Everything You Absolutely Need Know About Grad School

By Tess Campbell Modified on November 01, 2023
Tags : Academics

If you're considering going to grad school, learn more about your options, deadlines, costs, and more.

 Everything You Absolutely Need to Know About Grad School

Did you know that approximately 9.4% of uni and college graduates in the working-age group (25-64) earned a graduate degree? So, if you’ve decided you want to continue your studies and go to grad school — either in a master’s or doctorate program — you’re in good company. But how do you know where you should begin your search? Here’s the details on what you’ll need to know to become a grad student.

Know when you should apply

Remember when you applied to your undergrad and all the application deadlines fell around the same time or even on the same day? Well, that’s not the case for grad school.

There is no one deadline date for applying to grad schools in Canada, or even in most other countries. The deadline for when you need to apply to a master’s or PhD program varies depending on the degree and school. The deadlines for when you can apply to begin grad school in the fall is commonly from December to February. However, some programs can have deadlines as early as November and as late as July.

The first thing you should look into when applying to grad school is application deadlines. Since deadlines can occur at any time, make a list of when schools and programs you’re interested in have their deadlines.

How can you find grad schools?

To help narrow down your grad school options, you’ll want to consider whether you want to study in Canada or in another country. While there are benefits to studying abroad, like how you can enter law school in the UK straight out of high school, there are other considerations to take into account. Can you afford to live abroad? Will the degree and certification you earn elsewhere be recognized in Canada? Will you have to do additional tests and tasks to make sure your qualifications are recognized in Canada? Make sure you weigh your pros and cons when choosing where you want to study!

You’ll also want to consider school size, school and program rankings, research options, your potential supervisors, type of program (course-based or thesis-based), and more.

To help begin your search, check out our program page to narrow down schools that offer programs you’re interested in, filter your results to specific locations, and compare programs to each other.

Still not sure what you should study? Check out what fields of study are popular. Did you know that 25% of working Canadians aged 30 to 59 who have a master’s degree, earned their degree in business and related studies? The next most common fields of study were education and teaching (13%), and social and behavioural sciences (11%). In contrast, 58% of these working Canadians have a PhD in STEM fields.

How do you apply to grad school?

In most cases, you’ll apply directly to the schools and programs you’re interested in — either in Canada or abroad. However, there are certain programs or areas where you’ll use an application service or portal instead of applying directly to the school.

If you want to study law, you’ll likely apply through a portal for multiple schools. For any law schools in Ontario, you’ll apply through the OLSAS application portal. If you’re applying to law school in the US, you’ll need to create an account with the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) to track your application, and then submit your documents to LSAC through the Credential Assembly Service. Or, if you want to study law in the UK right out of high school, you could apply through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service Portal (UCAS).

If you want to study medicine in Ontario, you’ll apply through the OMSAS application portal. If you want to apply to medical schools in the US, then you’d apply through the AMCAS application portal. Or, if you’re interested in studying medicine in the UK right out of high school, then you’d apply through UCAS.

Make sure you do your research to see how each school prefers you to apply to their program!

What do you need to apply to grad school?

Each school and program have their own list of requirements that they expect applicants to submit, and these lists can be short or extensive. Check out this list of common grad school requirements you may need:

  • References
  • Personal essay or statement of purpose
  • Resumé or curriculum vitae
  • Prerequisite courses
  • GPA
  • Writing sample or portfolio
  • Admissions test

If your program is specialized, like medicine or law, your admissions requirements could be more extensive with interviews, criminal record checks, and more.

These requirements could take some time to get sorted, so make sure you give yourself plenty of time in advance of the program application deadline. Starting to prepare these requirements in your third year of a four-year degree would allow you enough time to create connections with your profs, study for any admissions exams, and boost your GPA. Keep in mind that you don’t have to go to grad school right after graduation. You can always come back to grad school down the road when you’ve earned some work experience.

Let’s talk about admissions tests

Depending on your program, you may need to take an admissions test to apply. Professional programs, like medicine, law, or dental, can also have their own specific admissions exams. More general grad school admissions tests are less commonly requested by Canadian schools than US ones — but, that doesn’t mean that you might not need to take a test. Check out the common admission tests used for grad school in Canada:

  • GREthe Graduate Record Examination has two options: the GRE general test is meant to measure your academic readiness for grad school and the GRE subject tests are content-based exams that assess your knowledge in a specific field of study.
    • Every school has different minimum score requirements, but the average score for general test takers have received a 150.94 in the verbal reasoning section, 155.44 for the quantitative reasoning section, and a 3.56 for the analytical writing portion
    • You can take the GRE up to five times in 12 months. It’s recommended that you spend two to three months studying in preparation for the exam
  • GMATthe Graduate Management Admissions Test examines your critical thinking and reasoning skills relevant for business programs.
    • Every school has different minimum score requirements, but typically a score of 550+ is accepted
    • You can take the GMAT up to five times in 12 months. It’s recommended that you spend two to three months studying in preparation for the exam
  • MCATthe Medical College Admission Test assesses your critical thinking and problem-solving skills in the field of medicine as well as natural and social sciences concepts.
    • Some schools will have a minimum MCAT score requirement, which will vary. A total MCAT score of around 515 or higher is a competitive score for medical schools
    • You can take the MCAT up to three times in a single testing year. It’s recommended that you spend no more than six months studying in preparation for the exam
  • LSATthe Law School Admissions Test assesses your critical reasoning, reading comprehension, and persuasive writing.
    • Most law schools don’t have a minimum LSAT score requirement, but a 150 is a good score
    • You can take the LSAT up to three times in a single testing year. It’s recommended that you spend about three months studying in preparation for the exam. You’ll need to have taken the LSAT by January before the fall start at the latest, and schools will accept your highest score from multiple attempts
  • DATthe Dental Aptitude Test measures your academic ability, scientific understanding, and perceptual ability.
    • A DAT score of 19-20 is very good, with the average around 17-18
    • You can take the DAT up to three times in a 12-month period. It’s recommended that you spend three to four months studying in preparation for the exam
  • CASPer Testthe CASPer test is a situational judgement test used to measure your social intelligence and professionalism.
    • Students will only receive their quartile scores, which means where they placed in relation to all other peers who took the test at the same time. Scoring in the fourth quartile will make you a competitive applicant.
    • You can only take the CASPer once per admission cycle. Since it’s a behaviour-based test, you can prepare by reviewing the practice questions in advance

In some cases, you may need to complete more than one admissions test. For example, some medical schools require applicants to submit MCAT scores and CASPer results. Make sure you do your research on if a school requires an admission exam and what score you’ll need to achieve since it varies for every school.

How much could grad school in Canada cost?

Taking on the costs of another year or so of education can be intimidating, but how much can you actually expect to spend on tuition in Canada?

The government of Canada released data that shows the tuition costs for Canadian grad schools based on fields of study. If you’re a Canadian student, check out the tuition costs for domestic students in grad school, or if you’re an international student, explore the tuition costs for international students at grad school in Canada. You can even filter this data further to identify graduate tuition costs in each province.

Based on this data, tuition for grad degrees in humanities for the 2023/2024 year is $4,994 for domestic students and $16,047 for international students. In comparison, tuition for engineering programs in 2023/2024 is $7,696 for domestic students and $25,137 for international students.

If you’re considering studying in another country, you’ll need to keep in mind that your tuition costs can be double, or sometimes triple, the cost of the same program in Canada. For example, check out the cost breakdown for medical school in Canada vs. abroad and law school in Canada vs. abroad for a more detailed look at how much each degree could cost.

How to help fund your grad studies

While grad school can add some additional years of costs, keep in mind that there are ways to alleviate these finances. Many grad schools provide various ways to help students pay for their education. This could be through scholarships, grants, research and tutorial assistant positions, and fellowships.

You could also look for external scholarships to help with your school costs. You could find government and provincial grants and scholarships like these:

Another way to help fund your education is with student loans and grants. For example, if you’re from Ontario, you could apply for funding through OSAP. If you’re an international student studying in Canada, you could apply for a loan through MPOWER.

Your salary after grad school

Did you know one of the benefits of attaining a graduate degree is it gives you the potential for a higher salary than if you just had an undergraduate degree? Due to the additional years of school, you’re considered more of an expert in your field with a more advanced knowledge and set of skills. This will help you leverage your degree to earn a higher salary and be considered for more promotions.

Don’t believe me? The data speaks for itself! Check out the average employment income for each level of education:

 Everything You Absolutely Need to Know About Grad School

If you’re someone who loves to learn, likes to challenge yourself, and wants to become an expert in your field, then grad school is a great option for you! While the decision for where you should go to grad school can be tricky, considering these factors can help you narrow down your choices.

Explore your graduate program options

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