Graduate or Professional School Suggested Application Timeline
Congratulations on taking the steps to learn about the graduate school application process. If you’ve made the decision to apply, refer to this suggested timeline to organize the work you’ll need to do to submit your application on time.
Three areas for strong words of advice:
- Get started as early as possible. How and when you engage in this detailed planning process will make all the difference in the world for your stress level and your ability to gain admission to your chosen graduate or professional program.
- Do not make any assumptions. It will be up to you to follow-through on every aspect of the application process. A good part of the work is staying on track and checking up on completion of all the details on a routine basis.
- Do everything in your power to avoid procrastination! It will give you a tremendous advantage to start early and get each task done according to schedule so you will have time for thoughtful preparation and dealing with the possibility of glitches in the process.
NOTE: The following information applies to students who plan to attend graduate school the fall after graduating with a Bachelor’s degree. In other words, if you are intending to go to graduate school in the fall following your senior year, the beginning of this timeline applies to the final semester of your junior year. The same information still applies if you’re taking time off before applying to graduate school. Simply adjust the timeframe.
April - May
- Talk to your faculty advisor who is familiar with your academic progress about your intention to apply to graduate school. Get their advice and inquire about their support for your decision. Ask for recommendations about which schools would be best suited for you given your interests and aptitude.
- Research graduate programs that interest you. Your points of focus should primarily be on the faculty and their research interests at all the schools that have been recommended to you. Look at all the details of the required curriculum and determine if the program meets your career goals. Find out if they are taking students in your sub-field. Ask about “normative time” to get a degree, which is the average time it takes enrolled graduate students to finish the program.
- Discuss any questions you may have about these programs with your faculty advisor. Make sure you understand what the program requires academically and get advice about whether the program is appropriate for you.
- Look into the GRE or other required entrance exams. Can you take it online? What is the testing schedule for your city? You will need to take a summer exam if you want to have your scores in time to meet program deadlines.
- Set up a record keeping system for tracking applications, requirements, deadlines, correspondence and completion of tasks. Have a calendar, file folders for all the materials from each school and a list or Excel spreadsheet to keep all the details straight. This will really help you stay organized with all the paperwork if you’re applying to more than a couple of schools.
June - July
- Register for the Graduate Record Exam (GRE). It is administered by the Educational Testing Service and measures verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and critical thinking and analytical writing skills. Determine whether you are eligible for a fee reduction.
- Locate a good study materials or preparation course for the GRE/entrance exam, such as The Princeton Review.
- Set up a summer study schedule for the GRE. Find other students to study with if available. Take as many practice exams as you can. This will definitely improve your score and allow you to feel more comfortable with the process. Princeton Review has excellent materials for this purpose.
- Begin a draft of your statement of purpose, using your resume and transcripts as a guide to remind you of all you’ve accomplished. Present your research interests within the context of the graduate program’s research strengths. One of the first things a review committee is looking for is whether you will be a good match given their faculty and programmatic focus, so be clear as to how and why you would make a good candidate for their program. Admission committees pay close attention to how you express your experience and how your present your future research pursuits. Be concise, professional and make sure you address the question of purpose. Share your rough draft with your faculty advisor at the earliest convenience.
- In late summer, obtain applications for each program of interest as they become available or become familiar with how to apply online. Make sure you have set up your filing system for keeping track of all the materials required for each program. Create a list or spreadsheet to keep track of required documents and deadlines for each university and the actions you take to satisfy each one.
- Take the GRE.
- Get information on all the fellowships and information available to you. Note deadlines and required paperwork or online filings in your records.
- Finalize your list of schools. If you are applying to a program to study with a particular faculty member, be sure that this faculty member is accepting students and is not going on sabbatical. Start your booking process to keep track of all the details for each school.
- Work on the final drafts on your statement of purpose and prepare one for each school.
- Select the faculty most familiar with your work and ask them if they will write you a letter of recommendation. If they agree, ask them when you can bring them the documents necessary to complete the process, making sure it is well within your deadlines. Provide them with a folder that contains information about the deadline for each school, the recommendation form or instructions for completing online recommendations, a draft of your statement of purpose, a resume if relevant and an unofficial copy of your transcripts. You may want to include a checklist so they have a quick reference to all the details of your requirements and deadlines. This folder will assure them of your seriousness and give them plenty of material to remind them of your accomplishments. Let them know you understand how busy they are and that you will be checking back in with them to follow-up with a reminder.
- Order your transcripts and exam scores, paying close attention to where these documents need to be addressed and how many copies are required. Note the date of your request in your records. Be prepared to complete this part of the process as soon as your final decisions about schools have been made.
- Begin to fill out your applications. Proofread them carefully to be sure you’ve answered every question completely and accurately.
- Complete your applications. Double check what is required for each school and mail your completed application packet. Note the date in your records.
- Fill out fellowship applications and mail according to deadline requirements.
- Check up on transcript requests and faculty recommendations.
- Update your records with the dates of when you completed each element of your applications. This not only keeps you organized and on task but will definitely save any guesswork should something go wrong.
December and January
Once you’ve submitted all the required materials, look for a confirmation in the mail that your file is complete. Follow-up if you don’t hear anything. If any documents have not arrived or have been somehow lost, you will need to re-submit them as soon as possible. Make sure you have a clear answer about whether your file is complete and ready to go forward to the graduate admissions committee.
.........Notifications about admission will be coming in early spring. Good luck!