Entering graduate school or a professional program is an important career decision. If you're still considering, you can talk to a career educator or check out career options to see how graduate school might fit into your career path.
If you've decided that grad school is right for you, these resources can help. Our career educators can also assist with your research and applications.
Research your grad school options
Where to find grad school information
Start by visiting the website of the university you’re considering. If you’re having difficulty or have questions that aren't answered on the website, the graduate admissions office should be able to provide general information about programs and faculty research interests.
Networking with your professors is another good place to start. Let them know which programs and schools you’re considering and your research interests—they may have helpful insights.
Questions to consider
Consider these questions as you conduct your grad school research:
- Which programs are offered?
- Do they specialize in your area of interest?
- Where is the school located? (Is location important to you?)
- What are the admission requirements?
- Do they require any standardized test scores?
- Who are the faculty? (What are their areas of expertise? Are they distinguished? Are they soon to retire? Do they publish with students? Can you see yourself working with any of them, preferably with more than one?)
- What other opportunities are available at the university, such as potential travel, research and personal growth?
- Is graduate funding available? If so, how much funding?
- What will tuition and living expenses cost?
- What opportunities are available for gaining practical experience (internships, co-op placements or teaching assistant positions)?
- What is the quality of the resources available, such as laboratories, equipment and research materials?
Apply for graduate school
On average, graduate students receive more funding than undergradaute students. Receiving full or partial funding will help with your finances and in some cases, support you in your application process. Please note that funding structures and cost considerations will be different outside Canada.
Internal funding opportunities
Most universities have internal funding opportunities, including academic merit awards, research assistantships, teaching assistantships and donor awards. In most cases, you don’t need to apply for these opportunities—you’ll automatically be considered when your application is evaluated by the program or department. When you receive an offer for admission, it should include how much internal funding you are being offered as part of your admission. Once you start your graduate studies, there may also be opportunities to apply for additional research assistantships or teaching assistantships within your department.
Federal funding competitions (NSERC, SSHRC or CIHR)
If you’re a senior undergraduate or graduate student, consider completing an application for funding from one of the federal Tri-Councils (NSERC, SSHRC or CIHR). These competitions are awarded to individuals and require an internal pre-selection step at the university level. This means that if you were successful, you could choose to pursue your graduate work, with funding, at the institution of your choice. The University of Victoria has grantscrafters to help you organize and polish the outline of proposed research section of your application. For more information, visit the Faculty of Graduate Studies website.
Other external funding competitions
There are many other external funding competitions that you can apply for directly (they don’t involve an extra pre-selection step at the university level). You can search for these competitions on your own, or sometimes they will be circulated by your departmental secretaries. For more information, visit the Faculty of Graduate Studies website.
Most graduate program applications require two letters of recommendation from references who can speak to your skills, experience and personal qualities and why you're a strong candidate for the program. You'll want to leave your professors enough time to prepare in writing these letters—we recommend allowing at least four weeks.
Who should write your letter of recommendation?
Your letter of recommendation should ideally be written by a professor who knows you fairly well. Choose a professor that you have taken multiple classes with, whom you’ve developed a rapport with and who can comment knowledgeably on your skills and performance. When you start approaching your professors to ask them to write you a letter of recommendation, remember that they are putting their word behind your work as a student. Many professors may request to meet with you or see a copy of your résumé or CV before offering their letter of support. Make sure to ask in your first meeting whether they would be able to provide a strong letter of recommendation for your application, and tell them why you have chosen them to write the letter. If they have any hesitations, this may be a sign that they will not be able to offer a strong recommendation.
The writing process
It is your responsibility to find out the format and guidelines of the recommendation letter and how it should be submitted. If your professor agrees to write the letter, provide them with all of the application details, including submission guidelines and any criteria they are asked to address, well in advance of the deadline. You should also give them a copy of your résumé and any other relevant information that would be helpful in writing the letter. Your professor may ask you to provide input on the letter or to describe your strengths in your own words.
Be sure to thank your professor afterwards—a thank-you card or note is a nice idea! You can also follow up to let them know if you were successful in your application. By writing a letter of recommendation, they've invested in your future and will want to hear about your success and career direction.
Your statement of interest (a.k.a. written statement, research statement or personal statement) is a crucial part of your graduate or professional school application. It typically outlines your motivation for applying to the program, demonstrates your ability to excel in the program, outlines your research interests and shows you're a good fit for the program you're applying to. Some programs and schools will provide clear guidelines and criteria for written statements, while others allow you to choose what you'd like to include. Always refer to the specific guidelines for the school or program you're applying to.
A strong statement won’t make up for a weak application, but it can be the deciding factor if the program’s selection committee is considering several applicants of equal strength.
Research your program of interest
Read the instructions carefully for each school. Tailor each application to reflect that department’s culture, vision, research strengths and faculty areas of expertise.
Know your strengths
You’ll need to describe your strengths and how they will help you in your potential program. Explore the build your skills section for help with assessing and describing your competencies.
Spend some time reflecting on your life and experiences. Some questions for you to consider are:
- What experiences or education made you want to pursue further studies?
- What appeals to you about this specific program?
- What unique perspective can you bring to this area of study?
- What do you plan to do once you finish your studies?
Write your first draft
- When composing your first draft, strive to write an engaging and thoughtful piece. Some tips:
- Speak from the heart—don’t just say what you think the committee wants to hear.
- Be concise—get to the point early, catch the reader’s attention and focus on specific experiences. Be sure to follow the word count guidelines. If none are provided, limit the length to two pages or less.
- Show enthusiasm for this program and institution in particular and why you want to attend.
- Write with a confident and positive tone.
- Always keep your audience in mind. Professional schools have a different focus than master’s or doctoral programs.
- Did you follow all of the specified guidelines?
- Does your statement accurately reflect you and your goals and passions?
- Does it highlight your competencies (skills, knowledge and attributes) and experience as they relate to the program?
- Does it highlight your key research experiences?
- Does it reflect a sincere expression of your interest in the program and institution?
- Have you used any cliché phrases or long quotes that you may want to reconsider?
- Is it concise and gramatically correct?