Admission Application Tips and Strategies

Academic Preparation

As you consider graduate school programs and evaluate your academic preparation, consider the steps you can take to become more competitive.

  • Strive for a high GPA. A 3.6 GPA and above is recommended for the most competitive schools.
  • Review the Step by Step advising tool. Although designed for Berkeley students, all students interested in graduate school can benefit from it.
  • Strengthen your language skills. Many arts & humanities graduate programs have considerable language requirements, which can delay your progress.
  • Get research experience. In your junior year, consider getting involved in undergraduate research or participating in a senior thesis program.
  • Continue to improve your writing skills. Your ability to write well is crucial both for admission and your ultimate success in your discipline.
  • Prepare for specific application requirements. For example, depending upon the program, you may need to develop a portfolio of art work or recordings of musical compositions to submit as a part of the graduate school application.
  • Take more coursework. Some students stay a fifth year to take extra courses, including postgraduate courses, or complete a master's degree in an academically strong program prior to applying to a doctoral program.

The Statement of Purpose

The statement of purpose (SOP) has been described as an intellectual résumé and is one of the most — if not the most — important components of your application. Faculty members look for intellectual vitality and promise in the SOP. They want to learn the highlights of your academic preparation for their program, your research or creative future interests, and why Berkeley is a good fit for you. 

General points to consider: 

  • The audience is department faculty who make the admission decisions.
  • Begin writing your SOP many months before the deadline to give yourself time to be thoughtful about what you write.
  • Your SOP must stand out among others. Your application may be one of hundreds.
  • At UC Berkeley, the SOP should focus on your academic record and future. Unless personal issues are directly and significantly related to your academics, they should not be included. Rather, that information may belong in your Personal Statement, in Form C.
  • Explain any irregularity in your academic record, such as low grades in a course or semester.
  • Convey your personality and intellectual abilities through careful and creative writing.
  • Steer clear of the passive voice. Be sure that your thoughts flow smoothly from one paragraph to another.
  • For Berkeley, do not exceed two single-spaced pages for the SOP.
  • Line up one or two people to critically read your SOP before it is finalized.

Academic preparation for the SOP:

  • Indicate what classes have best prepared you for graduate study and your specific interests.
  • Are there specific courses/mentors that have greatly influenced or shaped your academic pursuits?
  • What research experience or creative output have you accomplished in your field of interest?
  • What is your current command of language(s) required by the program?
  • Address experiences that have significantly enriched, informed, or influenced your graduate study choices (for example, study abroad, international language study, unique work opportunities).
  • Address significant research papers/projects or creative endeavors that are strong examples of in-depth study or effort (independent projects, senior theses, or musical compositions).
  • Depending on your discipline, you will need to discuss your research interests or creative direction in graduate school. For example, why do you desire to pursue Iberian literature or a master's degree that focuses on painting? You can also discuss the professors in your proposed department whose research interests parallel your own. It is not name dropping if you are thoughtful about referencing these individuals.
  • Why did you choose to apply to Berkeley? With whom would you like to work and why? What is significant about the department, program, or group?
  • Ultimately, why is Berkeley is a good match for you and for your future career goals?

Writing Sample

  • Identify the criteria you must follow for each program to which you will apply and follow them exactly. If the length can be no longer than 15 double-spaced pages, then do not submit more than 15 pages.
  • Do not lift a chapter from a senior or master's thesis or a previously written paper without reworking it. You must rework a paper or chapter to conform to the requirements of the program to which you are applying. Be sure that your writing sample is self-contained — that is, it has an introduction, body and summary, and is not dependent upon other work to be fully understood.
  • Do not submit multiple writing samples unless it is allowed.
  • Consider your topic. Although many programs indicate that the topic is not important, too often students submit writing samples on "tired" topics. If you plan to submit a writing sample on Shakespeare, be sure that it is a truly new, fresh approach, or that it incorporates cutting-edge research or criticism.
  • Submit your writing sample in English unless another language is permitted. For some disciplines, such as Italian studies or German, a writing sample in one of these languages may be acceptable, but you must follow the guidelines of the department.

Letters of Recommendation

Most programs require three letters of support.

  • Build relationships with potential letter-writers through your undergraduate years. If you are considering graduate school, you should get to know professors so that you will be able to ask them for recommendation letters, rather than graduate students or lecturers. For some disciplines, a letter from an employer may be weighed similarly to a professor (for example, business or education). Generally, a tenured professor is best.
  • Line up your letter-writers as early as the year before you apply, but no later than the beginning of the fall term that you will be applying.
  • Determine how many letters are required for each program, and plan to ask for one extra, just in case.
  • Ask the letter-writer if he or she would feel comfortable writing you a strong letter of recommendation. If no, thank him or her and move on to another individual. It is important that the letter be very positive.
  • Make an appointment to discuss your graduate school goals. Provide that person with the recommendation form, a draft of your statement of purpose, and a stamped, self-addressed envelope. You can also provide a curriculum vitae or résumé and update the person about your latest academic goals and personal activities. Be sure to review the deadline together. Give your letter-writer a minimum of one month to complete the letter. 

  • Send a "gentle reminder" via e-mail a few days before the due date.