Applying to Graduate School

4. Application Components

Graduate school applications typically consist of the components listed below. Take note of all requirements and create a spreadsheet or checklist to help you track your progress on each application. You can use this Graduate School Application and Funding Spreadsheet template as a starting point.

Application Form

Follow the instructions on the form and answer all questions thoroughly, within the stated word limit (if applicable). Some application forms allow you to upload additional materials: use that section to explain any unusual circumstances in your application, to provide extra work samples, or context on your institution (Yale-NUS).

Personal Statement (Statement of Purpose)

The statement of purpose should reflect your academic and professional background, passions and goals in more depth and detail than your CV, and should convince the admissions committee that you are a good fit for the programme and have strong potential to succeed in it. Personal statement prompts can be open-ended or contain one or more specific questions. In either case, your statement should be clear, confident, concise, and concrete. Visit the page below for more personal statement tips.

How to Write a Compelling Personal Statement

Official Transcript

Always plan to send out transcripts early because some schools require them to be mailed in hard copy. Request your Yale-NUS transcript through EduRec (if unofficial) or NUS Registrar’s Office (if official; most schools require official transcripts).

Study abroad transcript: If you study abroad coursework is not reflected in your Yale-NUS transcript, request a transcript for it directly from the host university. If the transcript is not in English, you would normally need to get a certified translation.

Grade requirements: The most selective graduate programmes in the US typically require a minimum grade point average (GPA) on the order of 3.5-3.7 out of 4.00, roughly equivalent to a CAP of 4.4-4.6/5.00. Top graduate programmes in the UK may require at least a first class or an upper second class degree (CAP 4.3-5.0). If you are aiming for a top school, be prepared to work hard, take challenging courses and do well in them. Good grades in your major and in advanced courses in your chosen field of study are especially important for your application.

The above numbers are not necessarily hard cut-offs. Selection committees may allow exceptions because they recognise that past grades – especially in a broad-based curriculum – are not the most accurate predictor of future success in a specialised field. A rich portfolio of relevant experiences can compensate for a lower CAP, but only to an extent. Don’t let your grades slip too far down.

GPA conversion: Some schools’ application systems do not provide the option to list a GPA on a 5.0 scale. In those cases, consult with Registry on the best way to accurately convert your Yale-NUS CAP into the required format.

Credential evaluation: Since your degree is from a non-US university, some US graduate schools may require you to submit your transcript for a course-by-course credential evaluation with an external service provider. Credential evaluations are very costly. If any of your schools require them, contact CIPE for assistance to negotiate an evaluation waiver.

Standardised Test Results

The admissions committee will use these to evaluate your readiness for graduate-level work. Depending on the field and programme, tests can be general or subject-specific. Common tests include the GRE General Test (for research and professional programmes), the GRE Subject Test (for PhD programmes), the GMAT (for business and management programmes), the LSAT (for graduate law programmes in the US and Canada), the MCAT (for medical programmes in the US and Canada).

Certain graduate schools may also require English language proficiency test scores – usually from the TOEFL or IELTS test. As these tests are quite costly, ask the schools if there are other ways to document your English proficiency. For example, the back of your official transcript states that the medium of instruction at NUS is English, which may suffice as proof of proficiency in some cases.

Begin preparing for standardised tests early and take as many practice tests as possible. The summer after Year 3 is a good time for test prep. If you need help, consult with senior students, purchase a practice test book, or consider a test prep course with a private company. Most importantly: practice, practice, practice.

As you prepare for tests, try to understand their relative importance for admission in your chosen programmes. Some schools require them, others accept them, while others do not consider them at all. If you are required to take a test, prepare early and well, but invest even more effort into the rest of your application. For links to standardised test websites and test prep resources, see the Graduate School Resources page linked at the top.

Letters of Recommendation

Graduate programmes usually require 2-3 letters of recommendation.

Who to ask: For research programmes, the admissions committee will want to see an endorsement of your achievements, personal qualities and scholarly potential by an established professional in the field. Hence, it’s crucial to build a relationship with at least two professors in your chosen field, and that they get to know you well in an academic and/or research setting – by teaching you in a course, working with you on a research project, etc. It helps if the recommender is well known in your field, but most importantly, they should know you well.

For professional programmes, you can also submit a letter from an internship, job or volunteering supervisor – e.g. the head teacher or principal at a tutoring centre if you are applying to a programme in education, or an NGO manager if you are pursuing social work. The recommender should be familiar with your work and personal qualities, and not necessarily be the most senior employee in the company.

Process: When you request a letter, give your recommenders the option to decline, in case they don’t think they know you well enough. If they agree to write it, follow up on your request 3-4 weeks before the application is due. Send them clear instructions on how to submit the letter, and relevant materials such as your CV/resume, personal statement draft, a paper that you wrote for their class, and any other items that provide context and remind the recommender of your accomplishments and potential. You can also gently suggest content to include, e.g. specific abilities or accomplishments that you would like highlighted or a comparison between you and past students that the recommender has worked with or taught. Consider also how the letters would “talk to” one another. Ideally, each recommender should comment on different aspects of your work and personality, so that all the letters combined paint a holistic picture of you.

Confidentiality: Graduate programmes will often ask if you would like to waive or to retain the right to see the recommendation – i.e. to keep in confidential or to be able to view it. Always waive your right to see it. This shows that you are confident in the recommender’s opinion of you, and it also allows the recommender to be more honest and genuine in their appraisal.

How to Request a Letter of Recommendation
For Your Recommenders – Guidelines on Writing Strong Letters of Recommendation

Resume or CV

A resume gives a 1-page overview of your academic, professional and extracurricular activities, while a CV is longer and more focused on academic and research work. These documents usually cover the period from the first year of university onward. For guidance on your resume and CV, contact your CIPE advisor, the CIPE Career Services team and your faculty mentors.

Resume Sample – Yale-NUS
CV Sample – Research
Resume Review Checklist

Writing Sample(s) or Portfolio

Many graduate programmes require you to submit a writing sample of your academic or professional work – such as research papers (or excerpts), news articles, creative writing. If applying to a programme in the arts, you may also have to submit an art or music portfolio, or attend an audition. Take note of all requirements and discuss them with your faculty and CIPE advisor.

Note that certain programmes in the humanities may require a longer writing sample than the essays or papers usually required for your coursework at Yale-NUS. That means you may need to produce a writing sample from scratch. Research these requirements well in advance to give yourself enough time to write and edit the sample.


The interview is your opportunity to humanise your application and impress the selection committee with your depth of interest and knowledge. Prepare for it as thoroughly as you would for a job interview. Be ready to talk about your reasons to go to graduate school and pursue the programme of your choice, your academic background in the chosen field and your specific areas of interest within it, important experiences/ milestones that influenced your decision to go to graduate school, your short-term goals within the programme and your long-term goals after graduation. You should be prepared to talk about all experiences in your CV: how did you contribute, what did you learn, what impact they had on you, how they prepared you for graduate study and reaffirmed your interest in it.
Always follow up with a thank-you note after an interview.