What to Know About Applying to Online Grad School

September 12, 2023 - Rick Robb

Tips For Success Online Classes and Programs

gradschoolbanner.jpgIn many fields today, a bachelor’s degree can get your foot in the door but may not be enough to advance your career or lead to a higher salary. Many school districts offer pay bumps for teachers who receive a Master of Education degree. For STEM graduates, the ability to do research and work closer with respected professors can be a reason to turn your BS into an MS. Those interested in becoming respected scholars will want to use a master’s degree as a steppingstone to a doctorate. Whatever the reasons, an advanced degree can move your career to the next level.

But how do you get started?

Apply to a UNM Online Graduate Program

UNM offers 20 fully online graduate degree programs, including certificates. Some programs are offered in an accelerated format. Courses are on 8-week cycles and offered in the first half or second half of the normal 16-week semesters. The concentrated offering cycle allows you to attend full-time and complete your degree at a rapid pace.

Once you’ve determined your online program of interest, you’ll connect with the appropriate departmental degree advisor or contact UNM Online’s Student Success Team to get further information and help you decide if this is the right path for you.

Graduate Application Process

When applying to an online graduate degree program, a good first stopping point is the Office of Graduate Studies (OGS) Degree Programs, Advisor Information, and Application Instructions page. Use these resources to be clear on the application requirements and deadlines of a given program.

This is also where you’ll find contact information for your academic department as well as what application materials are needed, required test scores, deadlines, and instructions specific to your intended program. In many cases, the process is the same for both online and in-person master’s programs however, when filling out the application, be sure you select the degree program option that indicates it is for the online version. Failure to do so may mean you will have to reapply to the university.

Let’s look at other aspects of the grad school application process. What are the documents you’ll need to submit?

Test Scores

GRE Exam

Many graduate degree programs require GRE test scores. Along with other application materials, GRE scores help selection committees ensure that admitted students are equipped for the program’s rigor and will be able to be successful. As the Mechanical Engineering department notes, “the GRE scores are considered for general benchmarking purposes and are examined in the context of all other application requirements.”

You can find out if you need the GRE by looking at the contact information and application instructions for your program which will indicate whether a program requires the GRE.

TOEFL/IELTS English Proficiency Testing

The TOEFL or IELTS score is required by the University for all international applicants. Further information and the minimum score requirements can be found at the UNM Office of International Admissions website.


Most programs will allow you to upload an unofficial copy of your transcripts with your application. Official transcripts must be sent directly to the UNM Office of Admissions from your prior schools or a third-party transcript service such as Parchments. They can be sent to apply.unm.edu for U.S. residents. Unofficial transcripts may be submitted as part of the application process but you will need to have the official ones sent prior to acceptance to the university.


Letters of Intent

A letter of intent is another element that academic departments use to see if you are a good fit for the program. Before writing your letter, review the academic department’s website, especially the faculty biographies and current events pages for research that overlaps with your academic interests You will want to discuss this in your letter as these overlaps become evidence that supports your interest in attending UNM.

You’ve undoubtedly heard the expression that you never get a second chance to make a good first impression. Your letter should have a logical flow, be consistently formatted, and be free of any spelling, grammar, or factual errors. Have as many people read it before sending it as possible. As with any professional writing, understanding your audience is important in a letter of intent; take the time and do the research.


Most programs will require a current curriculum vitae or resume as part of your application. Even if not required, these documents give selection committees added insight and the chance to get to know you better.

Letters of Recommendation

Generally, selection committees will want three (3) letters of recommendation. The letters must be written by professional references such as instructors and supervisors, not friends and relatives. Letters should be submitted directly by your recommenders through the online system. Specific directions are included in the application system.

There may be exceptions to the number of letters if your undergraduate degree was from UNM and you had a sufficiently high GPA. Check your specific programs’ contact information and application instructions page to see if you’re eligible.

Writing Sample

On occasion, a program will ask for a writing sample. This should be a professional or academic sample of your best writing. It will be helpful if the topic of the sample relates to the program you are considering. With academic work, it is best to remove all course-related headings, comments by reviewers, as well as the grade. Above all, make sure you have run a spell and grammar check. Have several other people whom you trust to read through it for clarity and accuracy.

International Applicants

UNM requires official transcripts and degree certificates in the original language and English translations if needed. If your previous schools are outside the United States you should plan to have your academic transcripts translated by a service such as the American Translators Association or other certified academic translation service. Official transcripts and translations should be sent to International Admission either via courier or email to goglobal@unm.edu. The transcripts must be sent directly from the issuing institution. (i.e. they should not pass through your hands.) If submitting by courier, they should be sent to:

University of New Mexico
International Admissions
Global Education Office (GEO)
2120 Mesa Vista Hall
MSC06 3850,
1 University of New Mexico
Albuquerque, NM 87131-0001

What About a Student Visa?

Since they are not attending classes here in the U.S., International students who are enrolled in an online program do not need — and are not eligible for — an F-1 (Academic Student) Visa. For more information on academic student visas, visit the Visa Process and Visa Requirements page.


An important part of becoming a successful graduate student at UNM is the orientation. You can view the Online Graduate Orientation on the OGS Graduate Student Orientation page. Here, you’ll find

When Will I Hear Back?

Unlike undergraduate applications, those for graduate school go through a more rigorous process that involves the admissions team, Office of Graduate Studies, and a selection team made up of professors in the academic department that administers the degree program.

The processing time will vary depending on the time of year. You may hear from the department or the university that you are missing a piece of documentation. The sooner you have all the information sent to the school, the better.

When a decision has been made you will receive an email from the school/department welcoming you. You will also receive information on the next steps.

To be sure, graduate programs are a big step beyond your undergraduate experience. The expectations from you as a student will be much higher but the rewards can be greater as well. As you are considering if this is right for you, our student success team can help you look at the pros and cons of a given program.

If you need further assistance, contact UNM Online’s Student Success Team.

  • Email: online@unm.eduPhone: 505-277-9000
  • Toll-Free: 1-866-869-6040
  • Or join us for virtual advising hours via Zoom, Tuesdays & Thursdays, 10 a.m.-12 p.m. MST. Meeting ID: 967 7118 3893

Beginning in late September 2023, ets.org, the company that administers the GRE and other tests will be reducing the test time and removing some categories. See https://www.ets.org/gre/test-takers/general-test/enhancements.html for details