Graduate School Application Timeline
Become familiar with the graduate school application process.
By Chris Diehl
October 04, 2010
The graduate school application process can be tricky. Not only because it’s like your senior year in high school all over again but because you have to balance a rigorous course schedule and a full extracurricular calendar with visits, interviews and essays.
Just like your senior year of high school, you’ll need to follow a strict time line of what you should be doing and when.
- Keep your grades up. Don’t allow your plans for graduate school to take your mind off of your first priority: success in your undergraduate courses. Your grade point average (GPA) will be considered in the admissions decision.
- Understand which standardized test to take. If you plan to go to medical, law or business school, it’ll be a no-brainer. Other programs may ask you to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). If you’re not sure, ask your prospective graduate school.
- Research graduate programs. What do you want out of a grad program? If you’re stuck, ask your academic advisor, favorite professor or graduate student services office for advice. Visit the school’s Web site, review course offerings, read professors’ biographies (pay attention to their specialties and check if they match your interests), and tour the campus.
- Figure out how much graduate school will cost. Assess the cost of tuition, fees and living expenses.
- Reinforce relationships with your professors. Not sure whether your favorite professor even knows your name? Make an appointment to chat about a current project, a homework assignment or your career options. A strong relationship with a professor now means a more compelling recommendation letter later.
Summer Before Senior Year:
- Begin the application process. Find out when applications will be available and when they will be due.
- Study for standardized tests. Imagine the stress of studying for a standardized test. Now imagine trying to study for that test with a full undergraduate workload and social calendar. Make good use of a quiet summer schedule.
- Narrow your school choice. Decide which schools are the leading candidates. Reserve at least one or two back-up schools, in the event you don’t get into your first choice.
- Request transcripts. Registrar offices are inundated with transcript requests in the fall, so a late summer request will beat the rush and leave some cushion in case a problem arises. A drawback to requesting this early is that your fall semester grades won’t be on them.
Fall Semester, First Term: Senior Year:
- Check application deadlines. Deadlines start to come up in the late fall. Create a calendar with the deadlines of your prospective schools. Note how many letters of recommendations are required.
- Request letters of recommendation. Decide who will write your letter(s) of recommendation. Your decision may hinge on the type of program you want to enter; for example, a professor might have a specialty in the area your prospective graduate school is known for. No matter who you choose, give your professors plenty of time and include additional materials in your request to guide them, such as your transcripts or a draft of your statement of purpose.
- Check the other application requirements. Your application may require additional transcripts or a résumé. If you need assistance, ask your academic advisor, professor or graduate student services office.
- Take your standardized test. The same test-taking skills that helped you succeed on the SAT and ACT can help you on your grad school exam.
- Search for scholarships and financial aid. Fastweb has many graduate-level scholarships in its database. Also check out loan or fellowship options with your prospective graduate colleges.
Fall Semester, Second Term, Senior Year:
- Draft your statement of purpose. If you’re having trouble with structure or what to write, ask your academic advisor or graduate student services office for assistance. If you feel comfortable doing so, ask for help from one of the professors drafting your letter of recommendation.
- Follow up with professors about your letters of recommendation. Don’t be pushy, but don’t let them forget their obligation to you. Send a thank-you note if your professor has already submitted his or her letter.
- Send in your transcripts. Remember that this process can take up to a few weeks. If you’ve waited until now to submit your transcripts, confirm that your final fall grades will be included.
- Know the due date of your grad school applications. A few may have arrived already. Double-check you’ve made arrangements to include all requested items in each application.
Spring Semester, First Term, Senior Year:
- Fill out the FAFSA after January 1. Filling out the FAFSA early is critical, as many colleges give out aid on a first-come first-served basis.
- Submit your applications. Before you drop them in the mail, make copies of all materials in case you have to resend them. Send your applications via certified mail to verify delivery. Many schools send a receipt letter or postcard after they receive your application. If you don’t get one from a school to which you’ve applied, follow up with that school.
- Prepare for your admissions interview. Practice beforehand, if possible. Your college may offer a resource to help you prepare for these types of interviews.
- Take a deep breath, slowly exhale. Once your applications have been submitted, things are generally outside of your control. Continue to concentrate on your undergraduate studies.
Spring Semester, Second Term, Senior Year:
- Arrange a visit. In March and April, you’ll begin to hear back from schools. A visit to the campus may mean the difference between choosing a school or not.
- Make your decision! Inform the school in writing (or via the school’s preferred method) that you have decided to attend. Don’t agonize over this process for too long; you don’t want to lose a potential spot because you took too long to respond. Also, take time to inform the schools whose acceptance you have declined.
- Say thank you. Send thank-you notes to those who assisted in the application process: professors, advisors, the registrar—they’ll want to hear your quest to enter graduate school was a success!