How to Apply for a Phd Program

Like any typical graduate school application, a typical PhD application process involves few steps.  Use this as a check list because this is the most standard of an PhD application.  It is recommended that you double check with the school(s) you are applying to.  If you are n international, the application is nothing different but you might have to provide the financial statment.  Be sure you indicate correctly your immigration status, and apply for the correct visa.  Often you will need to submit more, and not less, than the following list:

 PhD Application Process and Checklist

  1. Application form: This is normally in an online format. You will need to create an account with the school you have chosen.  This is where you will be uploading your personal statement, writing sample, and resume.
  2. Personal Statement: This should consist of 2-3 page statement describing your reasons of pursuing a doctoral degree, your educational objectives (or why you choose this field of study), and your future professional objectives.  Strategies to write a winning personal statement is ultimately showing your passion and interest in your chosen field.
  3. Transcripts: Official transcripts of all previous colleges, broth undergraduate and graduate courses.  GPA is super important to apply for a PhD.  In other words, as you are pursuing a degree in academic, presumingly, your past academic performance has to be proven excellent.
  4. GRE Score: official score report of the last five years should be requested by you to the specific school code(s).
  5. TOEFL Score: official score report from the TOEFL, addressed to the specific school code(s). Required mostly from International applicants
  6. Resume: Include all relevant employments, internships, volunteer experiences, community services, etc. The key here is relevant to your application, your chosen field of study, following a logical sense of why this field of study interests you.
  7. Writing Sample: A piece of writing to shows your ability to think critically, creatively, and communicate your thoughts into written words.  If you have publications, a master’s thesis, papers, feel free to include them.
  8. References (or Letter of Recommendation): Normally 3 of them, but depending on the school.  This is crucial for PhD application because a lot of candidates go from undergraduate and their lack of professional experience is compensated by academic performance and scholarly work recommended by their advisors or previous supervisors, preferably in research if you have done so in the past.  Though it’s not all the time true because there are Master’s degree holders or working professionals who pursue PhD as well.  In either case, you are becoming a PhD to do research and academic works, so you have to demonstrate your ability to do impactful research.
  9. Application Fee: Remember this is non-refundable and can be paid online.

Strategies to have a winning PhD is a little different.  As mentioned before, the career objective and motivation to pursue a PhD are more research and academic-driven than professional or graduate school.  Be sure to indicate that clearly as a theme of your application.

The test required in your PhD application is the GRE test, which is the general test.  It has verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, critical thinking, and analytical writing skills that are not directly related to any specific field of study.  It is the baseline tests that graduate schools require, for Master’s or PhD level.  It provides a standard way of scaling and comparing candidates to each other.


There are computer-based and paper-based GRE General tests.  Refer to this link to see how and when you can register:  It is advised that you plan to take the test ahead of time and spend enough time studying.

Is GRE test required for phd ?

GRE Subject Tests are optional, or recommended, and are used to highlight your strengths in a specific field of study, such as Physics, Biology, or English; and you will choose the subject upon what area of study you want to get your PhD in.  The GRE Subject Test cannot be used to replaced the General Test. However, it can be used to supplement your undergraduate records, recommendation letters, etc. Some Subject Tests report subscores that can identify the strengths and weaknesses in an individual’s profile.  It is not common that any university will require this but they wouldn’t say no if you asked.  Taking this test or not depends on how strong of you as a candidate.  You may not submit your Subject Test score if you did not score well.
The Subject Tests are given as paper-based tests worldwide three times a year, in September, October, and April.  Refer to this link to register:


What are the steps to obtain a visa to pursue a PhD degree in the US?

For international students, it doesn’t matter what degree you are taking, as long as you are a full-time student you are assigned for F-1 visa.  You won’t have to worry about this until you receive admission.  You will be following these steps and these are similar to whatever degree you are pursuing in the United States:

  • Accept admission
  • Obtain your immigration documents.  You will normally receive specific instruction from your school for what you have to prepare and submit.  Don’t worry too much about this because once you have accepted the offer of admission, your school’s international office will work with you to get all documents needed, including an I20
  • Apply for F1 visa.  Check out the US Embassy website of your home country.  Instruction could be found easily.
  • Refer to new student check list of your school
  • Check in with your school’s international student office upon arrival (do NOT forget this step because you need to report to the school your arrival otherwise your immigration status in the country won’t be updated.)


What is the duration of my visa?

It depends on where you come from.  Every country has different policies.


Is there any other visa other than F1 I can apply for?

J1 visa is exchange visa, generally for students in specific educational exchanged programs.  51% of your total financial support comes from an institutional or government sponsored scholarship, fellowship, assistantship, etc.  This is a special case depending on what is available in your home country.  You must show support for the entire length of the program.  Please note that duration for a J1 visa is only 2 years and you must return home before getting another US visa.  For that reason, J1 is a good visa to get for your post-doctoral position.  An advantage of getting a J1 visa is that you can bring your spouse who is of J2 status.  Because of the length of a PhD program, it is not advisable to go for a J1 visa.


F1 needs an I20 while J1 needs a DS-2019.  J1 is rare for international students, but depending on your situation it may be applicable to you.  It is recommend that you seek advice from your school or an immigration attorney.