Graduate School – Application


Most programs will not review your application until all parts of it are submitted. So, start preparing the application components early and send them in as soon as possible

A complete graduate school application usually consists of:

  • Application Form
  • Application Fee
  • Official Transcripts from all institutions attended
    To request your official transcript, contact the Office of the Registrar. For transcripts from other institutions, contact their Registrars.
  • Test Scores
  • Statement
  • Letters of Recommendation 

Graduate and professional schools often require some sort of written statement — often called a “statement of purpose,” “personal statement,” or “letter of intent”– as a part of the application. Some statements require rather specific information–for example, the applicant’s intended area of study within a graduate field. Still others are quite unstructured, leaving the applicant free to address a wide range of matters. The importance of the statement varies from school to school and from field to field.

Determine your purpose in writing the statement 

Usually the purpose is to persuade the admissions committee that you are an applicant who should be chosen. Whatever its purpose, the content must be presented in a manner that will give coherence to the whole statement.

Pay attention to the purpose throughout the statement so that extraneous material is left out.

Pay attention to the audience (committee) throughout the statement. Remember that your audience is made up of professionals in their field, and you are not going to tell them how they should act or what they should be. You are the amateur.

Determine the content of your statement

Be sure to answer any questions fully. Analyze the questions or guidance statements for the essay completely and answer all parts. Usually graduate and professional schools are interested in the following matters, although the form of the question(s) and the responses may vary:

  • Your purpose in graduate study. Think this through before you try to answer the question.
  • The area of study in which you wish to specialize. Learn about the discipline in animal and /or food science in detail so that you are able to state your preferences using the language of the field. It would be helpful to read some of the journal articles of faculty members under which you would like to study at the institutions you have selected.
  • Your intended future use of your graduate study. Include your career goals and plans for the future.
  • Your unique preparation and fitness for study in the field. Correlate your academic background with your extracurricular experience to show how they unite to make you a special candidate.
  • Any problems or inconsistencies in your records or scores, such as a bad semester. Explain in a positive manner. Since this is a rebuttal argument, it should be followed by a positive statement of your abilities. In some instances, it may be more appropriate to discuss this outside of the personal statement.
  • Any special conditions that are not revealed elsewhere in the application, such as a significant (35 hour per week) workload outside of school. This, too, should be followed with a positive statement about yourself and your future.
  • You may be asked, “Why do you wish to attend this school?” Research the school and describe its special appeal to you.
  • Above all, this statement should contain information about you as a person. They know nothing about you unless you tell them. You are the subject of the statement.

Determine your approach and style of the statement (click to open)

There is no such thing as “the perfect way to write a statement.” There is only the one that best fits you.


  • Be objective, yet self-revelatory. Write directly and in a straightforward manner that tells about your experience and what it means to you. Do not use “academese.”
  • Form conclusions that explain the value and meaning of your experience, such as what you learned about yourself and your field and your future goals. Draw your conclusions from the evidence your life provides.
  • Be specific. Document your conclusions with specific instances. See below a list of general words and phrases to avoid using without explanation.
  • Get to the point early on and catch the attention of the reader.
  • Limit its length to two pages or less. In some instances it may be longer, depending on the school’s instructions.


  • Use the “what I did with my life” approach.
  • Use the “I’ve always wanted to be a _____” approach.
  • Use a catalog of achievements. This is only a list of what you have done, and tells nothing about you as a person.
  • Lecture the reader. For example, you should not write a statement such as “Communication skills are important in this field.” Any graduate admissions committee member knows that.
  •  Words and phrases to avoid without explanation
feel good
appealing to me
appealing aspect
I like it
it’s important
I can contribute
meant a lot to me
helping people
I like helping people

How important are letters of recommendation?

  • Letters of recommendation are required for almost every graduate school application and are a very important part of the application process. Usually grades and test scores factor in most heavily; however, your letters of recommendation could be the deciding factor in the admission process.

How many letters of recommendation do I need?

Although it can vary, generally, you will be asked for three letters. We recommend that you send only the number of letters requested. Admissions committees do not have enough time to read extra credential

Whom should I ask for letters of recommendation?

  • The best letter writers are those that know you well and can provide an evaluation of your ability to perform and succeed at the graduate level.

Graduate and professional school admissions people tell us the following make the best letter writers:

  • Someone who knows you well
  • Someone with the title of “Professor”
  • Someone who is a professor at the school granting your baccalaureate degree
  • Someone who has earned the degree which you are seeking in your graduate work
  • Someone with an advanced degree who has supervised you in a job or internship aligned with the graduate program you are pursuing (e.g., Public Health, Social Work, Business Administration, etc.)
  • Someone who has academically evaluated you in an upper-division class
  • Note: Letters from family friends, political figures, and the like are discouraged and, in fact, may be detrimental.

How do I approach potential letter writers?

  • First, make a list of professors and/or supervisors who will be your best advocates. Then, set up an appointment to discuss your request in person. Do not make the request via email. Be prepared to articulate your interest and reasons for attending graduate school.
  • Letters of recommendation are written strictly on a voluntary basis. The best approach is to ask potential letter writers if they are willing to write you a strong letter. If you sense reluctance or the answer is no, ask someone else.

When should I approach letter writers?

  • Professors and supervisors are generally pleased to write on your behalf; however, they are usually involved in many activities. Faculty are especially busy during the months of May and September. Be considerate of your letter writers’ time and approach them at least two months before you need the letter.

How can I go about getting good letters of recommendation?

  • Since your best letters will come from those who know you well, make an effort to get to know your professors and/or supervisors. A few ways you can do this are to speak up in class, select courses with small class sizes, take more than one class from a professor, do research for a professor, take on optional projects, and regularly attend office hours.
  • The best strategy you can use to get a good letter of recommendation, particularly if a professor hasn’t known you long, is to provide your letter writer with ample information about you. This way, you will get a letter that includes concrete details about you, instead of a letter that contains only your grade, which is of limited value.

What information do my letter writers need to write good letters?

You can help your letter writers write enlightening letters by giving each of them a portfolio comprised of:

  1. A cover note (ok to send via email after your recommender has agreed to write a letter for you) that includes:
  • Information on how to get in touch with you in case they need to reach you
  • What you would like emphasized in each letter
  • A list of schools to which you are applying, and due dates, with the earliest due date at the top
  • Any other information that is relevant
  • Open and close your note with thanks and acknowledgement that the letter writer’s time is valuable and that this letter is important to your professional future.
  1. Your UD student ID (in case the recommender wants to view your transcript)
  2. A draft of your statement of purpose
  3. Your resume
  4. Recommendation forms are almost all electronic but you will have to provide the program with the Recommender’s name, title, contact info (telephone, fax, address etc)

Do graduate schools care if letters are confidential or not?

  • In general, graduate programs prefer confidential letters. Admissions officials say that it displays more confidence on the part of the applicant if letters are “confidential” (meaning you, the applicant cannot see the letter).


Graduate School – Financial Aid

  • Assistantships are usually campus-affiliated work assignments (e.g. graduate teaching instructor, research associate) that provide an individual a stipend (salary) and often waive tuition. Assistantship availability is discipline-specific, and most graduate students in the animal or food sciences are provided with assistantships.
  • Assistantships are often associated with a specific professor – that’s why it is important to identify potential research mentors before sending an application to the graduate program. Even if you meet admission requirements, admission will only be granted if a research mentor agrees to accept you into their lab and fund your assistantship.
  • The graduate school office will send all the applications for a department to the faculty in the department.
    • If you’ve already been corresponding with someone, they’ll see your application and say –“Oh – I know them and we’ve been chatting over email. I want him/her in my lab!”
  • Fellowships are typically granted to individuals to cover their stipend and tuition while they conduct their graduate work. Awards may be single or multiple-year and may come from a university or outside organization. Awards are highly competitive and based on an individual’s merit as measured by grades, GRE scores, publications, and letters of recommendation. If you are a strong student, fellowships are an excellent way to get you in virtually any lab of your choice.
  • Grants are most often awarded to cover expenses associated with carrying out research or other specific projects, such as travel, materials, or computers.
Researchers at UD look at stink bugs on sweet corn

How Do I Choose a School?


This next step is to research programs that match your interests and fit your needs. Don’t limit yourself at this point, but instead gather information on a broad range of programs. Click on any of the following steps to get advice on how to proceed.

  • Identify a broad discipline that you are interested in studying. For example, in the animal science field, this might be poultry nutrition, avian immunology, cattle reproduction, or equine genomics.
  • Find the UD faculty member(s) most closely related to that discipline and ask them where are the best programs or faculty in the discipline in which you want to study
  • Go to a research journal in the discipline in which you want to study and look for recent research papers you find interesting and see who the authors are.
    • For example – you could go to the Journal of Animal Science and look up “Ruminant Nutrition” and see who the professors studying ruminant nutrition are.
    • The address (college) of the corresponding authors is usually at the bottom of the first page. Corresponding authors are those people who directed the research and thus sponsored the graduate students.
    • Follow up by visiting the potential research mentor’s webpage to learn more about his/her research program.
  • Once you have some names of potential research mentors, look up some of their research papers published in journals and visit their website to get an understanding of the full scope of research they do in their laboratories
  • You can also consult sites such as these for researching graduate and professional schools. These are particularly useful if considering a graduate program outside of the animal or food sciences:
    • Peterson’s Graduate Schools
    • US News, Best Graduate Schools

  • Reputation of the Faculty – What are their academic degrees/credentials and research specialties? How many research articles have they published within the past few years? Look at faculty websites if available.
  • Quality of the Program – This is measured by many different factors, many of which are mentioned below. You may choose to look at graduate school rankings to help you assess a program’s quality.
  • Financial Costs – What are the opportunities for fellowships, assistantships, or scholarships? What other sources of financial aid are available?
  • Admission Requirements – GPA test scores, undergraduate coursework, undergraduate GPA, specific entrance examinations, etc.
  • Facilities – Consider the quality of on-site research facilities.
  • Geographic Location – Will studying in a particular location help you meet personal or professional goals?

Junior Year
  • Identify a discipline you would like to study
  • Begin researching available programs
  • Request promotional materials
  • Visit schools’ websites
  • Talk to faculty/alumni/current students in the program
  • Start exploring financial aid resources
  • Sign up for required standardized test and take a practice test
  • Identify potential letter writers
  • Take the required standardized test
Senior Year

Summer and Fall Semester

  • Email potential research mentors to enquire whether they will be accepting new students
  • Write the first draft of your statement of purpose
  • Request your letters of recommendation from faculty
  • Order official transcripts
  • Write final draft of statement of purpose
  • Complete and mail your applications
  • Apply for aid available through program; assistantships, fellowships, scholarships, etc.

Spring Semester

  • Complete and submit financial aid applications
  • Visit prospective campuses if possible, and talk to faculty/students to help you make your final decision
  • Follow-up with schools to make sure your file is complete
  • After receiving acceptance from the school of your choice, send in the required deposit, and contact other schools and decline acceptances
  • Write thank you notes to people who helped you




Why Graduate School?

  • Graduate school constitutes an advanced program of study focused on a particular academic discipline
  • In the animal or food sciences, graduate degrees are required for some higher level technical positions in industry, government, and academia
  • Graduate students conduct original research in a specific discipline (for example animal nutrition, animal reproductive physiology, growth physiology, immunology, virology, genetics, genomics, food microbiology, flavor chemistry, functional properties of foods)
  • Compared to undergraduate studies, graduate students in the animal or food sciences take one to two discipline-specific courses each semester and expectations regarding the quality and quantity of academic work are greater
  • Graduate degrees are available in almost any subject and should be selected based on your career objectives
  • Master’s degrees are usually completed by full-time students in 2 years. Following completion of a Master’s Degree, students can seek employment, apply to professional schools, or continue to a Doctoral Degree Program.
  • Doctoral degrees are the highest degrees possible. They usually require the creation of new knowledge via independent research on a focused issue. Doctoral degrees typically take 3-4 years to complete if a student already has a Master’s Degree or 5-7 years to complete without a Master’s Degree. Doctoral Degree recipients are eligible for highly-skilled jobs related to their field of study.