How Do I Get Into a Master’s Program? A Guide for Aspiring Grad Students

Student holding an acceptance letter

The Master’s degree can be an important step in furthering your career, in completing a PhD program, or even as part of some combined undergraduate programs. Master’s degrees are offered in virtually every subject, allowing you to continue your education in the humanities, natural sciences, technology, business, and many other specialized programs!

If you’re ready to make that step towards a Master’s degree or are considering a combined undergraduate – graduate program, the following steps can be pivotal in helping you secure a spot and continue your academic or professional journey.

What is a Master’s?

A Master’s degree is a postgraduate degree that one can pursue after completing a Bachelor’s degree. There are programs at many schools that allow undergraduate students to simultaneously enroll in a Master’s – usually requiring challenging prerequisites and an application after their sophomore year.

The requirements to graduate with a Master’s degree usually require either the completion of a thesis or final project, in addition to coursework. However, there are programs that require only the completion of a set number of classes. Generally, the Master’s degree will take 1-2 years to complete, or one year if part of a bachelors + Master’s program.

Do I need work experience, or can I go straight from undergrad?

Work experience is not a requirement for most Master’s degree programs, although it can be very helpful for gaining admission. One example where work experience is highly recommended is through any type of mid-career or executive Master’s program, usually in public policy, business, or education.

Despite not explicitly requiring work experience, many selective programs take a close look at why you’re pursuing a Master’s degree, and professional experience is often part of the application process. It is recommended, and strategic, to pursue work experience first prior to applying to a Master’s program, unless you have strong reasons for going directly into the Master’s program (and you should note these reasons on your Personal Statement as part of your application)!

How hard is it to get in?

The difficulty of getting into a Master’s program depends on the school and the type of degree. The most selective programs tend to be ‘terminal degrees’ which means they’re the highest degree you can earn in the field. For example, a Master’s of Fine Arts (MFA) – which many students interested in working in the film industry pursue – is typically the highest degree you can earn since there isn’t commonly a PhD in Fine Arts

MBAs (Master’s in Business Administration) also tend to be extremely competitive.

What are the steps required to apply?

The steps required to apply for a Master’s degree are not much different than the PhD.

Most programs will require the GRE or GMAT exam. If you are an international applicant, you will be expected to include a TOEFL, IELTS, or other English proficiency score as part of the process.

Your official undergraduate academic record will also be required. Letters of Recommendation will be expected from academic and professional sources if you are applying to a Master’s program after earning professional experience. A Personal Statement of why you’re applying to the program, and what you hope to achieve after school will also be considered. A resume and completion of other application forms are also usually on the list of application requirements.

You are not expected to have any academic publications – since that’s part of why you’re pursuing further study! – but those can be helpful to include if you have them.

What if I have a low GPA?

If you had a dip in your academic record while completing your Bachelor’s degree, you are not alone! Admissions committees take a holistic view of your profile and other parts of your application can absolutely compensate for a low GPA. This is also something you can note in your essays if there’s a particular reason for it.

Either way, you should spend substantial time working on your Personal Statement or Statement of Purpose, including doing substantial research on the programs you’re applying to and making a clear connection between your goals and why you want to attend that particular school. This is an opportunity to make an emotional connection with the admissions committee and help you stand out from other applicants.

Taking additional courses at other institutions, such as community colleges, can also strengthen your academic record and show your dedication towards academic success. Having stellar Letters of Recommendation written by your recommenders can also have an impact on your chances of acceptance. Make sure that your resume is properly formatted, updated, and prepared for graduate school application. Lastly, study diligently for any required standardized exams – a high score can help tremendously!

What are the top mistakes students make when applying?

The two biggest mistakes you can make when applying to Master’s programs are rushing your application and not doing your research.

To avoid rushing, give your recommenders at least a month to write their recommendations. Give yourself enough time to write each essay and treat each school uniquely – Personal Statements are typically not meant to be re-used repeatedly, and a significant portion of it should be directed at the school. Plan ahead for taking or re-taking any standardized exams so you can have your best score ready.

Finally, spend lots of time researching and putting together your final school list. Review the acceptance rates at these schools and evaluate the final scores you’re applying with. The research process will also contribute better Personal Statements, which can go a long way in a holistic review process.

By following the steps above, you will put yourself in the best position to earn acceptance into your ideal Master’s program. Good luck!


  • Chris Kado

    For over a decade, Chris has supported students across the globe in fulfilling their college aspirations. Chris started out as a college admissions consultant, where he helped community college students reduce their loan obligations by constructing comprehensive transfer strategies, maximizing the use of CLEP and AP credits, and scoring scholarships. ‍ During his graduate studies at Harvard, Chris held numerous roles in education, including working as a research assistant and advising students on the college admissions process. Chris holds extensive experience in essay development and preparation for the SAT and SAT Subject Tests. His guidance has enabled students to gain admission into diverse programs at institutions including UC Berkeley, Princeton, the University of Chicago, Michigan, Harvard, Fashion Institute of Technology, Embry-Riddle, Notre Dame, and Duke. ‍ Chris holds an Master's in History from Harvard University and is currently working towards a Master's in Education at UIUC. He also received a College Advising Program Certificate from Columbia University, completed the Independent Educational Consultant Certificate from University of California Irvine, and earned the Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA) from Cambridge. Nowadays, Chris continues to serve a full-time role as a College Counselor for WeAdmit, write insightful articles for Magoosh, and teach at Education First summer camps!

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