University of California graduate admissions

Pathways to graduate school

Sometimes the challenges you’ve faced can be turned into assets. Plan now to enhance your likelihood of admission.

Starting over? Concerned about a GPA below 3.5? Need research experience? These and other perceived shortcomings do not make graduate school impossible. There are lots of pathways that lead to graduate school at UC, and we can help you find the one that's right for you. 

You haven't graduated

You're still an undergraduate. That's great! Even if you've struggled in school, there are a lot of things you can do to improve your graduate school application.  

  • Strive for the highest grades in your remaining classes, particularly those related to your intended area of study.
  • Repeat classes to boost poor grades. Note your increased GPA in your statement of purpose, and inform your faculty recommenders of any positive changes.
  • Research experience can greatly enhance admission opportunities. Get involved in a research program or a faculty-directed independent study. All UCs offer summer research opportunities for undergraduates, which are an excellent way to prove that you are capable of doing graduate level work and to make connections at the campus.
  • Find out if the program you want to apply to requires standardized tests. If you’re concerned about your performance on a required test, take a test preparation course, and be sure to complete the practice exams.
  • Take steps to improve your writing skills through additional coursework or extracurricular experiences. By demonstrating both initiative and improvement, you will impress admission reviewers and boost the quality of your papers, theses, proposals and dissertation.
  • If you are a re-entry student or had a break in your education, use your statement of purpose to focus on the work or life experience you acquired while not in school. Skills you developed may contribute to your potential for success in graduate school and be viewed positively by admissions committees.

You've graduated

You've earned your undergraduate degree. That's great! Even if you've been out of school for a long period of time, you can still go to graduate school. Remember that people reach their destinations by a wide variety of pathways. If you cannot travel directly to where you’d like to be, take the road with a couple of turns. You may be wiser from the journey while ultimately reaching your destination.

  • In some cases, if you want to obtain a Ph.D. you might need to gain research experience or complete a master’s degree first. Consult with advisors at institutions from which you would like to obtain a Ph.D. about whether pursuing a master’s degree first is advisable.
  • If you need to earn a master's degree before getting a Ph.D., seek admission to a master’s program, preferably one with a research/thesis component. Aim for a 3.5 GPA or higher.
  • Complete a thesis you will be proud to write about in your Ph.D. applications. Get to know professors who might write letters of recommendation for you.
  • Enroll in classes as a non-matriculating student at a university offering course credit. Ask the graduate admissions chair in your intended graduate program(s) which upper division or graduate level classes might increase your potential for admission. Focus on obtaining A grades, and inform the admissions chair of your progress or enroll in courses that will expand your knowledge or fill in any gaps.
  • Seek out research opportunities that will enable you to gain new skills and show your commitment to serious future study.
  • Search for and apply to Post Baccalaureate Internship programs—some of them even offer completion certificates and compensation.
  • Round out your strategy for admission by getting creative. Volunteer to conduct research with a faculty member from your alma mater. Participate in an internship that enables you to work on an academically focused project.
  • Seek advice from graduate students enrolled in your proposed area of study. Or find an academic mentor who might guide you through a pathway to master’s or Ph.D. enrollment.