Six Tips for Successful Graduate School Applications

By Katie Mulembe, Catholic Volunteer Network

Considering graduate school? You are not alone. Our recent research study indicated that 45 percent of former volunteers have a Master’s degree, which is far higher than the national average of just seven percent. An additional twelve percent continue even further to complete professional or doctorate degrees. Most volunteers opt to complete their graduate education after their term of service.

There are many ways that the service experience prepares you for graduate studies. We’ve compiled these six tips to help you get started. 

Put your vision into words – You’ve probably heard it said “Master’s degrees are the new Bachelor’s,” which suggests that Master’s degrees are now the standard level of education required to be competitive in the job market. Everyone is doing it, and you may feel that you need to also just to keep up. However, grad school is a costly undertaking - both in time and money. It’s important you are pursuing the right degree for the right reasons. Take some time to think through your motives and practice verbalizing why you want to go to grad school.

When you are able to easily summarize your career ambitions, you will have an easier time taking the next steps. And now that you are able to talk about it, talk about it! Mention your plans to friends and colleagues in the field to see if they have advice or connections that will help you get into the best academic programs.

Don’t Delay – If the schools you are interested in require a standardized test like the GRE, you will not want to wait too long to schedule your test date. Check out the testing locations and figure out which date works best for you. Get the date up on your calendar, and be sure to register online to secure your place. This also provides additional motivation and focus.

Create a Support System – You may find it challenging to balance your time between your current commitments and the grad school application process. Why not make the application process a community activity? If there are a few friends or former community members who are also considering grad school, support one another by setting aside time to study for the GRE together and review each other’s application materials. Having a group to keep you accountable will ensure that you adhere to deadlines and stay focused on the application process.

Write about your service experiences – Your time as a volunteer was surely a unique and life changing experience. Don’t be afraid to share about it in your Statement of Purpose. We often hear stories from former volunteers who changed their career path as the result of their service experience. If that sounds like you, be sure to tell this story because it emphasizes your practical experiences and personal connection to the degree you are hoping to pursue. This is exactly what admission boards are looking for when they review applications, and a well-written essay about a profound life experience will certainly help your application stand out from the crowd.

Explore Opportunities for Financial Aid – Did you know that many graduate schools offer specific financial incentives and fellowship opportunities specifically for those who have completed a year of faith-based service? Check out our list of opportunities here

If you served as an AmeriCorps member, you will also want to be sure to maximize your Education Award and additional benefits. To access and apply these benefits, visit the My AmeriCorps Portal at The award is not payable to the member, but is applied directly to the lender or educational institution through the My AmeriCorps Portal. Remember: the Education Award may only be applied toward federal or public loans at Title IV schools. Also, be sure to keep track of the time your Education Award is valid (seven years from the time of completion) because you don’t want those funds to go to waste.

Slow Down to Pray – The process of applying for grad school may leave you feeling overwhelmed and worn out. Prayer is a great tool to stay focused and maintain your energy levels. Pay attention to the ways that God is speaking to you and utilize discernment practices throughout the application process. You may even consider setting aside a day for personal prayer and reflection. Creighton University’s Online Ministries offers a number of reflection guides and online retreat tools that will help you plan your reflection time.

We are so excited for the new opportunities ahead of you. May you experience many blessings as you begin the path to graduate school and a new career!


Staying Connected is a collaborative effort of Catholic Volunteer Network and the Catholic Apostolate Center.