Going to graduate school is an important decision. It can be a very different experience than an undergraduate degree. You may want to think about how the program aligns with your interests and your financial support, as well as how the program relates to your career goals.
You could start by:
The graduate school experience is very different from the undergraduate experience. While you take fewer courses and have fewer weekly assignments, you are required to keep yourself on track with the course content. Most of your courses will be seminar–style, which are more demanding in terms of participation, discussion, reading and writing. Depending on your program, you may be expected to do a significant amount of independent research.
A great way to learn about the differences between your current program and a graduate–level degree is to connect with current graduate students and faculty in your area or at your school(s) of choice to find out more.
The length of a program can vary, depending on the type of program and whether you’re able to study full–time or part–time. You can check the program’s website for information about length of study.
In general, Master’s programs can be between 1–2 years at full–time study, and PhD programs are a minimum of 4 years.
Yes! Depending on the area of study, you may be able to do a course–based or a research–based Master’s program. Here’s a quick comparison of the two options:
A course–based Master’s degree is usually one year in length, although different programs can range from eight months to two years. In general, a course–based Master’s will require more courses than a research–based Master’s. It may incorporate a major research project or paper, and may incorporate co–op or practicum experiences.
A research-based Master’s degree is usually two years in length, although some programs may be as short as one year. In general, a research–based Master’s will require fewer courses than a course–based Master’s. It will incorporate individual research that culminates in a thesis or major project, and may incorporate a thesis defense.
To find a good program fit, you will need to understand your interests and motivations for further study. Ultimately, how a program connects with your specific reasons for further education will guide your decision.
Start by doing your research into possible programs to learn more. If you need support to identify your interests and motivations or to weigh program options, you can book a drop–in with a further education advisor.
If you are interested in continuing your education at UWaterloo, you can browse the over 180 programs offered.
One way to start off your research into graduate programs is to make a list of potential programs to consider. Program search sites can help you understand which programs are available. You can limit your search by a variety of factors that reflect your needs and interests. Here are some websites to get you started:
Your search terminology might restrict the options you find in these search sites; you can also use a web search and the graduate studies page of any universities you are particularly interested in.
An alternate way of researching graduate programs is to investigate the teaching and research interests of the program faculty. You could begin by reading widely in your target field. In this process, you will identify areas of research and specific researchers whose work interests you. You can search the researchers and areas of research to identify programs that support this area of study.
Depending on where you will be applying, the application and start timelines, document conventions, and program structure may be different. It is important to research the conventions in the location you are applying to.
If you are applying outside of Canada you will need to meet immigration requirements in the country you will be living in. Immigration requirements vary widely; you will need to research them thoroughly as part of your planning. You may also need to show proof that you can pay tuition when you enter the country where you will study.
Depending on your immigration status in the country where you will study, you may be considered an international student. International students often pay higher tuition. Some programs in the United States give special status to Canadian applicants.
Some institutions have rolling admissions, which means applications are accepted at any time or before the advertised deadline. Admissions committees will review a complete file and make offers and funding decisions based on an applicant’s file. Applying early to a program can help you secure a spot before more competitive applications are received.
The requirements for a graduate program vary widely by discipline and program. Most will have academic requirements, like a competed undergraduate degree, certain levels of performance in undergraduate studies, prerequisite courses, and foundational knowledge in one or more areas of study.
If you plan to pursue a research–based graduate degree, having some undergraduate research experience can help create a more competitive candidacy. It will also help you prepare for graduate–level research.
Some programs have experiential requirements; they might want particular work or volunteer backgrounds, engagement with diverse populations, leadership experience, or other qualifying experiences.
Research any graduate programs that you might be interested in to understand their requirements as fully as possible. If you are not certain what types of programs you might apply to, maintaining a high academic average, obtaining research experience, and engaging in extracurricular activities you are interested in are good ways of preparing for almost any area of graduate study.
A Ph.D. is a research intensive degree, and a course–based Master’s doesn’t provide students with the same opportunities to do research as a thesis–based Master’s degree can. For that reason, it can be difficult to be competitive for a Ph.D. coming from a course–based Master’s degree. In many cases, Ph.D. admissions will specifically ask for a research–based Master’s to qualify. At the very least, the admissions committee will be looking for something equivalent to graduate–level research experience.
Some Ph.D. programs may provide the option to complete a Qualifying Research Paper to showcase your research abilities. If you’re not able to find detailed information on the program’s admission requirements page, consider connecting with the admissions staff to find out more.
A Master’s degree is often required for entry into a Ph.D. program in Canada. Research–intensive Master’s programs may give you an advantage when applying for a Ph.D. Some programs allow you to transfer from a Master’s to a Ph.D. program prior to writing your thesis. In rare instances, you may apply for direct entry to a Ph.D. program with only an undergraduate degree. Direct entry to a Ph.D. is more common to American graduate programs. Contacting the graduate admissions office will be your best source of information on your options for a Ph.D.!
At a minimum, you need to identify or find research that aligns with your interests, as well as a graduate supervisor’s interest. It will be important to find a balance between a research area that is too broad or too limiting.
A graduate supervisor is a faculty member that mentors a graduate student in their research. Most research–based programs require that you have a supervisor. Your supervisor will be the key person to contact at every stage of your research, from selecting your research topic, assessing your findings, to your thesis defense, if applicable.
In most cases, the graduate department website will provide a list of faculty that can be potential supervisors. Keep in mind that this list may not identify which faculty are available. In some disciplines, there is more research funding available than others, which may impact the number of potential supervisors working within your research interests.
When deciding on a supervisor, read their publications, attend conferences, and connect with current professors, teaching assistants, graduate students or alumni. It is strongly recommended that applicants contact potential supervisors to ensure that their research interests align. If programs advise applicants not to contact potential supervisors, follow this advice.
Send a professional email about 200 words in length focusing on how your research interests align with their research and how your skills will help the supervisor’s research team. Attach your resume and an unofficial transcript, if your marks are competitive, and list whether you are applying for scholarships. Ask to meet with the potential supervisor and tour their lab, or to set up a Skype or phone appointment.
The application timeline for most graduate programs runs through the fall term. Contacting potential supervisors in the summer between your 3rd and 4th year should give you enough time to connect before you write your application materials.
If your program application timeline is different, you might contact potential supervisors earlier or later in the year.
If a potential supervisor does not respond to your email, follow up with a phone call. If you do not receive a response, you could consider following up again or searching for an alternate supervisor.
If you are meeting your potential supervisor months in advance of the application, keep in touch!
If your program(s) of interest advise applicants not to contact potential supervisors, follow this advice.
For research–based programs, you can technically apply to graduate programs without contacting supervisors. If you choose not to, you will not be able to mention that you met them, toured their space and/or thoroughly understand their research in your letter of intent. Your application will not have the same personal connection or enthusiasm as others. Even if you don’t contact them, you will need to provide a list of potential supervisors in your areas of research interest when you apply.
There are many different ways to explore your research interests.
You could begin to develop your research interest by reading widely in your target field. In this process, you will learn about research methods, processes, and questions in your field. You may also identify areas of research and specific researchers whose work interests you.
Another potential approach is to consider your motivation for graduate study. Is there a particular problem that you want to solve? Something you want to learn about in more detail? A question you developed in your undergraduate study, or maybe something you think will be relevant to your future career? There are likely researchers working in this area and you can further develop your research interest by seeking them out.
A third way of developing your research interest is through conversation with existing researchers. You could consider connecting with current graduate students in your department or area of study, asking your professors about their current projects, and/or attending conferences or invited speaker sessions. Engaging with other researchers this way will help you further develop your research interests.
It may be helpful to find a professor who shares your interests and who will act as a mentor. This professor may be willing to help you identify the programs that are best suited to your interests and assist you in the selection and application processes. Also consider contacting the graduate student associations at your universities of interest as well as relevant professional associations: they may provide you with first-hand, up–to–date insights into programs.
Transcript: Thinking about Grad School (PDF)
Applications to grad programs could include some combination of the following:
Each program sets their own requirements. To know which documents are required for your program(s) of choice, check out the Admission Requirements page for each school!
Most applications in Canada are due in the late fall and early winter. Some program deadlines are as late as early spring. Be sure to check the deadlines for your particular program.
Most grad schools accept online applications where you can submit all of your required forms directly. Otherwise, you can request applications from the programs through the mail. If you will submit an application by mail, make sure you have enough time to receive and return the application before the deadline. The applicant is responsible for ensuring all documents are included and submitted on time.
Applying to grad schools in Canada usually requires an application fee. Most online applications allow you to pay by credit card.
If you are paying via cheque in a paper application, please contact the program to ensure you know who the cheque is payable to.
If your application package includes a statement of research interest, this is the best place to share information about your proposed research.
Otherwise, your letter of intent, sometimes called personal statement, is the best place to talk about your research interests, reasons for choosing the program and past experience that make you a strong candidate for the program. This is also the opportunity to mention whether you had met with a supervisor and aligned your research interests.
Here are a few things to consider when you want to find out more about the program you are applying to.
Most professors view writing reference letters as an important part of their work. They might post reference letter policies or instructions online, so check in advance to see whether they provide specific guidance.
If your professor does not have a reference letter policy, approach them by email or appointment. Share that you are looking for a strong letter, and let them know which experiences or competencies are relevant to your program(s) of interest.
Be prepared to share your up–to–date CV or résumé, a draft of your statement of interest, your unofficial transcript, and any additional information that will help your professor write a strong letter on your behalf.
A strong letter of reference communicates that you will be a good graduate student. Ideally, it will come from a professor who can speak positively about your academic ability and your interpersonal characteristics as they relate to graduate school.
Likely, this means that you are looking for a professor of a course that you did well in. If you are able to use a professor from a relatively recent course, or a professor who has seen your work in more than one course, it’s helpful (but not required).
If you can think of a professor who knows you outside of the classroom, maybe someone you saw in office hours, someone who supervised you as a TA or RA, or someone you volunteered for, they might be able to share additional context about your work ethic, reliability, and other personal characteristics.
If you aren’t certain who to choose or are stuck between two or more options, the best reference always comes from the person who can speak about your abilities in the most positive way.
Programs usually request an academic reference because they want to understand your ability to succeed academically. In most cases, a professional reference is not an appropriate substitution for an academic reference.
If you have been out of university for some time, find out whether there is a mature applicant category at the program(s) you are applying to. Sometimes, applying under this category means that you are able to provide professional references instead of academic.
Your program choice(s) will determine which tests, if any, you need to take before applying. Research your program(s) thoroughly to find out whether a test score is required.
Occasionally, a program will indicate that a test score may be submitted but is not required. In this case, a strong test score might mitigate weaker grades on an application; if you are not sure whether you should write an admissions test, reach out to staff at the program to find out.
For most programs, competitiveness varies by program and year. If you are concerned because your GPA is in the lower range of admitted applicants or close to the minimum required GPA that that the program publicizes, contact admissions staff to learn more about the range of competitive GPAs.
If your GPA is below the minimum required for the program, you may choose to pursue additional coursework to improve your application. You may also contact admissions staff to learn how they review files with an uncompetitive GPA.
Writing a personal statement but not sure where to start (and maybe what it is)?
There are a lot of names for similar documents; we are using the term personal statement because it’s shorter than writing out all the possible names each time we refer to this document. The information you’ll read below applies to almost any prose you need to submit as part of an application. The requirements for length and the question prompts for your statement will vary depending on where you’re applying, so read all of the specific instructions for your document carefully.
If you are writing a statement of research interest, it will help you to seek out specialized resources for that document.
Most programs have requirements for your grades, experience, and/or test scores. Usually, more applicants meet these criteria than the program can admit, and the personal statement plays an important role in deciding who, of all the qualified applicants, will enter the program.
The personal statement tells the committee how you see yourself fitting with the program. It is how they understand your motivations and how you see the program aligning with your overall goals. It teaches them about you, the person, and not just about your grades or your test scores.
A strong personal statement is an argument that you should be admitted to the program you are applying to. It will show your fit and preparation for further study, and for the program you are applying to in particular. It will be unique to you because it will represent your personal motivations and experiences.
There is a lot of conflicting advice about what to share on a personal statement. The most important factor in what you share is the question prompts for your specific application; these will form the foundation for your content decisions.
You will likely include your specific motivation and interest for this particular type of further study and show that you are prepared to do well in this program and field by sharing some of your most important relevant experiences.
Take a second pass through the program resources, both online and in print where applicable, to be sure that this information isn’t available. If you can’t locate the personal statement requirements, you could consider contacting a program representative and asking for clarification.
If you still don’t understand what is required for this particular personal statement, general guidelines are one to two pages in length. Traditionally, you would talk about why you are applying to this program in particular and what has prepared you to do well in the program and/or career you are pursuing.
The most likely readers of your personal statement are professors or instructors on the admissions committee of the program or department that you are applying to. Think about this audience when you develop your materials; not every reader will be an expert in your specific technical discipline, so you will likely have some translation work to do to ensure your experiences are relatable.
A strong personal statement uses your unique voice to share your motivations and experiences as they relate to your program of interest. If someone else tries to write your personal statement for you, or substantially edit it, the quality of your statement will be negatively affected.
You are the expert on your own motivations and experiences; your best personal statement will always be one that you write.
If someone else writes your personal statement, it likely violates academic integrity policies. Some programs use writing components in their interview process and/or compare different samples of your writing to identify cheating. They may also use plagiarism detection software.
No two candidates are exactly alike; what worked for a friend or in a statement template might not be right for you.
Before you get feedback or advice from other people, or read statements to see how others have approached their application, try the reflection activities and steps in the section on how to write a good personal statement. The best way of creating a unique statement is to understand what you want to communicate and why, and avoid being overly influenced by others’.
If you’ve already gotten feedback or advice or read other statements, it’s okay! Try to go through the below steps with a fresh mind.
So you’ve read through the basics and you still have questions? Totally! Every person and therefore personal statement is different. If you’re wondering about tackling a specific topic in your personal statement, you might find your question(s) here!
It’s very normal to have one or more experiences that affect your candidacy in some way. Sometimes what feels like a large concern to you will not be remarkable to an admissions committee. Other times, the admissions committee is likely to notice that something affected your studies. You may also have information that an admissions committee could use to contextualize your candidacy.
For most programs, you do not need to address a single low grade, particularly if it does not fall within the period of time that a program looks at to determine your admission average. For example, if you received a low grade in a course in first year, but the program you are applying to only looks at your last two years of performance, you would not normally address this on your application. Likewise, if you are normally an 80s student and received one grade in the 70s, you would not normally address this on your application.
If you have had one or more terms of significantly lower grades, a large number of WDs, an absence from your studies, or something similar, it is likely that the admissions committee will notice evidence that something happened. If you experienced an accessibility need, or your performance was affected by another personal factor, you may wonder whether to share this information or apply under an access category.
You are never required to share your personal story, and deciding how to handle this type of experience involves two main considerations:
Evaluating exactly how to proceed with information sharing (or not) can take a lot of reflection. If youâ€™re feeling stuck, attend a drop-in with a further education advisor to talk in more detail.
It’s tempting to list off a series of positive qualities about your target school or program; to make this a meaningful part of your personal statement, avoid generic content that could easily belong on someone else’s document.
Instead, think about what drew you apply to this particular program. Is it the geographic location? The type of training you will receive there? A particular researcher or instructor you want to work with? The institution’s research history or research areas? What others say about the program? The institution’s reputation?
Whatever your reasons, reflect on why they are important, how they connect to your studies, and what they mean for your ability to succeed in the program.
It’s common for people to try sitting down and writing as the first step of their personal statement. You will likely save time and develop a stronger statement if you do some background work first.
You need to understand what questions you’re answering and how much space you have. To find the question prompt(s) for the personal statement, document length, and core competencies for the program or profession, you could:
You will know this stage is done when you know what question(s) you are responding to and how much space you have to do so.
Some programs do not give a specific question prompt or length for your personal statement. If this is the case for your program, follow traditional guidelines by creating a statement that is one to two pages long. Address why you are applying to this program in particular and what has prepared you to do well in the program and/or career you are pursuing.
You will use your personal statement to communicate to a specific audience. You need to understand that audience and what they care about in order to communicate effectively with them. To find out what they look for, you could:
You’ll know this stage is done when you understand what skills, experiences, and qualities you might need to be successful in this program.
You will use your past experiences to show that you will be successful in the program you are applying to. Look for the closest possible proof that you have what it takes. To identify your relevant experiences, you might:
One of the myths about personal statements is that you should only share stories that have a perfect happy ending; in reality, stories that don’t end perfectly can be the best at teaching you about yourself and your skills.
If you want to dive deep into your experiences, you can try the Access Your Experiences worksheet. This exercise asks you to identify important experiences, think about why you engaged with them, and then think beyond your surface reasons to the deeper “why” of your background. Often, that deeper why is similar for many of your experiences, and can form a cohesive foundation for your personal statement.
You’ll know this stage is done when you have remembered and reflected on your relevant experiences.
At this point, you have done extensive background work. You likely have a good idea of which stories you want to tell on your application. To start writing your personal statement, you might:
You’ll know this stage is done when you have one or more rough drafts of your statement.
The final stage of writing a strong personal statement is revising your document. You might:
You’ll know this stage is done when you have shared the stories that are most important to you, and hear from others that your statement clearly shares the messages you want an admissions committee to receive about you.
It’s not common for graduate programs to conduct formal interviews as part of their admissions process, but a small number of programs do integrate interviews into their admissions. If it is a standard admissions requirement, the specific program’s admission webpage will have information on their process and format. Interviews may be standard panel style, via Skype or another online platform, or involve more program–specific components.
If you are applying to a professional program (e.g., Speech Language Pathology, Audiology, Social Work, etc.), please see the interview section under your program of interest.
If the school(s) you’re applying to are far away, perhaps overseas, it may be difficult to organize an in–person interview. The admissions committee may or may not present you with options for distance interviews (e.g., Skype). You can always respond to the invite with questions, but prepare for the possibility that you’ll need to arrange transportation and coordinate with admissions.
Standard panel interviews are the most familiar interview type. An admissions committee, sometimes made up of faculty, admissions or recruitment staff, or current graduate students, will ask you a series of questions. They may ask about your interest in the program, qualifications, and future goals to determine your fit with the program.
Preparing for a graduate school interview isn’t all that different from any other interview. If you’ve interviewed for any job or volunteer position before, you have a head start! The short answer is, do whatever you need to do to feel prepared and confident heading into the interview. That could include:
The program you’ve applied to may have a set list of questions, or they might not. Check the program website or invitation email to see if they’ve shared any information about their interview process and what it might include.
Here are some common questions you can practice for graduate school interviews, no matter which program you’re interviewing for:
When a potential supervisor is evaluating your fit with their research and/or lab, they could ask to speak with you for a more informal type of interview. They may ask to set up a Skype chat or meet you for coffee.
First of all, this is great news! It likely means they’re impressed by the information they have about you. This is an opportunity to connect more and get to know one another, ask questions, and asses two–way fit.
You’ll be more relaxed and do your best possible job by spending a little time to prepare in advance.
You can prepare much like you would for a formal interview. Come ready to talk about your research interests, previous experience, a proposed area of study for your degree, and maybe your future goals. Consider running through some of the common interview questions above. If that doesn’t feel like enough, you can book a Further Education Interview drop’in.
This chat isn’t just about them getting to know you; it’s also an opportunity for you to ask them questions that you’ve been wondering about.
What do you genuinely want to know about that program and that supervisor? So much of your graduate school experience will depend on your relationship with your supervisor. It’s important to understand if they’re a good fit for both your research interests and your working style. You can ask them questions about: