provides not only an autobiographical sketch of yourself as a candidate, but also a chance for admission committees to see your ability to analyze and reflect on why you want to attend graduate school. Plan to start this early, and to write several drafts before you submit your final application. During the writing process, ask several people (faculty, mentors, career counselors, etc.) to read and provide feedback on your essay.
  • Planning letters of recommendation - It will typically be necessary to submit around 3-4 letters of recommendation along with your application. These letters should come from professors or research mentors who know your work well, and who can give very specific and positive feedback on your strengths and capabilities. Letters from employers are less useful, as they are less able to reflect on your academic performance and capabilities. It is wise to provide reference writers with your resume/CV, information about the programs to which you're applying, and any other data that may help them in the construction of your letters. Plan to ask for letters well in advance, and set the deadline early in order to compensate for any delays that may arise.
  • Admission Tests - Most schools will require you to take a form of admission test. For many schools, this will be the GRE, but check with schools to find their exact requirements:
    1. GRE (Graduate Record Examinations)
    2. Note that while most schools require only the general test, which is offered year round, some    may ask you to take a subject-specific test. There are held three times a year, in October, November and April.
    3. GMAT (Graduate Management Admissions Test)
    4. LSAT (Law School Admissions Test)
    5. DAT (Dental Admissions Test)
    6. MAT (Miller Analogies Test)
  • Resume/CV - Many schools will require you to submit an up-to-date version of your resume or CV. Come to the Career Development Center for review of this document.

  • Personal Interview - Not all schools and programs currently offer current interviews. Many programs find that due to the large number of applicants, personal interviews are not always feasible. If you are invited to interview on-campus, come by the career center for a mock interview.

  • Graduate School Fellowships - Students applying for graduate school fellowships such as the NSF, Hertz, NDSEG, etc. should contact the Fellowships Advising Office (FASA) at ext 2150 or contact the FASA administrative assistant at to schedule an appointment for advice. FASA has walk-in counseling on Tuesdays and Thursdays or students can make an appointment for another day if these times do not match their schedule or they have complex questions.

  • The CDC staff do not review nor comment on applications or essays for fellowships. This is a highly specialized area and requires the input of the FASA staff who understand the requirements and also have sample essays for review in their library. The FASA website is Caltech students can find an online guide to graduate fellowships on the FASA website.

  • Application Deadlines - The deadlines for most competitive programs fall between December and January, with some schools accepting applications into the spring. It is ideal to start the process of interviewing and applying during the summer before your senior year (if you are choosing to matriculate directly into a graduate program).

  • Questions to ask when evaluating a graduate program:
    1. How is the university ranked in the field you are studying? For more information on this, research the following sites:

    2. What faculty members are working on projects that interest you? A good way to learn this is by talking to your current professors and research mentors. They will often be able to point you to the programs and mentors that will be best suited to your goals.
    3. What curriculum can you expect? What courses or research are required.
    4. Where is the university located?
    5. What types of financial aid are available?
    6. Do most graduates of the program continue in academia, or do many of them move on to an industry job? What types of programs or industries do graduates typically move on to? What is the typical starting salary for graduates of the program?

Check out these articles about applying to graduate school.