RISE Program

Grad School Application Primer

Your grad school application usually consists of 5 parts:

  • General GRE Test
  • Personal statement
  • Statement of purpose
  • Resume/CV
  • Letters of recommendation

1. GENERAL GRE TEST. Your scores on the three parts of this test are part of your application package. Be sure that you take the test in time so that your scores are ready when you file your grad school application. Register and attend one of the periodic CSU-RISE workshops to prepare for the test. Scores are reported by ETS online approximately one month after you take the test and by mail a week later. So, plan ahead so that you have the test results in time for your grad school application. CSU-RISE students are eligible for a partial fee waiver for the test. See Dr Sherman for instructions on how to apply for this.

2. PERSONAL STATEMENT is your introduction to the Admissions Committee. It’s different from your CV – the CV is just a list of what you have done. In the PERSONAL STATEMENT the Admissions Committee is looking for:

  • passion for science
  • whether you know what science is about
  • what makes you special


  • Write an outline to cover all points
  • Write a first draft
  • Show the first draft to your research mentor for input and comments
  • Highlight the parts that you want to stress
  • Show that you are a good match for the position that you are applying for.
  • Share your statement with faculty who will write recommendations. You want the letters of recommendation to be consistent with your personal statement.


PARAGRAPHS 1, 2: Describe your interest in science. Let them know what makes you special.

  • How have your background and life experiences, including cultural, geographical, financial, educational or other opportunities or challenges motivated your decision to pursue a graduate degree at ### University.
  • How will you contribute to the diversity of the ### University student body? Have you been active in organizations or activities that promote diversity? What adversity did you overcome to achieve your academic and personal goals?

PARAGRAPHS3, 4, etc: Summary of your past research experience.

  • Whose lab(s) you worked in.
  • What was important in the work
  • Big picture of research
  • Your role in the project(s).
  • Outcome(s) of the research – publications, presentations, etc


  • Knowledge of specific programs at ### University.
  • Knowledge of faculty at the institution that you are applying to.
  • Fields of research at the institution that you are applying to.
  • Show that you have done your homework about the institution that you are applying to.


  • Writing about past academic issues. For example, extenuating circumstances for low grades in a given semester. *
  • Personal challenges*
  • Financial struggles*

* If any of these existed in your past, it’s best to have the faculty who write your references talk about these issues.


  • Avoid spelling & grammar errors
  • Write concisely – admissions folks have to read many, many applications. Don’t waste their time waffling!
  • Don’t use large blocks of text. Use headings or bullet points to emphasize important points.
  • Use good vocabulary
  • Be honest – don’t exaggerate.
  • Once you have finished, read it out load. The narrative should flow.
  • Be comfortable talking about everything you have written in the future interview.
  • Ask for help from mentors, professors, advisors, peers, but not from relatives! And,
  • Important: take the PERSONAL STATEMENT with you to the interview. You may have written it weeks or months before so you need to remind yourself about all the points you covered.


What should I include in my academic statement of purpose? This is the place to provide evidence of your extensive research experience.

Be sure to include:

  • Descriptions of all research experiences. What was the overall goal of each project?
  • What hypothesis did you test and how did you test it in each project?
  • Who did you work and interact with? What were your results? How were they significant and how did they fit into the overall goals of the lab?
  • Have you presented your work at a scientific conference or symposium? Are you a co-author on a scientific abstract or paper? Is it published (give citation) or under review?
  • How will earning this PhD help you to achieve your life goals?
  • Why ### University? Are there specific programs or researchers there that interest you?

4. RESUME. In the Resume/CV, be sure to list:

  • academic honors
  • relevant academic and professional experience
  • research projects you worked on
  • full citations of conference presentations and any publications that you were the co-author on.


From whom should I request letters of recommendation?

  • At least one of your letters must be from a primary research mentor.
  • Other letters may be from professors, the director of your academic program, or a research supervisor at any off-campus internship.
  • Remember, it is important that your letter writers know you well and can speak to your potential in research.
  • Do not request letters from students, from non-research-related employment supervisors or from personal/family friends.
  • Share your PERSONAL STATEMENT with persons writing your letters so that they can address the items that you want them to.
  • Letters of recommendations are very, very important! So don’t leave it to the last moment to request these. Give the person you are requesting the letter from enough time to write a good one and cover all the points that you might want them to cover (see Section 2.3, above).

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