There’s no denying that going into graduate studies is a major life decision, especially since it’s a big money and time commitment. But now that you’ve finally decided to answer the call for higher education, what’s the next step?
The next thing you need to do is decide which schools and programs you want to get into. You can then start trying to get into those schools, which means gathering requirements, filling out applications, making your curriculum vitae, writing a personal statement, collecting recommendation letters, and securing funding. Once that’s done, 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 getting your application submitted on time 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 get you taken out of contention completely.
It’s also a good idea to consider sending your application in early. Doing so allows you a fair amount of wiggle room, letting you send supplementary materials, resubmit items lost in the mail, or make corrections if need be.
But how do you know when to apply for graduate school?
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 asking yourself the question, “when should I apply for grad school?”, this suggested timeline might just help you out.
May to June (Spring)
If you want to get into graduate school by fall of the next year, it’s a good idea to start doing grad school research in spring of the previous year. For example, if you want to get into a program that starts in September 2022, it’d be ideal to begin your application research in spring of 2021, 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 is available. Once you find something that interests you, you can start the process!
- Preparing for your GRE or other exams – In preparation for the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), a test that many colleges and universities include in their admissions requirements, you might want to take a test preparation class. 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 preparatory course for the specific test you need to take.
- Take a practice test – Once you’ve done all your test preparation, it might be helpful to take a practice test or two. You can look for resources specifically for the test you need to take and give it a go. Answering a practice test will show you what you might expect and whether you need to do additional prep.
- Start considering who to ask for recommendation letters – Recommendation letters matter — they make quite an impact on how effective your application may be. After all, the knowledge these people have of you and your work ethics might help you make the impression you need to get into your program of choice. If you’re currently doing your undergraduate studies, the best people to ask might be your college professors. If it’s been a long time since you’ve been in school, you can ask your co-workers or employers.
- Start outlining 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.
July to September (Summer)
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 are interested in. Request any information they may have about their application process and its requirements. At this time, you can request brochures and pamphlets that can help you get familiar with the universities and their programs. You can also inquire about their facilities and any available financial aid.
- Do your research about financial aid – Now is the perfect time to find out what kind of financial aid is available to you, whether from the school, from grants, or from student loans. Figure out estimates for how much you might need to get. You can research scholarships, assistantships, and fellowships in 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 the first draft of your personal statement – 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.
- Reach out to people for recommendation letters – It might be a good idea to start reaching out to professors, co-workers, or employers to ask whether they would write you a recommendation letter. Starting early will give you some time to find alternatives should some people refuse.
October to November (Fall)
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 requirements like your transcripts from your undergraduate school.
- Provide information to people writing your recommendation letters – Sending your personal statement, curriculum vitae, transcripts, portfolio, and any other information to people writing your recommendations can help them accurately represent you. Tell them information that you think would be useful but don’t overwhelm them.
- 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.
- Ask for feedback on your personal statement – Asking someone in your field to take a look at your personal statement will help you revise it to suit each specific program you’re applying to.
- If applicable, take your GRE subject tests.
December to February (Winter)
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. Then, it’s finally time to mail out your applications!
- Verify receipt – Most universities will send you a receipt to let you know that your application was received. If you don’t receive one from a school, notify them and confirm that they have received your documents. Doing this will ensure you don’t miss important deadlines.
- Admissions interviews – Interviews are often conducted around this time, so you’ll want to get ready for and attend them. Remember that although the university will be asking you questions, you can also prepare a list of questions to ask.
- 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!
March to April (Spring)
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, you need to respond to the offers you got. Accept the one you want and courteously decline any other offers.
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? It’s good to start as early as you can so you can avoid stress from having to cram your application process in a short amount of time. An early start will also help you iron out all the kinks and make sure you submit the best possible application you can!
Want to see live results of real people that have been accepted or rejected from your dream grad school? Just search for your school on The Gradcafe’s search engine to get valuable insights into who they choose to accept and reject. Good luck!
Related reading: 4 Ways to Boost Your Grad School Admissions Odds