Preparing & Applying

Standardized Testing: Graduate Admission’s Exams

When applying to graduate programs, one thing you want to check is whether or not you are required to submit test scores from a standardized test for admission. Admissions Exams include the Graduate Record Exam (general & subject tests), and the Graduate Management Admission Tests among others.

Some programs (particularly at the Masters level) do not require exams, so look at prospective programs before registering & preparing for an exam – you may save yourself time and money.

The Graduate Record Examination (GRE): The general test (typically for Graduate Programs in the Arts & Sciences) will measure verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, critical thinking and analytical writing and is not related to a specific area of study. The GRE subject tests measure knowledge and skill level in a specific area of study (e.g. Chemistry, Psychology). Some programs may require that you take both the general and subject tests.
Register for the GRE: Click Here

The Graduate Management Admissions Test: This exam measures verbal, mathematical, analytical, and writing skills that you’ve developed over time & helps graduate programs assess your qualifications for advanced study in business and management.
Register for the GMAT: Click Here

For Pre-Health & Pre-Law Students:

  • For information on exams for health related programs (e.g. MCAT, DAT) please visit the pre-health advising website: Click Here.
  • For information on the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) visit the Law School Admissions Council website: Click Here.

Test Preparation

Not everybody agrees about test preparation. Some people prefer one company over another. Others doubt whether or not taking a review course really helps, or they think it helps only as a confidence-builder. It is safe to say that most students try to fit in some sort of focused, intensive review before taking an admissions test. There are a variety of companies that offer test prep. Many of them offer discounts to Stony Brook Students. Some of these companies also offer several practice tests throughout the year that you can take for free. See below for test prep links and resources.

NOTE: Information provided on this server relating to goods and services offered by third parties is provided solely for information purposes and is not intended as an endorsement or expression of support by Stony Brook University or its agents and employees. Neither the University nor the State of New York assumes any liability for the acts or omissions of such third parties in the provision of those goods and services.

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Recommendation Letters

It’s never too early to start thinking about letters of recommendation that you’ll need for graduate and professional schools. The following advice is adapted from interviews with faculty and written from your instructor/recommender’s perspective.

Before you actually need a letter from faculty they ask you to:

  • Get to know me outside the class! - It is very hard to write a letter for a student that I don’t know very well. Particularly in larger classes, if you don’t make a point of coming to see me during office hours or review sessions, I won’t know very much more about you than whatever your final grade turns out to be – and that’s not enough information to write a letter.
  • I need to know more about you - what your interests are, what kinds of things you’re involved with, what are your goals and aspirations.
  • Let me know as early as possible that you are interested in graduate education and might be asking me for letters even if it’s still a couple semesters before actual application process.
  • Ask for my advice which programs are good fit for you - it will show your respect for my expertise, I am happy to offer advice, and our conversation will help you to get a sense of my opinion of your potential.

When you’re ready to apply - below are some rules I want you to observe when asking for the letter. Please make sure that you make the process:

Personal - Ask me directly, in person, rather than by email. Understand that you are asking for a favor, and that I may have to say “no.” This might be because I don’t have enough (or the right kind of) information to recommend you.

Organized - Provide me with an electronic file that has all of the information on all your programs, deadlines, format for letters, and how they should be submitted. For hardcopy letters, get all the forms, with clear instructions, deadlines, and postage for each form and turn them in to me in a single packet

Timely - When your applications deadlines get closer (e.g. It is senior year and you’re actually ready to apply to grad schools), let me know what to expect – how many schools you will be applying to and when the deadlines are. It doesn’t hurt to remind me as deadlines are approaching (email is fine for this.)

Convenient - Please recognize that it’s easier to do all the letters for a given student at once. So though your deadlines may occur over several months, anything you can do to compress the window in which I have the information to submit your letters, the better.

Customized- Ask me what information I need from you – a transcript, a resume. Also, ask me if I have any other preferences in this process

Courteous - If you decide not to apply to a given school/program, let me know. It’s really frustrating to have spent the weekend sending out letters of recommendation only to learn that a student decided not to apply after all. Let me know how your application process search is going. I took the time to write your letters, and I’d like to know how it all came out. Don’t forget to THANK me (and all your recommenders).

Stony Brook University uses an on-line credential service called Interfolio to keep your letters:

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Personal Statement

What is the purpose of the personal statement?

The purpose of the personal statement (also referred to as: Statement of Purpose or Candidate’s Admission Statement) is to gather information about you outside of your academic performance. In addition, to show the admissions committee how you think and how you explain your thoughts logically, and portray yourself as an individual who will be an asset to the program.

The personal statement is your opportunity to distinguish yourself. Remember – your personal statement should be a genuine reflection of you and why you are interested in the program – not merely what you think the admissions committee wants to hear.

What do Committees Ask?

Some person statements topics are open-ended. For example: “Tell us anything about yourself that you think we need to know.” Whether the topic is specific or open-ended, there are two main goals of the personal statement:

  • To create a portrait that is persuasive
  • To create a portrait that is personal

You want the readers to gain a better perspective of you that is interesting and memorable and to really know why you seek entry in the graduate program and the contribution you will make to the field.

Possible Topic Areas

  • Your motivation for seeking entry to the graduate program.
  • The influence of extracurricular, work or volunteer experiences on your life.
  • Personal philosophies as related to your goals
  • Acknowledge personal challenges and how you have overcome an obstacle or disadvantage

Compile information on the following:

  • Personal history
  • Personal life experiences
  • Academic life
  • Work life

Remember: like everything you write there should be a common connecting theme.

Avoid the Common Mistakes

  • Writing one statement for all schools
  • Writing what you think someone wants to hear
  • Appearing unrealistic
  • Getting to personal/ dwelling on crisis
  • Grammatical errors
  • Reviewing your resume

It is important to get feedback from several people before making any changes. Make an appointment to have the personal statement reviewed by at the Writing Center and pre-professional advisor.

Tips for the Writing Process

  • Get started by writing the first draft
  • Write an outline
  • Be positive in your personal statement
  • Share a story that most defines you
  • What interests you about the specific program?
  • Obtain feedback from other
  • Revise, revise, revise
  • Proofread

Please be advised – Even if you have the best qualifications and the highest numbers, do not neglect your personal statement.

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Financing Graduate School

  • Assistantships are usually campus-affiliated work assignments that provide an individual a stipend and often waive tuition and/or other matriculation fees. These positions are usually called by first letters depending on main responsibility: TA – teaching assistant, RA – research assistant, GA – graduate assistant (GA responsibilities can vary greatly depending on department). Assistantship can be offered at both the master and doctoral level.
  • Fellowships are typically granted to individuals to cover their living expenses while they carry out research or work on a project. Awards may span multiple-years. Awards are usually based on an individual's merit. Fellowships are typically reserved to students in PhD programs.
  • Scholarship awards are based on one or more of several criteria - merit, financial need, and discipline of study, career goals or membership within a minority group.
  • Loans are available from the government and private sources.

Web resources for financial assistance search:

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Suggested Timeline 

The graduate school selection & application process typically takes a year and a half to two years prior to your desirable start date. The following is a suggested timeline only for students choosing to pursue graduate school directly after college. Not sure when to go? Click here


  • Begin to visit the website of the colleges and universities that you may be interested in attending.
  • You are strongly encouraged to ACTIVELY pursue research opportunities, internships and other experiences opportunities related to your goals.
  • Have informational interviews with faculty and graduate students in your field of interest to learn more about the graduate programs.
  • Begin to identify potential recommenders among faculty. Most graduate programs want three or two letters of recommendation. It is important that the recommender can speak to your abilities and academic strengths.
  • Set up an appointment with a career counselor to discuss your professional goals, as well as the details related to selecting and applying to graduate programs.
  • Set up an appointment to review your academic progress with an academic advisor.
  • Attend educational programs that provide good information on the graduate school process and/or program options.
  • Begin focused investigation of graduate programs. Review the school websites, request additional information & try to identify your choices.


  • Speak with Faculty Directors of prospective programs and begin visiting schools you are considering.


  • Continue to visit graduate schools, especially those close to where you live.
  • Register & prepare for the appropriate standardized exam if/when required; you can also sign up for a practice Graduate Record Exam (GRE) or Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT); both Princeton Review and Kaplan offer free practice exams on campus
  • Select at least three graduate schools to apply to and discuss your choices with faculty/professionals in the field and/or career counselors.
  • Create a checklist to ensure that you have all the information that the graduate programs require. Remember, graduate school applications are not all the same. Make sure you create a checklist for each school that you plan to apply.
  • Complete all your applications by appropriate deadlines; ensuring all relevant materials are submitted to each school (e.g. Letter of Recommendation, Personal Statements, undergraduate transcripts, etc.)
  • Thank your recommenders and inform them of acceptance
  • Before graduating from Stony Brook have the Registrar’s Office send a final official transcript to the graduate school which you plan to attend with your complete academic record and the date of graduation posted on the record.

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