Embarking on a master’s degree is a major life decision, especially since it’s a significant time and financial commitment. But now that you’ve answered the call to higher education, what’s the next step?
The next thing you need to do is decide which schools and programs you want to apply for. You need to find out all the requirements, fill out applications, create your resume, write a personal statement, collect recommendation letters, and of course, secure funding, including financial aid. Still with us? We know — preparing for grad school is a lot of work! Only after you do all that, it’s time to submit your application.
When you’re trying to get into a specific school or program, it’s crucial to get everything submitted on time. Many programs are quite competitive, and a timely submission can mean the difference between getting accepted or not. A late or incomplete application can get you on the waiting list, or worse — it could remove you from admission consideration entirely.
But how do you know when to apply for graduate school?
Early is best, but we’ll help you narrow down a timeline that works best for you (and your successful admission!)
When to Apply for Grad School – A Suggested Timeline
As a grad school candidate, you’ll want to start the process at least one year before submitting your application. If you’re wondering, “when should I apply for grad school,” this suggested timeline might help you out.
1. May to June (Spring 2022): Research, Exam, and Letter Prep
If you want to get into graduate school for the fall semester, it’s a good idea to start doing grad school research in the spring of the previous year. For example, if you want to get into a program that starts in September 2023, it’d be ideal to begin your application research in the spring of 2022, especially if you have no idea where you want to go to grad school yet.
During this time, you can begin by researching graduate schools and programs to see what’s out there! Once you find something that interests you, you can start the process!
Prepare for Required Exams, like the GRE: Many colleges require the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) for admission. A GRE prep class can help you get better test scores that may affect your chances of admission and financial assistance. Remember that different graduate programs may require other tests. For example, if you’re going into law school, you’ll need the LSAT, and if you’re going into med school, you’ll need the MCAT.
Take a Practice Test: Once you’ve prepared for your exam, you might want to take a practice test or two. Practice tests this early in the process can help you adjust your studying and prep if you score poorly.
Consider Recommendation Letters: Recommendation letters matter — after all, the knowledge recommendation writers have of you and your work ethics help admissions teams see what you can bring to the program! If you’re currently enrolled in an undergraduate program, the best people to ask for recommendation letters might be your college professors. If it’s been a long time since you’ve been in school, you can ask your co-workers, employers, or volunteer contacts.
Outline Your Personal Statement: Your personal statement tells the school’s admissions committee what makes you a good candidate. This is also your opportunity to tell the committee why you want to apply to the program. Start brainstorming ideas of what you want to tell your school of choice!
2. July to September (Summer 2022): Obtain Recommendation Letters and Supplementary Program Information, and Take Required Exams
The summer months are a good time to learn more about the programs and schools you want to get into. You can also take this time to finalize which universities you want to attend and find out whether there are faculty members whose research fits your interests.
Contact Schools and Request Information: Summer is the time for you to start reaching out to the schools you’re interested in. Request any information they may have about their application process and its requirements, ideally information that isn’t easily accessible on the school’s website. You want to give the impression that you’re genuinely interested, engaged, and responsible.
Research Financial Aid: Now is the perfect time to find out what kind of financial aid is available to you, whether from the school, grants, or student loans. Research scholarships, assistantships, and fellowships for the programs you’re interested in. You can also look into FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).
Take the General GRE: GRE test results are not a universal requirement. However, even if your school doesn’t require them, you may still need your test results to apply for certain national fellowships and types of financial aid. If you need to take a subject GRE to test your knowledge of specific fields of study, this is a good time to register for them.
Write Personal Statement (First Draft): Now that you know a bit more about the schools and programs you want to get into, you can write the first draft of your personal statement. At this point, you can write a general statement that you can revise later on.
Request Recommendation Letters: After considering the best candidates for writing your recommendation letters, it’s time to reach out! It’s always best to ask early so that the writers have ample time to write and to find new writers if any of your original candidates should refuse. Try to give your writers as much relevant information as possible to help them write the letters — your first draft of your personal statement, notes on what you’d like them to include, etc.
3. October to November (Fall 2022): Mark Application Deadlines, Revise Personal Statements, and Take Required Exams
Come fall, you’ll want to mark the application deadlines in your calendar, so you don’t miss anything important. Fall is also a good time to start gathering required documents like your transcripts from your undergraduate school.
Arrange campus visits: If you can, schedule campus visits to schools you’re applying for. A visit will allow you to familiarize yourself with the environment and talk to the faculty and students. Visits or campus tours can be a good way to confirm whether the school is the right fit or not.
Mark Application Deadlines: At the one-year prior mark, you should note down all your deadline dates to ensure you’re on track for the year ahead in securing your admission!
Revise Your Personal Statement: Ask someone in your field to edit or offer feedback on your personal statement.
Take your GRE Subject Tests: Check GRE test schedules and ensure you offer enough time to allow for a retake if you don’t like your result.
4. December to February (Winter 2023): Send Your Application!
By winter of the next year, you should be well on your way to completing your applications. A good way to make your forms look cleaner is to scan them and fill them out in software like a word processor or Adobe Fill & Sign. Remember to re-read all of your answers to the forms, double-check your personal statement, and verify that you have all the requirements handy.
Mail Out Applications: Send in your applications, either online or via regular mail.
Confirm Receipt: Most universities will send you a receipt to let you know they received your application. If you don’t receive a receipt confirmation from a school, reach out and ask them to confirm that they have received your documents.
Admissions Interviews: Universities often conduct interviews around this time, so you’ll want to get ready. Prepare a list of questions to ask so that you appear engaged and invested in the program.
Seek Financial Aid: At this point, you can start seeking financial aid. You can fill out FAFSA and start applying for grants, scholarships, and fellowships. You might also be able to start applying for student loans.
And that’s it — you’ve finished the stressful application process. You’ve worked very hard to get it all done, and it’s time to kick back and relax as you wait for responses!
5. March to April (Spring 2023): Acceptance and Rejection Letters
By spring, you should’ve received responses and notifications from the schools you’ve applied to regarding your application status. Don’t be discouraged if you receive rejections, especially since many graduate studies programs can be extremely competitive.
If you’ve received more than one acceptance letter, it’s time to choose! Visiting the campuses again might be a great way to help you make your final decision. By the 15th of April, or around that time depending on specific schools, you need to respond to your offers. Make sure you are courteous in your responses to any schools you decline.
You can also use this time to try and negotiate better financial packages or financial aid if you find out that you need more funding.
So when should you apply to grad school? We recommend starting as early as possible, so you can avoid the stress of cramming your application at the last minute. An early start will also help you iron out all the kinks and make sure you submit the best possible application!
Want to see live results of real people that have been accepted or rejected from your dream grad school? Search for your school on theGradcafe’s search engine to get valuable insights into who they choose to accept and reject. Good luck!