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STEM Graduate School Application Quick Start Guide

If you are thinking about applying to graduate school in STEM, you've come to the right place! Here is a collection of resources to get you started, or to keep you on track as you complete your applications.

1. Getting started

If you are getting a sense of some details of what a graduate in STEM entails, and whether or not you might be ready to apply, download our Grad School Preparation Guide.

2. What to expect?

Check out our Timeline to get a sense of when you should be completing different requirements for the graduate school. (PDF version here).

3. Personal statements & CVs

Start crafting these early, and make sure to get feedback from research mentors and current graduate students, if you can! Read as many successful examples as you can, and read our personal statement how-to guide.

4. Keep in touch with Cientifico Latino

We host several webinars about the graduate school application process, and readily answer questions over email & twitter! Join our email list or follow us on social media so that we can help demystify the graduate school application process for you.

5. Are you an underrepresented student? Join our mentorship program.

Our Graduate Student Mentorship Initiative (GSMI) is an independently-run guided mentorship program for underrepresented students where we will pair you with current grad student or postdoc who can help you by answering questions you have about graduation school and read over your application materials. Sign up here to join our GSMI cohort for the new application cycle.

Frequently Asked Questions

For more information visit our comprehensive FAQ page (coming soon)!

1. What do I need to apply to a STEM PhD program?

The most important things you need to have a strong application are: research experience, strong letters of recommendation, a well-written personal statement*, and good grades in your science courses (particularly if you have less research experience). 

*Note: The personal statement for graduate school is very different than for undergraduate school applications. You will focus on describing your strengths as a scientists and your understanding of your research experiences - do not focus on narratives or metaphors. It is more of a "professional" statement than a personal one.

2. Are there opportunities for underrepresented students applying to PhD programs?

There are​! Diversity Preview weekends are open house weekends hosted by graduate programs that usually include paid food and travel.

Also, look into Científico Latino Graduate School Mentorship Initiative Program, where we will pair you with a mentor to individually help you with your application package, and provide you with additional information and resources demystify the process throughout the application cycle.

3. What can I do to prepare my application as a junior in college (or younger)?

Apply to summer research programs! These are paid opportunities, usually for 6-8 weeks, for you to work in a lab over a summer which will help you get more experience in research to see if it's a good fit for you, and look great on your application.

If you can, join a lab to do research during the school year. Sometimes these opportunities are paid, but more often can be done for credit. Regardless, a longer-term investment in a research project will give you a better understanding of the science underlying it.

4. What should I know as an international student applying to US programs?

Many things are different when applying as an international student. See a blog post here on the process, and stay tuned for our international student guide to be published soon.

5. Graduating (or already out of college) and not sure if your application is strong enough?

Get more research experience! Lab technician positions are full-time, paid opportunities (read a blog post on being a lab technician here). If you could also use a boost to your grades or more science classes, consider a post-baccalaureate program, which generally provide a stipend and include a mix of research, classes, and sometimes additional graduate school prep.

Suggested Timeline

We suggest starting early to give yourself enough time to make your application materials as good as they can be. But don't stress if you're behind - it is definitely possible to catch up!


Prepare for the GREs

  • Study for the GRE, enroll in online GRE workshops, or take a GRE preparation course

  • We recommend Magnoosh for a possible GRE course

  • Many programs are dropping the GRE requirement - to see which programs no longer require the GRE, go to

Take the GREs

  • Take the exam as many times as you want - you can select the section scores from multiple tests that you submit on your application, and leave out scores that weren't your best.

  • Latest date to take the GRE is October.

Make a list of the PhD Programs that you are interested in

  • Note deadlines and requirements. (Most program applications are due in early December)

  • We encourage you to make a spreadsheet with programs. See an example spreadsheet here.

  • Common Program Requirements: Personal statement, diversity statement, GREs, GRE subject test, course requirements, number of letter of recommendations

Ask for Letter of Recommendations

  • Research mentors who have seen you grow as a scientist and a person. It is important that they can speak to your abilities as a scientist

  • Do not ask a professor who barely knows you

Look into Fellowships


  • Take the GREs one last time

  • Have professors and colleagues look over your personal statements

  • Reminder your letter writers about the letter of recommendations

    • Send them a list of graduate school programs you are applying with their respective
      deadline. Make a spreadsheet of the programs you are applying to and their deadlines (example spreadsheet for LOR writers).

    • The easier you make it for them, the faster they can write a letter​

  • Attend Department specific conferences i.e. ASBMB, BME, etc.

  • Attend SACNAS (a great conference for underrepresented minority students), and talk to recruiting graduating programs for fee waivers


  • Attend ABRCMS (another great conference for underrepresented minority students), and talk to recruiting graduating programs for fee waivers

  • Final reminders to your mentors writing letters of recommendation

  • Final edits to the personal statement and diversity statement

  • Submit application (~a week or two before the deadline)


Interview invitations: December – to end of January

  • For biological and biomedical programs, if you do not hear back by the first week of February, most likely you have not been accepted or you have been waitlisted.

    • A graduate school interview is not an acceptance!

  • Some PhD programs such as Chemistry do not have interview weekends, but will sendacceptance offers instead of interviews

Interviews & recruitment weekends: take place January – March

  • You will learn about the program and have interviews with faculty members

  • These are usually around 3 days long, with meals provided (you will receive reimbursed funds for travel, but often have to pay for travel expenses upfront).

Ph.D. program acceptance offers: 2 weeks – 1 month after recruitment weekend

  • The program makes a limited number of acceptances and the rest will be waitlisted or rejected

Ph.D. program decisions due: ~April 15

  • Accept program of interest

  • Kindly decline the other programs you are not interested in

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