The decision to further your education will change your lifestyle in many ways. Start now! Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is it required to progress my career?
  • Will the outcome increase my job satisfaction?
  • When is the best time for me to attend graduate school? Should I consider a gap year?
  • How will it affect my finances?
  • How will it impact my personal relationships and life plans?

Ideally, begin to prepare for graduate school during your first year at UC Irvine. But even if you're a sophomore, junior or senior, it's not too late to get started. Gain the competitive edge to develop yourself as a strong graduate school candidate by:

  • Raising your GPA or maintaining a high GPA
  • Building professional and mentoring relationships with professors
  • Getting involved in a leadership role on-campus or the local community
  • Participating in experiential learning experiences such as internships, studying abroad, volunteering, and part-time or full-time work
  • Identifying your research interests and applying to research opportunities

Below is a sample application guide if you plan to pursue graduate school immediately following your undergraduate work. Keep in mind that this is a suggested timeline. Your individual deadlines may vary depending on your graduate school program.

Graduate School Application Process
  • Summer | Before Graduation Year


  • Fall | Graduation Year


    • Continue researching graduate programs of interest
    • Attend the Division of Career Pathways’ Graduate and Professional School Fairs and other related workshops
      • Tip: Before attending a graduate school fair, be aware of who will be attending by reviewing the directory or program and preparing a list of questions for admission representatives
    • Request official transcripts from the University Registrar
    • Request letters of recommendation from your professors and supervisors
      • Tip: Make sure to provide a draft of your statement of purpose and/or personal statement, resume/CV and any additional information the recommender may need to write your letter


    • As soon as possible after the October 1 release, submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form along with any other financial aid applications your chosen grad school(s) may require
      • Tip: Graduate and professional students are considered independent students for FAFSA purposes, so when you fill out your FAFSA form to apply for grad school aid, you won't need to provide parent information
    • Finish statement of purpose and/or personal statement. Receive feedback and edits from faculty, SSARC Graduate Student Advisors, and the UCI Center for Excellence in Writing & Communication
    • If possible, visit the schools in which you are interested. Talk with admissions staff, department faculty, and /or current graduate students
    • Retake required entrance exams as needed


    • Submit your completed graduate school applications as early as possible; be aware of final deadlines
      • Tips: Most graduate school application deadlines are in December. Some programs provide an early submission date or recommended submission date. Other programs admit on a rolling basis which means applications are evaluated as they arrive. Double-check the application timeline your chosen programs. There may be graduate programs that accept applications as late as June
    • Apply for as many scholarships, fellowships, and other financial aid funds as you can


    • Follow up on transcripts and letters of recommendation, assure they have been sent
    • Schedule and prepare for interviews. Research each of your prospective programs to see if they require or offer interviews
  • Winter | Graduation Year


    • Continue researching graduate programs of interest and submitting applications before the final deadline
    • Last chance to take the required tests for fall admissions (it may be too late for some schools)
    • Check with each school to see that they have received all materials, including test scores, writing samples, resume, supplemental essays, and financial statements
    • Send thank you cards or emails in appreciation of those who helped you along your educational and graduate school application journey!
    • Review your graduate school acceptances and compare the programs’ financial aid offers
      • Tip: If you don’t get accepted, don’t give up! Talk to a SSARC team member or a career counselor to revisit your goals and discuss ways your graduate school application could be improved for the next application cycle.
    • Once you’ve decided on a graduate school, advise other programs where you were accepted or waitlisted as soon as possible
Asking for Letters of Recommendation
  • Letter of Recommendation Timeline

    1 year - 6 months before deadline

    • Research the program you want to apply to

    3 months before deadline

    • Start working on application materials
    • Create a matrix outlining the program details

    8 - 10 weeks before deadline

    • Email advisor asking if they would be willing to write a strong letter of recommendation

    8 weeks before deadline

    • Continue working on your application
    • Have a separate space to work on the application
    • Don’t work on the application site directly

    6 weeks before deadline

    • Formally ask advisor/ professor for the letter of recommendation
    • Attach materials needed as well as recommended items

    1 - 2 weeks before deadline

    • If the advisor has not sent in the letter yet, gently remind them that the deadline is approaching

    1 week before deadline

    • Finish the application
    • A few days after deadline
    • Send a thank you email to professor/advisor
    • You can send a small gift (optional)

    ** Note: This timeline is ideal, but some people apply within 2 months, some take a year and a half, but this timeline gives ample time for all parts to be done well**

  • Recommendation Materials

    Recommended Items That Should Be Included in a Letter of Recommendation Request (Send as a single PDF, with clear headings and sections)

    These are recommended and helpful items to send your professor. Your professor might not use all or any of these items; they may require more or less.

    • A letter outlining how the student and professor have worked together. It should include how long they have worked together and what was gained from their time together.
      • Ex: If it’s a Research Advisor, include that start of the Research Project, what the project was about, and what impact it had on you.
    • A Matrix of all the programs that you are applying to. Items in the Matrix should include:
      • Name of the school/program
      • The Deadline for the application
      • The way that the advisor will submit the LOR (email, link, postage)
      • Contact information of coordinator or admissions counselor
      • The outcome the student is seeking from the program (Ex: Research experience, a certificate useful in your field)
      • And the area of study that the program focuses on

    Example Matrix:

    • A description of every program applying to
      • Each program should be one-page max, one paragraph minimum
    • The documents sent in the application
      • If the application required a personal statement or any additional forms, also send them to the advisor
    • Updated Resume/CV
      • Include a brag sheet with involvements/accomplishments you would like the writer to highlight
    • A statement of purpose that best highlights the student. Items that should be included:
      • Research
      • Academic Performance
      • Skills
      • Other qualifications
    • Sample Works
      • If its a Ph.D. program, include a research paper here
    • A statement of why the program matches the student’s interests. Items included can be:
      • Why you want to be accepted in the program
      • What you bring to the program
      • How the program would help you
    • A sheet describing your degree. Items it should include
      • What the student wants to do with their degree
      • Short term goals/ Long term goals
    • Updated transcript
    • Pre-addressed envelope with postage (if necessary)
  • Recommendation Letter Etiquette
    • Most programs ask for 3 letters of recommendation
    • Recommended to ask three professors or academic researchers
    • Recommended to ask one professional employer/supervisor if applying to business or law school
    • Letters could come from a professor or professional/academic if they have overseen a work of yours (such as research) or something highly related to your degree program
    • Choose a faculty member who:
      • Knows you well and has worked closely with you
      • Works in the field you going into
      • Has a high standing in their field
    • Make a formal request of your professor by email or in person (by appointment), asking if they would be willing to write a letter on your behalf
      • In the email or if in person, explain the purpose of the recommendation (i.e. for graduate school) and why you have chosen the professor
      • Ask if they will be able to write a strong letter of recommendation & give them time to consider your request
      • Ask early!
    • Make an appointment to discuss the recommendation at least three weeks in advance of dealing—preferably a month or two in advance for their convenience or in case they deny the request
    • Professors have very tight schedules and need ample time to write a thoughtful and distinctive letter
    • Provide information about the position. The more professors know about the position or school you seek to enter, the more easily they can tailor the letter toward a specific audience
    • Bring the following materials to your appointment or provide as an email attachment:
      • A description of the job or graduate school(s) to which you are applying. This requires some research on your part, and it will help you assess how suited you are to the position
      • If you are applying to multiple places, bring all your reference requests at once. The application forms and materials, with the deadlines, clearly indicated and the relevant portions filled in
      • Bring all your application materials for the professor
      • If the application asks whether you waive (give up) your right to view the recommendation letter, we recommend that you agree to waive it, guaranteeing that the letter is candid and trustworthy. Letters for students who do not waive their right to view it are taken less seriously or ignored
      • Provide information about yourself
      • TIP: You need to come with something to talk about unless you have a strong personal relationship with a professor (you will know if just chatting about your life is the norm). Otherwise, come with something to discuss - there is nothing more awkward than using up a professor's time to make a meeting and then having nothing to say.
    • The more professors know about your past work, your extracurricular interests, and your aspirations, the more specific they can be about your talents and motivation. (List provided below)
    • Make sure the letter has arrived before the deadline, if not write a follow-up email or visit the professor by appointment to kindly remind them about the deadline
      • Most graduate school application systems will alert you or at least be able to show you if the letter has been received
    • Send a thank you letter
      • Handwritten is best!
      • Small gifts are optional

    Common Mistakes to Avoid

    • NEVER assume that a professor or supervisor will write you a letter of recommendation
      • TIP: Ask the professor if they are willing to write you a strong letter of recommendation
    • Don’t just drop off materials and/ or send materials attached to an email
      • TIP: If possible, meet with the professor in person or via video call to discuss your qualifications, the requirements, and the deadlines
    • Provide with materials in person, but also send what is applicable as email attachments
      • NOTE: Given our remote environment, it is safe to assume that everything will be exchanged and followed through zoom, emails, calls, etc.
    • If a professor denies your letter of recommendation request it doesn’t mean you are a bad student or a bad person
      • It is highly likely that the professor is too busy at the moment, especially considering these unprecedented times
      • It may also indicate that the professor doesn’t have sufficient knowledge about you and your accomplishments or they may feel that your skills are better suited to different schools, positions, or career paths
      • It can also mean that the professor is too busy and would not able able to write a strong recommendation
      • Never harass a professor about whether they have sent the letter yet unless they ask you to send a reminder
      • Tip: Follow-up kindly or remind the professor about the request when the deadline is approaching
      • As mentioned previously, if you make an appointment with the professor, make sure you have something to talk about!

    How to Begin Now

    • What can you begin doing now?
      • Attend your professor’s office hours frequently
      • Take several classes from a faculty member whom you might want to write a letter on your behalf
      • Get involved in research - Join labs, practicums, UROP, or Independent studies; this allows you to work closely with faculty members
      • Keep in contact with the staff or instructor over time - Keep in touch by requesting 1:1’s or simply emailing them updates about what you are doing. This will give them a better understanding of who you are, and they won’t forget you!
      • Join clubs and organizations. Take on a leadership role!
      • Attend events and volunteer to help out
These guidelines have been adapted from materials from the UCI Division of Career Pathways, CSUN Career Center, Federal Student Aid, and the University of California Graduate Admissions


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