Graduate program requirements are the first key for how to get into grad school. Most graduate programs have extensive and specific admissions requirements since these programs are a higher level of study and often more academic than bachelor’s degrees or diploma programs. Whether you’re applying for your master’s degree, a PhD or even to an online graduate program, the requirements will be consistent across programs. In this blog, we’ll explore the graduate program requirements for both master’s degrees and doctorate programs in the US and Canada, graduate requirements for these programs, plus tips on how to bridge any gaps in your applicant profile.

>>Want us to help you get accepted? Schedule a free strategy call here.<<

Listen to the blog!

Article Contents
15 min read

Graduate Program Requirements: Master’s Degree Master's Degree Graduation Requirements Graduate Program Requirements: PhD PhD Graduation Requirements Missing Graduate Program Requirements? Here’s What to Do FAQs

Graduate Program Requirements: Master’s Degree

Graduate program requirements, naturally, are higher than the admission standards for undergraduate programs, diploma programs and certificate programs. However, it’s important to note that all graduate programs may have different requirements, depending on the school, the program and the type of applicant (i.e. international or mature students). The admissions standards for graduate programs also tend to be higher, so it’s wise to be prepared when figuring out your grad school application timeline.

Graduate programs, as advanced studies in your chosen field, tend to be more academic in focus. They are designed to deepen your understanding and expertise in your field. Therefore, on top of the expected admissions essays, graduate school GPA requirements and applicant interviews, you’ll often be asked to prove you have undergraduate research experience and submit test scores for a graduate-level entrance exam.

Below is a list of the common requirements for master’s graduate programs:

Graduate Program Admission Requirements: Master’s Degree

Note that the admission requirements for graduate programs in the US and Canada are similar, so whether your goal is to pursue a PhD at one of the top universities in the US or get a master’s degree in Canada, the application requirements will be almost identical.

We’ll cover each of these requirements in more detail next!

1. Previous Education

Most graduate programs require a 4-year undergraduate degree, or bachelor’s degree, to gain admission. Master’s degree programs may even list specific areas of study or a short list of acceptable bachelor’s degrees. This is where graduate program requirements can differ, since the requirements for a master’s degree in psychology will vary from those for a master’s in social work, for example.

The reason why you need to hold a bachelor’s degree, and one related to your chosen master’s program, is so that you meet any required prerequisite courses and to ensure you have the foundational knowledge in that field to succeed in a graduate program. Graduate programs are more in-depth educations on their subject matter, so if you don’t have any previous experience or instruction, you won’t have the necessary background or skills required. In some cases, the bachelor’s degree requirement can be waived in the place of years of work experience or other professional qualifications.

For example, advanced types of nursing degrees, such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) require you to hold either a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, to prove you have previous, formal education in nursing, or the RN qualification, which indicates you have a higher level of work experience as a practicing nurse. Either way, you need some prior qualification or education to succeed in an advanced nursing program.

2. GPA Requirements

Graduate programs also may list a minimum GPA you must meet to be considered for admission. For more competitive programs, this is usually a minimum of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale. Some programs may accept a lower GPA as long as you submit a standardized test score or meet some other criteria.

However, achieving this minimum GPA is often not enough to get into competitive programs. Many graduate programs are hard to get into, especially at top schools. To see how you measure up against the competition at these programs, check the average accepted GPA of students in these programs. This is the GPA you want to shoot for, or ideally, surpass for the best chances of admission.

Still, to get into grad school with a low GPA is possible with a strong application, very good standardized test scores and a good interview performance. You can offset a lower GPA and still have a shot of getting into your desired program, but you should also carefully consider which programs to apply to, based on your undergraduate GPA and the requirements of specific programs.

3. Standardized Test Scores

Many graduate programs require you to submit standardized test scores. For some professional programs, the standardized test will be unique to these types of programs. Applicants to law school will take the LSAT, medical school applicants will write the dreaded MCAT, and MBA applicants sit the GMAT.

However, a majority of graduate programs require you to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). While there are graduate programs that do not require the GRE, it is the most common standardized test used for graduate admissions in the US and Canada. It’s vital to invest in some GRE test prep and learn what is a good GRE score, so you can start preparing.

Your GRE scores, like your GPA, will be used as an indication of your academic ability and whether you’re ready for graduate school. Similar to minimum GPA requirements, you can check the average accepted GRE scores (or other test scores) at your chosen graduate programs and see what score you should aim for to be accepted.

4. Grad School Statement of Purpose

Think of your grad school statement of purpose as a more advanced version of your college essays. In this statement or essay, you’re answering the question of “why do you want to join our graduate program” and why you want to study in your field at the graduate level.

You may also address your future career goals and how a graduate program will allow you to achieve these goals, such as in a grad school career goals statement. Every program may have different essay prompts or essay questions for you to answer, as well as guidelines on your statement length and intent. Read these carefully before you start writing!

If there are no guidelines for you to follow, take a look at some Ivy League grad school statement of purpose examples, for a clearer understanding of this essay’s structure, content and purpose. You can also look at essays tied to a particular kind of program, such as an MBA statement of purpose if you’re applying to graduate business school.

5. Experiences and Extracurriculars

Your work experience, academic experiences, extracurriculars and even your hobbies can help make or break your application to grad school. They can also give you a distinct advantage over the competition while also meeting grad program requirements.

Depending on the field you hope to gain a master’s degree in, research experience may be either strongly recommended or a hard graduate program requirement. If the graduate program you’re applying for is more academically focused, research experience can give you an advantage on your application materials and may be a strong requirement. If you’re lacking some concrete research experience and need it for a graduate program, take a look at some summer undergraduate research fellowships and internships!

Programs that are more skills or experience-focused, such as an MBA, might prefer years of direct work experience over research roles. This is why some graduate programs ask for an updated resume, a list of your extracurriculars or a full recording of your research experience. Check out what your chosen graduate programs require for admissions but also what they value or what they consider a “bonus” for applicants to have.

Let’s say you’re interest in how to get into nursing school. Aside from an undergraduate degree in nursing, direct experience working with patients is a must, and you can stand out in a nursing school application with volunteer experience and strong letters of recommendation from your nursing supervisors.

Here’s another example. One of the biggest MBA requirements is work experience. Many programs ask for at least 3-4 years of professional experience before you can apply to these programs.

6. Letters of Recommendation

While it’s possible to get into grad school without recommendation letters, they are a valuable asset to have on your application. Graduate programs usually require 2 to 3 recommendation letters for admission. And they may have certain guidelines for who can write your recommendations.

Most of the time, your recommendation letters will be written by your undergraduate professors, employer, volunteer supervisor, mentor or some other professional you have worked with in some capacity. When choosing your referees, focus on asking the individuals with whom you have a strong and positive relationship, and who can speak to your skills and suitability for grad school.

What we mean is, if you’re applying for a master’s in engineering, ask your employer or one of your undergraduate professors who is familiar with your skill as an engineer, your work ethic and technical ability. Applying to a graduate program in music? At least one of your recommendation letters should be from your music professor or mentor.

7. Grad School Interview

Not every program uses or requires a grad school interview, but it’s not uncommon for more competitive graduate schools to use interviews as a tool to narrow down the applicant pool. If you are invited to a grad school interview, accept the invitation! Use this as your opportunity to make a strong first impression and secure an acceptance letter by showing the admissions committee that you are a good fit for their program. Practice for your interview with some Ivy League grad school interview questions.

Remember that the grad school interview is a two-way street. Meaning this is also your opportunity to ask questions about a program and see if the program is a good fit for YOU and will meet your expectations. Ask your interviewer questions about the school, the campus culture, the program faculty and curriculum, opportunities for students and what the program has to offer students.

Graduate Program Graduation Requirements: Master’s

Let’s take a brief look at the graduate program requirements for graduation. To complete a bachelor’s degree, you need to calculate how many credits to graduate and complete specific courses to gain your degree.

A master’s degree is no different and will have both core coursework and electives you need to complete, as well as the minimum number of credits for completion. Aside from the coursework aspect of a master’s degree, there is one cumulative project you’ll need to finish: your master’s thesis or capstone project.

Different master’s programs have different final projects, but in general a master’s thesis is the final research paper or project required for academically focused programs, and a capstone is more a demonstration of knowledge and skill. However, these terms may be used interchangeably by graduate programs.

To prepare for you final project, you’ll need to know how to write a master’s thesis proposal and have it approved by your program’s supervisor. Then you’ll need to prepare for thesis defense, present your project to a panel of program faculty and answer thesis defense questions about your research. Once you’ve undergone this evaluation and your project has been approved and graded, you’re done!

Prepare for graduate school interview questions with these examples!

Graduate Program Requirements: PhD

PhD programs, or doctorate programs, are similar to master’s programs in that they are very academically focused. Research experience and a degree relevant to your desired field is essential. If you want to know how to get a PhD, the admission requirements are a little more specific and tougher to meet, and the graduation requirements are more extensive. This is reflected in how long it takes to get a PhD.

PhD programs also require extensive previous education and experience in your chosen field. Below is a list of the common requirements for a PhD program.

Graduate Program Admission Requirements: PhD

As we can see, the requirements for a master’s degree and a PhD are remarkably similar, with a few exceptions for PhD applicants. Let’s go over these additional PhD requirements in detail:

1. Relevant Education

Like a master’s degree, a PhD requires extensive previous education in a field that’s either directly related to or highly relevant to the PhD program. Most PhD programs also require a master’s degree on top of a bachelor’s degree, because a master’s degree will provide you with the academic knowledge and research experience required to successfully complete a PhD.

A PhD is an intensive and research-focused program to enter into, and it usually takes many years to complete. Because it is a bigger commitment and is the highest qualification you can receive in most fields, it requires you first complete the foundational education steps before applying.

2. Research Proposal

A unique part of applying to a PhD program is the submission of a research proposal. Some programs will ask you to submit this during the application process, and others will give you time to develop one in the first year or two of your program.

Your research proposal details what you plan to research during your PhD program and what contribution you hope to make to the field in terms of academic research. Either during the application process or before you begin your final dissertation, be prepared to answer research proposal questions and defend your ideas to a panel of academics or your PhD advisor.

3. PhD Motivation Letter

PhD programs are curious to know why do you want to do a PhD? Your motivation letter will answer this question. Your letter should discuss why you want to pursue an advanced degree in your field, what new information or insights you hope to contribute to your field, why you’ve chosen a specific PhD program and how a PhD is the necessary next step in your educational journey. A PhD is a huge undertaking, so you should be able to present a clear idea of why you want to take on this commitment and how it will benefit you, aside from just wanting to become an expert in your field or spend a little more time in school.

Graduate Program Graduation Requirements: PhD

PhD programs, being much longer and more intensive than master’s degree programs, nonetheless start with some of the same curriculum requirements.

The first year or two of a PhD begins with completing advanced coursework, both core and electives, in your chosen field of study. The completion of your coursework typically ends with the comprehensive exam, or comps, which evaluate your knowledge of all the coursework you’ve taken so far.

From here, you’ll work with your PhD supervisor or academic advisor, a member of the faculty who will advise and guide your research as a PhD candidate. Unless you’re completing a PhD without a dissertation, you’ll now embark on several years of research. The culmination of this research with be an original contribution to academic research in your field: your dissertation or PhD thesis.

While you’re completing your independent research and writing your dissertation, you may also have responsibilities as a PhD student. This can include teaching roles or participating in research with other academics in your department. This is essential if you want to know how to publish as a graduate student and get your name out into academic circles.

Once your dissertation is complete and approved by your advisor, you’ll once again need to prepare for thesis defense and present your original research to a panel of academics, who will either approve your project or send it back for revisions. This evaluation is sometimes conducted through an oral presentation of your work, called “orals”.

Once your dissertation is presented and approved, you’ll be eligible for graduation and awarded your degree!

Missing Graduate Program Requirements? Here’s What to Do

Graduate program requirements can be intensive, and you might find that you’re missing a requirement or two when you start planning your applications. If this is the case, there are fortunately ways to fill any gaps that need to be filled without losing too much time or scrapping your goal of going to grad school.

We’ll start with master’s degree applicants and go over our tips for how to bridge common gaps in graduate program requirements, followed by PhD applicants:

Master’s Degree Applicants

  1. Your GPA is too low: If your GPA is too low, all hope is not lost. Your application may be strong enough to offset your low academic record, or your GPA may not matter as much to some graduate programs. However, you should still do whatever possible to raise your GPA if you still have time. Some programs will consider you despite a low GPA so long as you meet other criteria. You can contact the admissions office to ask if this is an option for you. Otherwise, take a look at the easiest graduate programs to get into, or the easiest PhD programs to get into, as these tend to have lower admissions standards.
  2. Your standardized test scores are too low: If your test scores are too low to get into the program of your choice, there are two options. You can either retake the test and try to earn a higher score, or apply exclusively to programs that don’t require standardized test scores. Many programs are test-optional, or accept different tests in lieu of the GRE. For instance, you can decide between the GMAT vs GRE for many graduate school programs.
  3. You don’t have the right degree: If you don’t have the right undergraduate degree or you lack an undergraduate degree, this can be a hurdle to getting a graduate degree. Some master’s programs allow applicants without a bachelor’s degree, or who have a different type of qualification, such as an associate degree or a diploma. It’s likely your qualifications will need to be relevant to the master’s program, and you may need to complete additional prerequisites, but check to see what exceptions a program might offer when it comes to previous education.
  4. You’re missing experience: Whether it’s work experience, research experience or an extracurricular activity that will strengthen your application, it’s worth doing whatever you can to stand out in your grad school applications. Before applying to your desired program, consider putting off applying until you can gain the missing experience you need.
  5. You’ve previously been rejected: Were you rejected from a grad school program previously? Of course you want to ensure you’re successful the next time around, but you may not know how to improve your application materials or what is preventing you from getting in. A grad school admissions consultant can make the difference here, as having an expert’s eyes on your application materials can help you identify what your weaknesses are.

PhD Applicants

  1. You don’t have a master’s degree: Do you need a master’s to get a PhD? Normally, yes, but there are exceptions! Believe it or not there are direct-entry PhD programs you can apply for straight after finishing your bachelor’s degree. Keep in mind the requirements for these programs are usually very high, academically speaking, so you’ll need a strong GPA at the very least.
  2. You want to accelerate or combine your PhD: Getting your PhD takes a long time. After completing a 4-year bachelor’s degree, you’d normally finish a 2- or 3-year master’s degree followed by a PhD, which can take 6 years or more. If you’re interested in shortening this timeline, there are accelerated graduate programs or online graduate programs that are shorter. You can also pursue a dual degree program, which sometimes combines the curriculum of a master’s and PhD or two different graduate programs. Some examples would be an MBA Law dual degree or an MD-PhD. Looking for super fast online graduate programs? Look for 1-year PhD programs online or 1-year master’s programs.
  3. You’re not sure a PhD is right for you: Not sure a PhD is the best choice for your goals? Intimidated by the application process? Consider asking PhD consultants for help. These are professional admission experts who can walk you through the application process, the graduate school requirements and advise you on the right type of program for you.
  4. You can’t afford the cost of a graduate degree: The high cost of graduate school will deter many applicants from getting an advanced degree. Fortunately, there are many excellent graduate school scholarships, bursaries and awards you can apply for. Financial aid options are also widely available at many schools. Speaking to an admissions consultant or financial advisor about your options for grad school is also a good idea, since you’ll need a solid plan for funding your schooling. PhD candidates may be fortunate enough to find a fully funded program, meaning the cost of their program is covered, and they may even receive a stipend to cover their living costs. For PhD candidates who apply for PhD scholarships to help fund their degree, be sure to write a strong personal statement for PhD scholarship, since competition can be high.


1. What are the requirements for a graduate program?

The common requirements for a graduate program include a complete undergraduate degree, standardized test scores, a statement of purpose or personal statement, recommendation letters, a grad school CV and an admissions interview. Some programs will have additional requirements specific to their programs. It’s best to always check with the program directly what their admission requirements are.

2. What are the requirements for a PhD?

To get into a PhD program, you typically need a strong GPA, a master’s degree in a relevant field, prior research experience, a motivation letter or personal statement, a resume, recommendation letters and a PhD interview. 

3. Is it hard to get into a graduate program?

Getting into graduate school is definitely not easy, and some programs may be more competitive than others. Depending on the field, the school and the specific graduate program requirements, the acceptance rate for some grad schools is below 10%. However, with the right prep and a carefully crafted application, you can significantly increase your chances of getting in, provided you meet all the requirements.

4. What GPA do I need to get into graduate school?

Many graduate school programs have a minimum GPA requirement of 3.0. More competitive programs have a minimum GPA of 3.3 and above.

5. What test score do I need to get into graduate school?

This can vary by program, but most graduate programs require or accept the GRE, or Graduate Record Examination. If you’re not sure what a good GRE score is for you, check what the average accepted scores are for your chosen programs. Your goal should be to achieve at least this average score to get into your desired program.

6. How do I apply to graduate programs?

Most graduate programs accept applications directly through their online application portals. However, some professional graduate programs may have central application services you can use to apply to multiple programs at once.

7. What if I am missing some of the graduate program requirements?

If you’re missing some of the graduate program requirements, it is possible to bridge these gaps. Check what requirements you are missing and start making a plan to meet them before you start applying to programs. You can seek the help of a professional, such as an admissions consultant, or simply take a gap year to gain the necessary experience you’re missing.

8. Is it worth going to graduate school?

Going to grad school can absolutely be worth it if it helps you achieve your personal and professional goals. Grad school is a big commitment, in both time and money, but for many students it is an opportunity to enhance their professional qualifications, deepen their knowledge of their field or even shift their career trajectory.

9. How do you pay for grad school?

Aside from financial aid, grad school scholarships and bursaries, some students continue to work while going to school or receive financial help from their employer so they can pursue a degree that will enhance their professional qualifications.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

Want more free tips? Subscribe to our channels for more free and useful content!




Apple Podcasts




Like our blog? Write for us! >>

Have a question? Ask our admissions experts below and we'll answer your questions!