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Graduate School Application Timeline
If you're planning to apply to graduate school, it's best to start early—it will increase your odds of being admitted. Many graduate programs have rolling admissions, which means applications are evaluated as they arrive (rather than all at once after the final deadline).
Here's a sample schedule for a student hoping to enter grad school in the fall. This is a best-case scenario which leaves time to craft a great application, resolve unforeseen problems (a lost transcript, a delinquent recommender) and submit with time to spare.
Your GRE Application Timeline
Begin researching grad schools . Take a GRE practice test . Your GRE score will help you determine how much preparation you'll need for the real deal.
Sign up for a GRE test prep course (we recommend the in-person or online options). Register for the GRE general test if necessary.
Request information from schools that interest you. Consider paying a visit to your alma mater to meet up with a few former professors. They can recommend good programs and may even help you make some connections.
Take the GRE general test. If you're not happy with your scores, sign up to take it again. Begin drafting your statement of purpose .
Register for the November GRE subject test (if necessary). Finalize your list of prospective schools , and familiarize yourself with the professors who share your research interests at each school. Contact your recommenders. Keep polishing your statement of purpose.
Request official transcripts from your undergraduate institution. Send your recommenders supplemental materials (like your resume, personal statement, etc.) that they can use as a reference. Make contact with students and professors at your prospective schools. Arrange a campus visit if you can.
Have someone in the field and a few smart (and honest) friends read over your personal statement. Take the GRE subject test; make sure that your scores will be sent directly to schools.
Complete and submit all grad applications , keeping copies of every section for your records. Verify that your recommendations have been sent.
Read More: What's a Good GRE Score?
How will you score?
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Timeline for Applying to Graduate School
Follow our graduate school application timeline to best prepare for continuing your education..
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Applying to Graduate Programs
- Timelines for the Graduate Application Process
Timelines for Applying to Graduate Programs
Applying to graduate programs takes time. In fact, a guide to graduate applications prepared for the American Psychological Association (APA) emphasizes that the application process involves a substantial workload that is equivalent to a 3-credit course or more. 1 Thus, spreading out the work over an extended period – at least several months or more – can make the task more manageable and successful.
When should you start the first steps? When should you expect to be completed with your applications? Here we discuss two types of timelines for applying to graduate programs such as psychology doctoral programs. Note: for resources on the process of searching for and choosing graduate programs of interest, please visit this page .
Tailoring Timelines to Your Situation
It is important to note that the two types of timelines presented on this page represent typical plans for applying. However, depending on the particulars of your situation, you may need to adjust your application timeline for better results. For example, if you are going to be studying abroad during a substantial portion of the academic year, you may need to begin working on your applications much earlier. Alternatively, if you plan to take a ‘gap year’ after graduating and apply then, you may be able to shift the suggested timeline to that additional year.
When to Contact Faculty of Interest
It is strongly recommended that you reach out to potential faculty mentors before applying. Not all faculty members in a given program are able to accept new graduate students each year. In some cases exceptions are made, but it is better to find out beforehand (via email or by meeting in person). As for timing, it is best to avoid waiting until the applications are due to make contact. If it is too close to the deadline, faculty may be inundated with requests and unable to respond in a timely fashion. By contacting faculty early – politely and briefly – you can give them time to respond. Note: for further advice on contacting faculty, please visit this page .
Starting Early: An Extended Timeline
If you plan to begin graduate school immediately after graduation, then there is no time to lose. Preparatory work begins well before your final year of undergraduate education. Here is a suggested timeline for applying that begins well in advance of the completion of the baccalaureate degree (based on guides to graduate applications prepared for the APA). 1,2
Freshman and Sophomore (Years 1 and 2)
Assuming that graduate school is your intended goal, it is important to make progress on your academic and research pursuits early in your undergraduate career. In addition:
- Complete core psychology courses (such as statistics, research methods, cognitive, etc.)
- Complete general educational courses (such as math, writing)
- Extracurricular involvement (such as getting involved in research or departmental activities)
- Attend departmental seminars and events where you can learn about ongoing research
- Be sure to focus in all your courses so that your GPA is high
- Begin recording your activities in a file that will eventually be incorporated into a CV, resume, or application materials.
Junior (Year 3)
You are one year away from applying; thus, by the end of this year, your GPA, coursework, GRE preparation, and potential faculty recommenders should be ready for a competitive application. In addition:
- Complete advanced psychology courses (upper division), create an academic CV , meet with faculty mentors on a regular basis
- Start research graduate programs of interest
- Start preparing for GRE and take practice tests
- Get involved in a research project
- Research graduate research fellowships, if you intend to apply for them
- Plan for a reduced course schedule next year, if you wish, to give you more time for research and graduate applications
Senior (Year 4)
This is the “application year”, during which you will have to put together all your application materials, actually apply, and still continue your regular undergraduate academic and research activities. Note: for more in-depth details, see the Modal Timeline in the next section.
- Take GRE general exam no later than October
- Take GRE subject exam as well if required
- Finalize list of programs that you intend to apply to
- Download application materials
- Identify faculty of interest and contact them
- Draft statement of purpose and any other required application essays or materials; get feedback
- Request letters of recommendation
- Order and send transcripts and GRE scores
- Research financial aid for graduate studies, if you intend to seek such aid
- Send applications by November-December of that year
Applying in the Senior Year: The Modal Timeline
The above timeline represents an ideal situation the student had graduate school in mind early on. However, for most students, the decision to attend graduate school is not made until partway through one’s undergraduate career. That is absolutely normal and by no means reduces one’s chances of being accepted. However, if one begins the process of applying in one’s senior year – and expects to send applications out by the end of the year – there is little room for error. Here is a timeline for applying during the senior year only. 1,3
Note: this timeline assumes that the applicant is otherwise qualified for the programs of interest (for example, having gotten research experience, completed the necessary coursework, and so on).
At this point, you are about 6 months away from most application deadlines. You may be tempted to spend summer relaxing or doing other things. However, in order for your applications to have a chance of success, it is important to focus and get them off to a good start. Tasks to achieve include:
- Narrow list of programs that you intend to apply to (investigate potential faculty mentors, requirements, etc.)
- Record and be aware of application requirements and deadlines
- Prepare for the GRE
- Draft statement of purpose and any other required application essays or materials
Early Fall (September-October)
By early fall, the process of applying should be ramping up.
- Solicit feedback on your statement of purpose and any other essays from professors you know, campus writing centers, and any other sources
- Revise your statement of purpose and any other essays based on feedback
- Register to take the GRE no later than October
- Take the GRE
- Order and send transcripts and GRE scores
Late Fall (October-November)
By late fall, you should be nearing completion of your application materials.
- Request letters of recommendation if you have not done so already
- Complete application forms
- Finalize statement of purpose
- Gather information for financial aid, if you are seeking such aid
Submitting Applications (November-December)
As year’s end approaches, submit your applications either before or on the due date.
- Send all applications
- Verify that letters of recommendation, transcripts, and any other supporting documents were received by the graduate programs you are applying to
Important: throughout this process, you will need to balance your work on graduate applications with your present academic and extracurricular activities. Further, to avoid burnout, try taking time to de-stress and rest throughout the year. It is not an easy process, but with careful planning and effort, you can do so successfully.
Applying After Finishing Your Baccalaureate
Some successful applicants chose to apply after finishing their bachelor’s degree. This strategy has several advantages. First, the applicant does not have to divide up time between applying and taking classes; it is easier to study for the GRE, craft an excellent statement of purpose, and research programs as a result. Second, the applicant can improve his or her qualifications by gaining further research experience. However, it might be challenging for the applicant to obtain references or pursue some preparatory avenues without being enrolled in a university. It also delays the start of graduate school, and involves the financial cost of living and other expenses during that interim period. Thus, it is up to the applicant to decide whether the option of applying after graduating is worth attempting. If so, a modified version of the timelines above could be used.
Applying for Financial Aid, Fellowships, and Scholarships
In tandem with your applications for graduate school, you might consider applying for financial aid or graduate research fellowships such as the Ford Foundation Fellowship or the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship . The due dates for such fellowships typically coincide with that of graduate applications (such as November or December).
After Your Applications Have Been Submitted
Now the waiting begins! You may find yourself nervously anticipating emails and other messages. Such nervousness is normal; after all, you have been working for the better part of the year towards a goal that is uncertain. However, once the applications are submitted, your work for the moment is complete. Ideally, you’ve done your best, and it is now out of your hands. If things go well, here is a timeline of what to expect: 1,2
Application Interviews (January-March)
- Invitations for interviews in person (“Open House” or “Recruitment Weekend” type events)
- Phone or videoconference (such as Skype) interviews (these are sometimes unexpected!)
- If invited, you will be traveling to the programs of interest for interviews. For tips on how to succeed at those interviews, please visit our graduate admissions interviews section.
Application Decisions (March-April)
- Admissions decisions typically occur within a few weeks or a month after your interview. In some cases you may be waitlisted and a decision might take longer.
- If you are applying for financial aid, you should submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in March.
- April 1 is the APA’s deadline for notifying student applicants of admissions decisions for doctoral programs. You should expect a decision by that point.
- April 15 is the typical deadline for accepting an admission offer.
- If you have received multiple acceptances, you will need to choose which program you wish to attend (for tips, please visit the starting graduate school section of this website), and inform other schools of your decision to decline .
If You Were Not Accepted into Graduate School
There are many reasons why one’s attempt at applying to graduate programs did not yield desired results. In fact, given the challenging acceptance rates for many programs (for more information, please visit the application qualifications and admissions criteria page), it is common for most applicants to not get invited to interview or be offered admission.
The critical factor here is to remain positive. In many cases, the decision to not admit was an impersonal one (that is, there was not something glaringly wrong with your application; rather, other applicants were more competitive on one dimension or another). For example, depending on the year, different faculty may be recruiting students, and those faculty may have interests that align more closely with others. Circumstances may be different next year.
If attending graduate school remains your goal, it is worth trying again. However, before you do, please solicit advice from mentors, recommenders, and career advisors as to how your application can be strengthened in the next round.
Workshops and Downloadable Resources
- For in-person discussion of the process of applying to graduate programs in psychology, neuroscience, and related fields, please consider attending this department’s “Paths to PhDs” workshop and other related events (for dates and times, please check the undergraduate workshops calendar).
- Tips for Applying to Graduate Programs in Psychology (a brief summary) [ PDF ]
- Applying to Grad School Videos
- American Psychological Association (2007). Getting in: a step-by-step plan for gaining admission to graduate school in psychology . Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
- Keith-Spiegel, P., & Wiederman, M. W. (2000). The complete guide to graduate school admission: psychology, counseling, and related professions . Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
APA Videos on Graduate Applications
- Preparing and applying for graduate school in psychology [12-part video series]
- Preparing and applying for graduate school in psychology [video slides in PDF format]
- Graduate program application timeline from the American Psychological Association
- Choosing a graduate program from the Association for Psychological Science
- Smart shopping for psychology doctoral programs [PDF]
- Applying to graduate school: tips, timeline, and tools of the trade [PDF]
1 Norcross, J. C., & Hogan, T. P. (2016). Preparing and applying for graduate school in psychology: 12 modules. American Psychological Association [video workshop].
2 keith-spiegel, p., & wiederman, m. w. (2000). the complete guide to graduate school admission: psychology, counseling, and related professions . psychology press., 3 committee on institutional cooperation (cic). applying to graduate school: tips, timeline, and tools of the grade. , prepared by s. c. pan for ucsd psychology, graphic adapted with permission under the expat license..
- Finding and Choosing Graduate Programs of Interest
- Applicant Qualifications, Admissions Criteria, and Acceptance Rates
- Writing Statements of Purpose and Other Application Essays
- Requesting Letters of Recommendation
- Preparing for the Graduate Record Examination
- Graduate Admissions Interviews
- Applying to Clinical Psychology Programs
- Applying to Medical School and Professional Health Programs
- Accepting Graduate Admissions Offers
Division of student affairs, typical timeline for applying to graduate school.
By your junior year, you should be well on your way to clarifying your career goals and starting to make post-graduate plans. Serious discussions with your faculty advisor and other faculty mentors should begin, during which you seek advice about graduate programs to investigate and potential mentors for graduate study and research. If you have decided to attend graduate school, in the summer after your junior year you will begin the actual application process in earnest.
Create a calendar for recording all dates relative to your grad school application process — such as, test dates, application deadlines, dates you requested letters of recommendation and interview dates.
Summer (prior to senior year)
- Begin drafting a statement of purpose/personal statement.
- Review options for graduate programs in your field using paper guidebooks and online sources and settle on a “short list” of programs you may want to apply to.
- Determine which standardized tests you will need to take and when. Consider taking a prep class. Register for prep classes and tests and take both during the summer if possible.
- Research graduate fellowships for which you might apply and prepare applications in time for early fall due dates
- Make sure your undergraduate transcript is accurate and complete. Contact the Registrar’s office and request corrections if needed.
Pursuing a gap year, typically 12-24 months in duration, is one way to gain meaningful experience if a decision to attend graduate school at a later time is made. This experience provides you with an opportunity to assess your strengths and career interests, and build skills that are transferable to the workplace or graduate school. Different types of gap year experiences include traveling, volunteering, teaching, and post-graduate service programs. These opportunities are available to all majors, and may offer benefits including stipends, housing, and/or tuition assistance. For more information see our Gap Year page.
- Meet with faculty mentors to discuss preferred graduate programs, discuss your personal statement draft, and request letters of recommendation.
- Obtain forms and materials needed to apply, register with online services and prepare to complete applications.
- Take or retake standardized tests if needed.
- Write or revise any scholarly writing or research samples to accompany your applications.
- Complete and submit applications with early deadlines or rolling admissions.
- Submit transcript requests to the registrar’s office either in person or online. Determine which programs need transcripts early (before fall grades are posted) and which should receive transcripts after fall grades are posted.
- Submit applications with December or January due dates.
- Complete and submit applications for programs with relatively late deadlines. Generally March 1 is the latest of any program and most are earlier.
- You may begin to receive letters offering admission, offering you a place on a waiting list or politely denying your admission. It is almost always a good idea to wait until you have heard from all programs before making a decision about which to attend.
- You may be invited to interviews at some of your schools. If an interview is optional, consider exercising the option in order to gain more information about the program and how well it meets your goals.
- Make sure you have completed your FAFSA form if you want to apply for need-based financial assistance. Financial awards of a “merit” nature will generally be included in your letter of acceptance. The application for need-based aid may take longer to process.
- You may want to make last-minute visits to schools that have offered admission, either to see them for the first time or to re-visit those that are on your very short list. If you do visit, plan ahead and make appointments with key individuals and prepare appropriate questions based on careful homework. See “ Important Questions to Consider .”
- Generally, most students accept one of their offers by May 1. By accepting an offer and paying a deposit, you are indicating that you have decided not to accept any other offers. Accepting more than one offer to keep your options open longer is not an ethical strategy. Not only that, if the schools compare notes (and some do), you may jeopardize your standing with both schools/programs.
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The PreMedical and PreDental Advising Office serves UMBC current students and alumni who are interested in attending medical, dental, optometry, podiatry and veterinary school. The office provides guidance on how students can become a competitive applicant for professional school. Services include academic advising on issues relevant to the professional school prerequisites, workshops, visits from professional school representatives and assistance with navigating through the professional school application process.
The office is located within the Dean’s Suite of the College of Natural and Mathematical Sciences, in University Center 116 .
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Articles & Advice > Graduate School > Articles
Essential Grad School Search and Application Timeline
If you're thinking about applying to grad school, plan with care so deadlines don't creep up on you. Get ready with this essential application timeline.
by Donald C. Martin Author, Enrollment Expert
Last Updated: Jul 19, 2022
Originally Posted: Oct 27, 2016
By far, the biggest mistake prospective graduate students make is not doing adequate research and preparation before submitting their applications. You need to give yourself enough time to do your due diligence, get all the information you need, and complete the required application materials to a high degree of quality. Usually “enough time” is about a year. Here you’ll find the months leading up to your application deadlines broken down by discreet tasks. (They correspond to a December application deadline, but this may differ for you.) Some tasks are more discretionary than others; you could certainly visit campuses or start your preliminary grad school research earlier or later if you wanted. But if you follow this plan, you’ll spread your work out in a manageable way. By the end of the year, you’ll feel fully prepared and confident in sending your grad school applications—with time to spare.
12 months out (December)
- Create a crib sheet of your grad school wants and needs you can refer to as you research potential programs .
- Do an online search for graduate programs in your intended field of study.
- Make an alphabetical list of all your options and put them on a spreadsheet .
- Go online and do some initial research on all the institutions on your list. Those schools that are clearly not a fit for you could most likely be eliminated. But be careful not to narrow your options too much. There’s more in-depth research to be done to find the right school and program for you.
Pro tip: Try not to let others’—or your own—preconceived notions about a given grad school impact your research at this point. Everyone has their own needs, expectations, and experiences. This is your education, not someone else’s. You want to get as much information as possible so you can decide which graduate program is the best for you.
Related: Grad Admission Checklist: 12-10 Months From Applying
11 months out (January)
- Take a closer look at your grad school options. Further expand the spreadsheet you created last month to compare each of the schools on your list by the same set of criteria.
Pro tip: This is a good time to request information from each institution on your list, which doubles as an opportunity to find out just how responsive—or not—the graduate admission offices are.
10 months out (February)
- Work on completing your research spreadsheet. As you go along, you are sure to eliminate some if not many programs. That’s okay. Ideally, you will have at least five options left; you may have more or less, as your choices will depend on the type of graduate program you seek .
- After reviewing your research, you may find it helpful to do a general rank order of your options (or divide them into ranked tiers).
Pro tip: Don’t feel compelled to have a “short list” at this point. You’re still months away from applying to grad school, and you will have several opportunities to narrow down your options before then.
9 months out (March)
- Start preparing for any graduate standardized tests required by your institutions. Familiarize yourself with logistics and take some practice tests.
- Go on some initial campus visits if you can. It’s one thing to review a website, read printed materials, and even communicate with admission staff, but it’s quite another to actually visit a campus in person!
8 months out (April)
- Time to do some additional niche research on your options. Really get to know them and their potential to help you reach your goals . Read student reviews, research alumni and their accomplishments, check out rankings, and more. One area that may be of interest is the type of press they receive, which will likely yield news clips not found on an institution’s website, which obviously accentuate positive coverage. You could also read their institutional and student-run publications or research how your graduate institutions are ranked against their contemporaries.
Pro tip: Look closely at the methodology behind any grad school rankings you use, and take these (highly marketable and profitable) lists with a grain of salt. Rather than taking one ranking as gospel, look for trends: e.g., if an institution has been consistently ranked in the top 20.
Related: Grad Admission Checklist: 9-7 Months From Applying
7 months out (May)
- Contact a current student or recent graduate from the institutions on your list to get an insider’s perspective. If you don’t know anyone personally, ask the graduate admission staff or alumni office if they can help. (Online forums and student reviews may also help you gain this perspective.)
- Do a second evaluation/ranking of your options, considering everything you’ve learned thus far. But try not to eliminate schools just yet…
Pro tip: Try to ask every grad school representative the same questions so you have consistent information when updating your spreadsheet.
6 months out (June)
- Go on campus visits if you haven’t already. Even if you are planning on pursuing your studies entirely online , you can still get a great sense of an institution—what they value, what classes and professors are like, how they treat students—by going there in person. Try to visit all of your grad school options in person before applying if possible.
- If you are unable to visit, be sure to take virtual campus tours and redouble your efforts to familiarize yourself with the school in other ways (alumni interviews, online forums and reviews, etc.).
- Another way to get to know your potential graduate programs is to attend graduate admission information sessions (or open houses or receptions). These may be held on campus or possibly closer to where you live.
- If an admission interview is required as part of the application process, try to schedule it during your visit.
Pro tip: Evaluate your visits on your spreadsheet as soon as you get home, so your experiences and impressions are fresh in your mind.
5 months out (July)
- Register for any standardized test(s) needed for admission, if you haven’t already. Give yourself time for retakes, if necessary.
- Start thinking about whom you will ask to write your letters of recommendation.
Pro tip: If you’re not happy with your test scores, you can take them a second or possibly even a third time. This doesn’t make you look less competitive in the application process; it often demonstrates that you are trying your best.
4 months out (August)
- It’s finally time to make your grad school short list ! You have been working on your graduate program search for months now, and you should have a good idea of where you would like to apply. Take a close look at your spreadsheet and which programs most closely match your needs and wants, based on all of your research.
- There is no limit to the number of grad schools you can apply to, but you’ll likely need no more than five or six final choices. Remember that you’ll need time to complete each application to an exemplary standard.
- Be careful about applying to only one graduate institution. If you are absolutely certain that it is by far the only grad school for you, you must prepare yourself for whatever admission decision you receive.
- Even as you home in on your final few choices and eliminate options, it’s helpful to keep all of your research. This way, should you decide to hold off on grad school or if you decide to leave the institution, you won’t be starting from scratch when you resume the research process.
Related: Grad Admission Checklist: 6-4 Months From Applying
3 months out (September)
- Make sure you have all required application materials for your intended graduate programs—and that you are certain of all deadlines.
- Start your statements of purpose/application essays .
- Ask your recommendation writers. If you are applying to several grad schools, be sure to have more than one or two individuals selected. Remember, they will need time to work on their letters, including tailoring them to your intended graduate programs. A rule of thumb: one person could probably do two or three recommendations. Once you have some viable candidates in mind, contact them, and if they agree to recommend you, give them all necessary application details, a run-down of your intended programs, and a copy of your résumé.
- Make sure you’re tracking everything you need specifically for the application process, including deadlines, required materials, recommendation writer(s), admission office contact, decision deadlines, etc. You can add these data points to your exisiting spreadsheet or create a new one.
2 months out (October)
- Fill out your grad school applications. Set aside time each day or every other day to do this. That way you’ll get a little done each time and lessen your chances of feeling overwhelmed, rushing, or making mistakes.
- Work on or complete one application essay each time you work on your graduate applications. This also helps spread things out.
- Follow up with your recommenders to make sure they’re ready to submit their letters/forms and have everything they need.
- Request transcript(s) from any undergraduate institution(s) you attended. Most colleges and universities are quite familiar with this part of the grad school application process and have efficient procedures in place.
1 month out (November)
- Fine-tune your applications. Go over each of the section to be sure you have accurately and completely answered all questions. Check for mistakes. Thoroughly proofread your essays. Then have another person do the same.
- Prepare your application fees, and make sure you have the money to cover them all. (Declined credit cards and bounced checks do not make good first impressions.)
- Enjoy the unique sensation of accomplishment and terror of finally sending everything in!
If you follow this timeline, you should be ready to submit your grad school applications in advance of your deadlines. And the bigger the buffer you can give yourself, the better, because you want to have plenty of time to follow up on your materials (whether via an online portal or by phone or email ). You’ll also have time to resubmit things if something goes awry—not that it will, since you’ve put a year’s worth of time and effort into this process!
Related: Grad Admission Checklist: 3-1 Months From Applying
Grad school comparison criteria
You will be the final arbiter of what grad school criteria are most important to you, but this is a good place to start! Some of the columns in your comparison spreadsheet will say “yes,” “no,” or “maybe”; some will be dates or amounts; and some will be more evaluative, i.e., scale of 1–5, with 1 being terrible and 5 being outstanding. You’ll need to decide what works best for you.
- Program reputation
- Research opportunities
- Mentoring opportunities
- Class formats
- School and program accreditation
- Length of program (full vs. part time)
- Student-faculty ratio
- Average class size
- Application deadlines
- Admission requirements: test scores
- Admission requirements: GPA
- Admission requirements: interview
- Other admission requirements
- Possibility of waitlist
- Responsiveness and friendliness of admission staff
- Tuition cost for one year
- Total cost for one year
- Projected total program cost
- Financial aid availability (Look into grad school loan options )
- Application fees
- Location/distance from home if commuting
- Number of students enrolled in the entire institution
- Number of students enrolled in your program
- Condition of facilities
- Housing options (should you be relocating)
- Extracurricular opportunities
- Career services/employment placement statistics
- Overall school rank (according to various organizations, such as U.S. News & World Report )
- Program rank (according to various organizations)
- Perception during campus visits or admission events you attended
- Interaction with current students /alumni
- Interaction with faculty
- Usefulness of website/materials/brochures
Related: Helpful Answers to Your Questions About Grad School
Pursuing a graduate degree will open a world of opportunities for you, but to get that degree, you need to get into grad school first. Follow this timeline to get your application materials complete and ready in time for the deadline of your program of interest. The more organized you are and the sooner you get the work done, the sooner you’ll be on the path to a bright future.
Still looking for the perfect graduate program? Find it with our Grad School Search tool !
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- The Top Things to Know About Prerequisites for Graduate School
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- The Ultimate Guide to Graduate School Applications
- What Grad School Tests Should You Take (or Not)?
- Advice for Writing Your Grad School Personal Statement
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Thinking about Graduate School? This Timeline Will Help you Plan
Use this timeline to kickstart your grad-school planning! It will help you think through yearly goals to better prepare for your graduate education.
Graduate School Timeline
Two to three years before applying.
- Meet with a CCE career counselor to talk about your interests and goals. We’ll help you generate first steps for your research.
- Connect with a fellowships adviser at First Steps Advising to begin to learn about fellowship options.
- If you’re thinking about attending a research-intensive program, consider getting involved in research and planning to write a senior thesis.
- If you’re thinking about law school or health professions, connect with your school’s pre-professional advisers. For pre-med, you’ll probably want to meet with a pre-professional adviser in your first or second year to understand how to fit the academic requirements into your course schedule.
one year before applying
- Solidify what area of study you’d like to pursue.
- Speak with advisers, professors, and career counselors about your interest in graduate school. Seek out advice and suggestions. Remember, you’ll be reaching out to your faculty advisers for letters of recommendation. The better they understand your interest in graduate school, the stronger a recommendation they’ll be able to write.
- Research institutions and programs.
- Contact schools and visit their admissions sites for application forms, application deadlines, course listings, and financial aid information.
- Gather information about financial aid: scholarships, fellowships, and graduate and teaching assistantships.
- Register and prepare for any necessary graduate admissions tests, such as the GRE, LSAT, GMAT, or MCAT. Medical and law school applicants will need to register for national application services: AMCAS for medical school and LSDAS for law school.
the summer before applying
- Take required graduate admissions tests.
- Continue gathering admissions, program, and funding information.
- Visit prospective schools, if appropriate, and talk to admissions staff, current students, and faculty.
- Reflect on how you can incorporate what you’ve learned about department research and initiatives into your application essays.
- Draft application essays. Solicit feedback from your advisers and Writing Center consultants. Revise, revise, revise!
the semester you’re applying
- Take required graduate admissions tests if you haven’t already.
- Request letters of recommendation from faculty and supervisors who know your work. Try to ask at least one month before the deadline!
- Look into Columbia’s dossier services , which allow you to forward files (i.e., transcripts, essays, and recommendation letters) directly to graduate schools.
- Based on the school requirements, gather and submit your application, including admissions test reports, official transcript, letters of recommendation, and application essays.
- Complete necessary financial aid applications such as the FAFSA, as well as scholarship and fellowship applications.
after you’ve applied
- Find out if admissions interviews are part of the application process.
- Once you receive admissions decisions, consider visiting institutions or speaking with faculty and current students if you haven’t already. Reach out to your support system for help evaluating your options.
- Form a contingency plan in case you aren’t accepted to any programs. This might include working, interning, volunteering, or taking relevant courses.
- Once you’ve made the decision to attend a program, notify the other institutions you are still waiting to hear from of your plans.
- Send thank you letters to your recommendation writers, letting them know your plans.
Finding your best-fit graduate program.
So, you’ve determined that attending graduate school is the right next step for you. You’ve got a clear idea of what degree to pursue, and you know how it will help you take the next steps in your career journey. Now, it’s time to find the schools and departments that match your academic background, interests, and goals.
Graduate School: Factors to Consider
Deciding to go to graduate school is a big decision that often comes with lots of questions. We’ve put together a list of factors for you to consider.
Inside the Graduate School Application
Your graduate school application will showcase your motivation and preparation for graduate study in the field and program you’re targeting. Learn what’s in the application and how each element fits into that story.
Timelines for Graduate Study
Using a timeline can help you organize your job search during your time in graduate school. These timelines, for master’s and PhD students, will help you work toward your career goals over the course of your program.
- Financial Aid
- Student Loans
- Majors & Careers
- Online Grad School
- Credit Transfer
- Preparing For Grad School
- Student Life
- Study Abroad
When to Apply for Grad School: Monthly Timeline [2023-2024]
Table of Contents
When is the right time to apply for graduate school, when to apply for grad school – a suggested timeline, february to april, when should i begin my applications for graduate school, when are graduate school application deadlines.
- When to apply for graduate school for fall 2023?
Do you apply for grad school junior or senior year?
Embarking on a master’s degree program 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 step is deciding which schools and programs to apply for. You must find out all the requirements, fill out applications, create your resume, write a personal statement, collect recommendation letters, and 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 is it time to submit your application.
When trying to get into a specific school or program, submitting everything on time is crucial. 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 grad school? When do you apply for master’s programs?
Early is best, but we’ll help you narrow down a timeline that works best for you (and your successful admission!).
If you’ve decided on going to grad school for your master’s degree, you’re probably worrying about when you should apply. In fact, you may even be wondering when you should start preparing to apply.
As we’ve previously mentioned, submitting your application early is one of the best ways to help set yourself up for success. But what exactly is early? What’s the timeline for an application?
Well, it will depend on grad school application deadlines. Also ask the question — how long does it take to apply to grad school? This will give you an idea of how much time you should allot to prepare.
It’s a good idea to start thinking about your plans as early as a year and a half or 18 months before your intended start . So as an example, if you wanted to start during the fall term of 2023, you ideally would have started preparing as early as March or April of 2022.
Starting during those months would have given you a healthy six to nine months to prepare to apply by the graduate school application deadline for fall 2023, which would have fallen on December 2022 or January 2023. Six to nine months would have been more than enough time to start putting together all your requirements, request recommendation letters, take any standardized tests, and so on.
Thus, you can simply follow this rough guideline, adjusting for when you intend to start.
It’s worth noting that not all programs or graduate schools follow the typical timelines. For example, some schools follow rolling admissions. Additionally, medical schools may often follow different start dates and deadlines. For example, to meet the graduate school application deadline for fall 2023, at least for med school, you must have begun preparing as early as November or December of 2021. Unfortunately, if you are just starting now, you’ve missed the window for a fall 2023 start.
So if you’re wondering when to apply for grad school for fall 2023, unfortunately, you’ve already missed the deadlines. If you’d prefer a fall start, you’ll need to wait until fall 2024. But don’t worry — now, you have the perfect 18-20 month headstart!
Related : How to Apply to Grad School
If you’re wondering when to start applying for grad school, this suggested timeline might help you. The month-by-month example in the table below is a typical timeline for a December application submission or the graduate school application deadline for fall 2023.
Again, the timeline above is for the grad school deadlines for fall 2023. You’ll need to adjust your timeline depending on your intended start.
Month-by-Month Timeline: In Detail
Here is a breakdown of when to apply to grad school — essentially, the table above in greater detail. Following this rough timeline can help you start earning your graduate degree in no time.
At this time, you can start deciding which programs you’d like to apply to . It might be a good idea to discuss with your mentors to see whether they have any recommendations for programs they think would fit you. You can also seek advice and opinions from internet forums and the like. Ask yourself: when are grad school applications due? Ensure you research the programs well to avoid missing anything during the application timeline. Figure out when you need to pay your application fees.
Begin preparing for required standardized 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 admission and financial assistance chances. 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. Start planning your study and preparation strategy for these exams and start signing up for the exams you intend to take .
Related : How Many Grad Schools Should I Apply To?
Start studying for your standardized tests . Ensure that you spend some time studying each day, but don’t forget to take a break once in a while!
Take a practice test: Once you’ve prepared for your exams, 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, your college professors might be the best people to ask for recommendation letters. If it’s been a long time since you’ve been in school, you can ask your co-workers, employers, or volunteer contacts .
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.
Begin taking your standardized tests where possible . Schools generally allow you to take these tests more than once without penalty, so taking them this early gives you time for retakes (you can submit your best score later on!). Just because you can do retakes doesn’t mean you don’t need to do your best, however, because each attempt will cost you money.
Note that not all schools follow the same policy regarding standardized tests and retakes. Ensure that you do the necessary research into your programs of choice and find out how many retakes you are allowed to do, if at all.
If you’ve already requested your letters of recommendation, now is a good time to do gentle follow-ups. Consider meeting with your recommenders face-to-face if you feel it is necessary. Prepare and send your resume to your recommenders to give them more background information about you. Doing this will allow them to write a stronger recommendation letter overall.
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).
July is a good time to request your transcripts from your previous schools, at least if you haven’t done so yet. You might already know that when applying to grad school, you’ll need to submit your transcripts as one of the major requirements. All graduate schools will require transcripts!
Retake your standardized tests like your GRE if you are unhappy with your initial GRE score.
Write the first draft of your personal statement . Now that you know 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. You may also want to write your statement of purpose , which is a short essay discussing your academic and professional background and interests.
During this month, you can seek feedback on your personal statement and statement of purpose. Send it to close and trusted family and friends or even your mentors to see if they have valuable input to help you improve your drafts.
Remember that these statements should be clear and understandable while getting your point across well. Any professional in your intended field of study should be able to understand what you are trying to say, even if they aren’t interested or specializing in your specific sub-discipline.
Once you have improved your drafts, you may want to send them to your recommenders. Doing so might help them write stronger letters of recommendation for you. They may also have some valuable feedback for you. Sending your statements to your recommenders can also gently remind them to work on your letters!
As you get closer to when to apply for grad school for fall 2023, remember that October is your last chance to retake any standardized tests if you are still unsatisfied with your results.
As you are only a month away from your December deadline, now is the time to perfect your statement of purpose and personal statement . Finalize your drafts!
Gather all your materials and requirements and start completing all your application forms for your desired graduate schools.
Now is also the time to send final reminders for your recommendation letters . Start collecting them if they are available.
This month is when most application forms are due. Finalize yours before you start submitting them!
If you thought the process of applying to grad school ended in December, you’d be wrong! January is the time for you to complete your FAFSA if you are an American intending to secure a federal loan for your studies.
The period between February to April is essentially a waiting game. Now is the time to wait to hear back from the graduate schools you applied to. You can also plan and do campus visits to see your potential study environments and ask other graduate students about their experiences.
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.
If you receive multiple offers, it’s time to choose where to earn your graduate degree!
And that’s it — that’s the graduate school application timeline in a nutshell!
Of course, you can always condense this process into a shorter period of time. However, we wouldn’t recommend cutting the timeline shorter than a year. You might still be able to complete your application in less than a year, but you’d certainly feel pressed for time. Additionally, you won’t have as much time to do test retakes, and your recommenders will have less time to write strong letters of recommendation for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
To know your application timeline, you should first determine your intended start. Once you have decided, tack on twelve to eighteen months (ideally eighteen) to give yourself enough time to prepare your application properly.
The best way to know when grad school application deadlines are is to check with your desired schools and programs. Not all schools have the same deadlines, so note important dates so as not to miss them! There are some typical deadlines, though — for example, many universities will set December to January deadlines for fall term starts.
When to apply for graduate school for fall 2023?
The deadlines may vary from program to program, but in most cases, the deadline for the fall 2023 term is around December of the previous year to January of the current year. That means if you wanted to apply for grad school for fall 2023, you needed to apply in December 2022 or January 2023. However, you might still be able to apply for certain programs if they have rolling admission.
You’ll want to start preparing at least one year, but ideally eighteen months, before your start date. Thus, if you want to go to grad school right after graduating college, you’ll want to start the application process as early as junior year.
So, when do you apply for grad school? When it comes to applying to your dream grad school programs, 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!
But if you’re still unsure when to apply for grad school, the month-by-month timeline above can help you figure things out. You may want to print this guide out or clip it into your notes app to keep it handy throughout the process!
Want to see live results of real people that have been accepted or rejected from your dream grad school? 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
Chriselle has been a passionate professional content writer for over 10 years. She writes educational content for The Grad Cafe, Productivity Spot, The College Monk, and other digital publications. When she isn't busy writing, she spends her time streaming video games and learning new skills.
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Applying to Grad School: The Ultimate Guide
Applying to grad school can be stressful and time-consuming. If you don’t plan ahead enough, you may miss critical deadlines, not give recommenders enough notice, or not turn in the best application possible. Whether you are just beginning to think about grad school, getting ready to prep for the GRE , or about to start working on your applications, we’ll tell you what you need to know. We’ll give you a timeline of what the application process looks like and answer some common questions that applicants have.
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Each graduate program has its own application deadline, so research the specific programs that interest you before beginning work on your applications. In general, though, you should plan to submit your applications during the fall or winter of the year before you wish to matriculate. Continue reading to learn more about graduate school application timelines and materials, how to choose a graduate school, and more.
Applications for most grad programs don’t open up until about 9 months before you would start school. However, grad school will likely be on your mind sooner, and you should start setting yourself up for success long before.
As a general overview, here’s what your grad school application timeline should look like:
- 2 years before grad school: Start planning. Research schools and narrow down your interests.
- 1 year before grad school: Start preparing. Take the GRE, begin gathering your application materials, and look into financial aid.
- 9 months before grad school: Apply. Get your application in as early as you can.
- 6 months before grad school: Decide. Weigh the pros and cons of each school to which you’ve been accepted and decide where you’d like to matriculate.
Planning for Grad School
Maybe you already know what you want to study in grad school, or maybe you’re still deciding. About 2 years before you want to go to grad school narrow down your interests and determine your field before forging ahead.
- Compile a list of disciplines and programs that interest you. Find advisors at your school to offer their perspectives on various professions and degree paths. If you are already in the workforce or out of school, talk with supervisors, mentors, and trusted colleagues. Visit programs’ websites, request brochures, and attend open houses.
- Learn the difference between master’s, professional, and doctoral programs in your field. Which best suits your timeline and career goals?
- Research specific schools. Consider factors like location, cost, reputation, competitiveness, and whether the school is public or private.
- Look into the average credentials of matriculants at your prospective schools to determine which ones you should target.
- Explore the earning potential of each of your possible degree paths.
- Come up with a timeline for taking the GRE , and then schedule your GRE prep .
Tip: W ant to live in a specific state after grad school? Research any state-wide regulations that might affect you in your chosen profession. For instance, some states require a doctorate for practicing clinical psychology; others only call for a master’s.
Prepare for Grad School
When you’re about one year away from beginning graduate school , it’s time to start gathering your materials and take the GRE. Don’t panic; prepare.
- Choose a GRE test date and reserve your seat. The GRE is offered nearly every day at most test locations.
- Study for the GRE. Allow yourself at least 3 months before your test date to study and prepare for the GRE.
- Register for the FAFSA and start looking into private scholarship and grant applications.
- Create a calendar of deadlines for all of the grad schools you are applying to, including financial aid deadlines.
- Identify professors or individuals to write letters of recommendation. You’ll want to reach out to them as early as possible to give them enough time to meet submission deadlines.
Tip: Take a free practice GRE early to see where you stand. Consider a GRE course to help boost your score.
How to Apply to Grad School
Applications are usually released about nine months before graduate school program start dates. Stay organized and focused.
- Start working on applications early so you’ll have enough time to review, revise, and perfect. Polish your personal statement and get feedback.
- Get all required materials organized and be sure they are included with your application.
- Double-check that everything is accurate.
- Submit your applications on time.
- Before each interview , research the particular program and school. Anticipate common questions and prepare your answers. Review your personal statement and be prepared to expand on it in your interview.
Tip: If you are waitlisted, be patient. Talk to your advisor about ways to enhance your application at this stage.
How to Choose a Grad School Program
At six months before matriculation , you’ve likely received some acceptance letters! Keep these things in mind when narrowing down your top choices.
- Weigh the pros and cons of each program. Think about which program may be the best fit for you, taking into account the school’s mission statement, student culture, location, faculty, and how you felt if you had a campus visit.
- Consider non-academic factors, including climate, extracurricular opportunities, cost of living, and financial aid availability.
- Look into ways to finance your education .
Grad School Admissions Requirements
Admissions requirements will vary by program, but you will most likely have to include the following with your application:
- cumulative undergraduate GPA (and major GPA)
- letters of recommendation
- personal statement
- admission interview
Always research the specific requirements of the programs to which you are applying to make sure you are fulfilling all requirements and to tailor your applications to each specific program.
How To Ask For Letters of Recommendation For Grad School
There are two fundamental rules of requesting letters of recommendation for graduate school: ask early and ask nicely.
As soon as you decide to go to graduate school, you should start identifying potential writers for your letters of recommendations and let them know that you may ask them for a recommendation. This will give your letters of recommendation writers plenty of time to think about what to say. Once they’ve agreed, let them know about deadlines well in advance to avoid potential scheduling conflicts. The more time they have to write your letter of recommendation, the better the job they’ll do recommending you for grad school.
As for asking nicely, you should let these people know that you think highly of their opinion and that you’d be happy and honored if they would consider writing you a letter of recommendation for graduate school. You can help your recommenders by scheduling brief appointments with them to discuss your background; providing a list of due dates for each application; providing any forms required by the program; listing which recommendations will be submitted in hard copy and which will be submitted online; providing any forms required by the program; supplying stamped, addressed envelopes for hard-copy submissions; and following up with the recommenders.
The GRE is a multiple-choice, computer-based, standardized exam required for admission to graduate programs. It measures your command of basic arithmetic, algebra, geometry, data analysis, and college-level vocabulary. More importantly, it assesses your ability to analyze and evaluate written material, think critically, and solve problems.
Like your undergraduate GPA, your GRE score provides graduate admissions committees with common measures to evaluate your qualifications and preparedness for graduate-level academic work.
A high score on the GRE will have a direct, positive impact on your graduate school application.
When considering your GRE score goal, look at the requirements—or minimums, if applicable—at the graduate programs you’re applying to. If you can find the mean or average GRE score of admitted applicants, you’ll be able to determine what GRE score will make you competitive in that program. Not all graduate programs publish the GRE ranges of accepted students, but they’ll likely share that information if you give them a call.
Think about applying to grad school as marketing yourself. There are many things you can do make sure that your application is as strong as it could be, and to present yourself in the most persuasive and appealing way possible.
The number of applications submitted will vary considerably from candidate to candidate, but the golden rule is that you should only apply to a graduate program if you have enough time to make your application outstanding. If you have time to perfect only three applications, then you should focus on applying to just three schools, rather than applying to five different schools and submitting only “average” applications. Be realistic about your limitations.
In terms of a target number—assuming that time is not a factor and you can commit yourself to all of your applications—five or six is generally optimal.
You’ll want to divide your schools into three general categories:
- Dream Schools: places you’d love to attend, but where your chances of acceptance are uncertain
- Target Schools: programs you’d like to attend, and where your grades and GRE score are close to the median
- Safety Schools: programs where your numbers make acceptance highly likely
The answer to this question is different for everyone. What you need to consider is: what are the best grad schools for you?
Depending on your prospective programs, you will likely have dozens—if not hundreds—of options. Here are a few things to consider when choosing a grad program.
Are you interested in moving for grad school? If you are open to relocating, think about where you may want to live—and what kind of resources different areas can provide you on your academic and professional path. Do you prefer a school in a large city or a remote setting? Do you want to live on a college campus, or perhaps closer to family? Which locations best suit your career interests?
Reputation and Prestige
Which schools in your field are most highly regarded? What is the program’s reputation for job placement following graduation? What does alumni involvement and contribution look like?
If these factors are important to you, see if you can find stats on the school’s website that address your questions about a program’s reputation. If you can’t find this information online, a phone call to the program’s admissions office can point you in the right direction.
Curriculum and Program Features
Look into whether the program focuses on your particular areas of interest. Consider the school’s requirements, as well. Are there prerequisites for the program that you haven’t yet completed?
Maybe there is a particular professor on faculty you’d like to work with or a particular facility that’s notable. Feel free to reach out to those parties and tell them you’re considering applying. You may fit a certain area they’re looking for—and you might even get an ally on the admissions committee.
Find out if prospective employers recruit from the programs you’re considering. Major industries or organizations will often visit campuses to interview candidates. Are your dream employers visiting the schools you want to attend?
Consider other career and job placement services that the graduate program provides, too. If the programs you’re thinking about are in academia, find out if recent grads have accepted academic positions, how long their searches took, and where they’re working now. Are they getting tenure positions or one-year contracts? Are they working at top schools?
School cultures vary dramatically from one to the next—and cultures between graduate programs in a specific school can vary. Find out not just what the school is like overall, but also the program. What’s expected of the class? Will you be able to keep up with the workload? What class size is standard, and what is the level of involvement with faculty? Find out if the program fosters a collaborative environment or expects more individual work. Then consider which learning style works better for you.
Not every graduate program requires an interview, but for many, it’s an important requirement. Also, some schools use interviews to evaluate borderline cases. If you are a candidate who has been contacted about an interview, make sure to schedule it as soon as possible.
Programs vary on who conducts the interview. It may be someone on the admissions committee, or it may be a local alumnus of the school. Either way, get the logistics established as early as possible so you can begin to prepare for interview day.
Top 8 Tips for Grad School Interviews
- Know who you are—and who you say you are. Review your application to the school before your interview day. Remember that all the interviewer knows about you is what they’ve read on paper, so they will likely start with what they know. You should know it, too.
- Track the highlights. Think ahead of time about your role in leadership, volunteer, or professional positions. Be ready to relate several stories on how you’ve taken initiative and been a role model for others. Consider how you might apply those abilities to your new graduate environment—whether from an academic or community perspective.
- Ask the right questions. Prepare some questions ahead of time about the program, the school, or the graduate community. Make sure that your questions show you’ve done your homework. For example, if your question can be easily answered on the program’s website or literature, dive a little deeper.
- “Why here?” The interviewer will inevitably ask why you are interested in the particular school and program. Be prepared to give a compelling answer. Remember that honesty wins. “It’s close to my family, affordable, and has a great post-graduate career network,” is a perfectly acceptable answer—and much better than, “this has been my dream school since I was 12” … if it hasn’t.
- Focus on presentation—inside and out. Project professionalism and friendliness. It’s important to look the part in proper business attire, but that doesn’t mean you have to wear the most expensive labels. You’re evaluated on your presentation, not your price tag.
- Preparation leads to calm. Stay as relaxed as possible. Not only will this help you project overall confidence and friendliness, but it will keep fidgeting to a minimum. Be aware of your other nonverbal communication, as well. Practice good eye contact and posture before the interview. It might help to hold mock interviews with trusted friends, family members, or even professors you’re close to. Make these as official as you like—from running through questions over a video call, to putting on your interview suit and playing the part for a whole hour. Go about it however will make you feel the most relaxed on interview day.
- Extend courtesy to all. If you are meeting with other members of the program’s administrative staff, apply the same interview rules to those interactions—no matter how brief. The perceptions of all administrative staff members may be highly valued, and can have an effect on your overall evaluation.
- Be yourself (you know this one). Always be open and honest. A genuine truth beats a beautiful lie any day.
Before you decide to pursue a graduate degree, be sure to research your programs of interest to get a firm understanding of the financial costs. In addition to school tuition, books/materials, and fees, you’ll want to factor in living and moving expenses, especially if you are relocating to a different state. The good news is that a graduate degree is often a sound investment. The Bureau of Labor Statistics consistently shows higher earnings for graduates with master’s, doctoral, and professional degrees.
Some grad programs will be fully-funded through an assistantship or fellowship, which will cover the full cost of your tuition and sometimes even provide a living stipend. However, many programs will require to get creative about financing options. The good news is that there are many grants, loans, scholarships, and other options out there where you will be able to find money to put towards your graduate degree.
Start with FAFSA
Your first stop for figuring out how to pay for graduate school is the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It will take you less than an hour to fill out, and unlike on your FAFSAs from college, you won’t need your parents’ information.
FAFSA unlocks all federal and state aid for graduate school—including federal loans, federal and state grants, work-study, and school student assistance. Submit FAFSA as early as you can each calendar year, as many aid sources are first come, first serve.
The aid package you receive from FAFSA will help you figure out how much money you need to find from other sources. If you are currently a student, start by setting up an appointment at your school’s financial aid office. They may be able to point you toward some financial sources you haven’t yet thought of.
If you’re eligible for merit-based aid, look into scholarships, fellowships, and research or work-study opportunities, which offer funding that does not need to be paid back. Fastweb.com is a good place to start locating these.
- Look into the Fulbright grant programs for graduate students.
- Marshall Scholars are fully funded for graduate study in the United Kingdom.
- Rhodes Scholars are provided with fully funded graduate studies opportunities at the University of Oxford.
- Teaching assistantships let you earn your tuition by assisting a professor, teaching a seminar, or leading a section.
- Research assistantships let you conduct research with faculty in your field while earning your tuition.
- Stipends are often a part of teaching or research assistantships.
Other Grad School Funding Sources
Faith-based organizations. There are many faith-based scholarships available. They vary widely in their requirements, but they’re worth looking into if applicable to you. Even if the requirements are specific, that’s not a bad thing if you can find your niche. Remember that tighter qualifications can also mean less competition.
Military benefits. If you or your spouse served in the armed forces, you may be eligible for generous tuition help. The post-9/11 GI Bill will pay your full graduate tuition at a public school, and up to almost $22,000 a year at a private or foreign school. (Some private schools will waive the difference in what’s called a Yellow Ribbon program.) The amount you’re entitled to is determined by the number of months you served after September 11, 2001.
Your employer. Some workplaces have generous tuition reimbursement programs. If you’re currently in the workforce, start with a call to your company’s HR department to find out if your employer will pay for all or some of your advanced degree. Many are willing to contribute, particularly if your degree will help advance their business. Make sure you ask HR if there are any conditions for their tuition reimbursement programs; for instance, some employers require that you stay at the company for a certain amount of time while earning your advanced degree, or even after.
Non-traditional scholarships. Students over 25 or 30 are sometimes referred to as non-traditional students. There are more than 200 scholarships aimed directly at these students. If this is you, keep it in mind as you search for funding.
Your IRA. If you’ve been in the workforce and have started an IRA, you are allowed to borrow against it without penalty to pay for graduate school. This is a route that should be considered carefully: The true magic of retirement accounts is in their compounding over time—and by taking money out early, you are sacrificing future returns. Plus, an IRA withdrawal may affect your offer of financial aid.
A home equity loan. If you own a home, you can borrow against the value of your house and use that money for school, either as a loan or as a line of credit (HELOC). Weigh this option carefully, however, since your home is on the line if you can’t make your payments or if the housing market drops. You also won’t qualify for student loan forgiveness programs if you go this route, and your interest rate could rise, given that not all home-equity loans have fixed rates.
Student loan forgiveness programs. Once you graduate, there are ways to get your debt written off if you meet certain qualifications. Only a few types of federal loans are eligible, and you have to have been making on-time payments toward them. Most importantly, you need to be a federal employee or working in public service or at a qualifying nonprofit, with a salary beneath a particular threshold. Find more information at studentaid.ed.gov .
Grad School Student Loans
If you’re thinking of taking out loans to either fund grad school or supplement other funding, you might have trouble determining which are the best types of loans for you to target. We’ll help you understand different types of loans and associated terminology.
- Student loans : Money advanced for educational purposes by the government or private institutions. A student borrows the principal and pays it back to the lender in installments—with interest.
- Subsidized loans : While only available to undergrads, a subsidized student loan is issued by the federal government and eligible for interest benefits. The government pays the interest on subsidized loans while you’re enrolled in school at least half-time.
- Unsubsidized loans : These loans are available to grad students and not based on financial need, making the amount you are allowed to take out higher. The interest on unsubsidized loans begins accruing immediately, though you are not required to begin repayment on the principal or the interest until after school.
- Interest rate : The proportion of a loan, expressed as a percentage of the principal, that is charged by the lender to the borrower.
- Grace period : The period of time between the actual due date of a payment and the date you can begin payment without accruing fees or penalties. In the context of student loans, this is the time period—usually six months—between the date you graduate (or drop below half-time status) and the date you must begin repayment.
- Repayment period : The entire period in which a borrower is responsible for repaying a loan.
- Federal Stafford Loan : Subsidized or unsubsidized, low-interest federal loans that are available to undergraduate and graduate students who fill out the FAFSA.
- Federal Perkins Loan : Low-interest loans available to undergraduate or graduate students. The government issues the loan through the student’s school, which contributes a share and acts as lender. The interest rate for Perkins Loans is fixed at 5%.
- Pell Grant : Okay, this one’s not a loan, but you must fill out a FAFSA form to be eligible. The maximum Federal Pell Grant award for the 2019-2020 award year is $6,195. 98% of recipients have a family adjusted gross income of less than $60,000.
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Timeline for Application to Graduate School
As a general rule of thumb, it is best to begin the process six to eight months prior to the application deadline.
Late fall/early spring deadlines for fall admission are most common but some programs offer other admission terms or cycles. Research your programs carefully for their specific admission terms and deadlines.
Example Grad School Admissions Timeline
This timeline uses typical fall admission deadlines as an example.
Summer (or six to eight months prior to application deadline)
- Write a draft statement of purpose/personal statement.
- Based on your interests expressed in the personal statement, start researching your way through guides to graduate programs, graduate program websites, and graduate school policy and course catalogs to determine the programs that best fit your needs.
- Talk to faculty members and/or work supervisors for recommendations. Focus specifically on programs that have faculty who match your research, skills, or career interests. Look at each program’s general reputation, time to degree, degree requirements, and any available funding support.
August - September (or four to six months prior to application deadline)
- Meet with faculty members and/or workplace supervisors you know to discuss your graduate school goals and share a draft of your personal statement for feedback.
- Ask faculty and/or workplace supervisors for letters of recommendation. The minimum number of letters requested by graduate programs is generally three, but make sure to follow each program’s specific application guidelines.
- Develop a reasonable personal timeline for preparing your application materials, based on your programs’ specific deadlines—including application and financial aid deadlines—using the earliest application deadline as your focal point. Allow time for feedback and revision.
- Register for any required standardized tests. Allow enough time to take the exam(s) again, as necessary.
October (or two to three months prior to application deadline)
- Take standardized tests.
- Determine the final list of specific schools to which you will apply, and research specific required application materials as well as the method of application.
- Finalize your statement of purpose/personal statement, based on feedback from your recommenders, and with any necessary adjustments to account for each application’s specific needs.
- Order transcripts from all post-secondary institutions, making sure of what each program applied to expects.
November (or one to two months prior to application deadline)
- Complete application forms. If possible, download forms from the university website and do drafts of each.
- Provide all necessary information to each of your recommenders for each of the schools to which you are applying. This includes a draft of your personal statement and any other relevant or desired materials that can assist them in writing an effective recommendation.
December/January (or application deadline)
- Submit applications: do not wait until the final deadline. If possible, submit well in advance of the final deadline to ensure not only full consideration but also to allow additional time to request and/or resubmit any missing or incomplete materials.
- Contact the University’s Graduate School, your specific program’s graduate directors and/or Financial Aid Office to request information on scholarships, fellowships, and assistantships from the institutions to which you applied.
January/February (or within the first month or two post application)
- Contact programs about the possibility of visiting, and visit programs if possible, if you can make time in your schedule and have the financial resources. Some programs may require an interview, which may take place over video conference or in person.
- Consider the curriculum, the program requirements, and the research and professional development opportunities the program provides, and how those will translate to employment post-graduation.
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- Applying to graduate school
When to Apply for Graduate School | Month-by-Month Timeline
Published on February 17, 2021 by Lauren Thomas . Revised on November 11, 2022.
Once you’ve decided to apply for graduate school , you need to carefully plan out the application process, leaving yourself enough time to:
- Choose which schools you’ll apply to
- Gather transcripts and recommendation letters
- Write your personal statement or statement of purpose
- Take any standardized exams you might need
In general, you’ll need to start preparing your application at least 6 months in advance of the deadline. Most application deadlines are about 7–9 months before the program’s start date.
Table of contents
When is the right time to apply for graduate school, month-by-month timeline for grad school applications, frequently asked questions about applying to grad school.
Some students apply to grad school straight from undergraduate degrees, but it’s also common to return to school later in life. If you’re not sure yet whether you’re ready to apply for graduate school, ask yourself these questions.
Career and field
- Do you want to change your career? Many individuals attend graduate school to enter fields like nursing, physical therapy, medicine, business, marketing, communications, etc.
- Do you need a graduate degree to progress in your field? In some fields (like law, research, most of health care, and business), a graduate degree is usually necessary to progress. In others (like software engineering or data analytics), degrees are less important.
- How much work experience do you need before applying to graduate school? For instance, MBA programs usually expect you to have several years of work under your belt, whereas many people start medical school right out of undergrad or soon after.
- Are you at a place in your life where you can focus most of your attention on school?
- Are you prepared to move across the country or even to another country if needed? If not, you should only apply to graduate schools near you.
- Does your family situation permit you to go back to school?
- Do you have enough money saved up or a realistic plan to finance graduate school? If you plan to take out government loans, carefully consider how much you will have to pay back after graduation with your expected earnings.
- Can you leave or cut back on your job without drastically harming your financial health?
- Do the graduate programs you’re interested in allow you to work part-time? For instance, medicine rarely allows you to attend part-time. This may also be subject to visa restrictions if you’re planning to study outside your own country.
You should generally start thinking about graduate school around 18 months before you plan to start. Most program deadlines are 7–9 months before the start date, so you’ll have 6–9 months to get all your materials together, ask for recommendation letters, and take any necessary exams.
Note that some graduate schools—notably medicine—follow a different timeline. Also, some fields, particularly law, use rolling deadlines, meaning the earlier you get in your applications, the better!
The timeline below represents the most typical one, with a December submission deadline. If your deadline is earlier or later, you should adjust your timeline to match.
Decide which type of graduate program you’d like to apply for and start researching schools that fit your criteria. Discuss which programs you should be aiming for with your former professors or current supervisors.
Most programs provide statistics about the test scores, undergraduate grades, or work or research experience of the students they accept. Aim high, but be realistic about your chances. Make sure to choose some programs that are likely to accept you.
Sign up and begin studying for whichever standardized test you need. Different programs require different exams, so you should make sure to check the website of the program you intend to apply to.
Continue studying for standardized tests. Study books can often be checked out for free from your local library. Aim to do at least a little bit of studying every day—that way, it becomes a habit.
Begin the process of asking for recommendation letters.
Take the necessary standardized test for the first time. You aren’t penalized for taking the test multiple times and can send your best score, so don’t panic if you don’t meet your target score on the first try. However, note that each attempt costs (a significant amount of) money, so don’t completely slack off!
Make a list of the specific programs you’re going to apply to. One tip: organize your information in a spreadsheet with required materials, application fees, links to the online application sign-in, recommenders for each program, and deadlines. This will aid you later in the process!
Follow up on rec letters. Now is a good time to begin face-to-face meetings with potential recommenders. Update your resume so that you can send it to recommenders and they can write you a strong letter.
Decide if you need extra funding. To plan your finances, make a monthly budget with expected rent, food, transportation, prorated monthly tuition/fees, and any other potential costs. If the cost is more than what you have in savings or expected financial support (including loans), then you’ll need extra support.
If you need funding, look into potential options—many, such as the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program , require extra essays and have earlier deadlines.
Now is a good time to begin requesting transcripts, if you haven’t already. For most graduate applications, you must ensure you’ve requested transcripts from every university you’ve attended, even if you only studied there for a semester or it is located in another country.
Retake any standardized exams if you weren’t happy with the scores the first time around.
Begin writing your statement of purpose . A statement of purpose is a short essay that discusses your professional and academic interests and background.
You may also be required to write a personal statement , which should talk about your personal story and personal motivations for applying to graduate school. It may include your potential to bring an underrepresented perspective or add to the diversity of the program you’re applying to.
Send off your statement of purpose and personal statement to recommenders to aid their recommendation letters and to receive feedback.
It’s also a good idea to have your statements checked by a friend, family member or professional editor , who can help make sure your writing flows clearly and catch any grammatical mistakes.
A statement of purpose should be understandable to any professional in your field, even if they don’t specialize in your sub-discipline. Most graduate programs rely on a committee of professors throughout the field to evaluate applications, so there’s no guarantee yours will be read by an expert in your particular interest.
October is generally your last chance to retake any standardized exam whose scores you’re not happy with.
Perfect your statement of purpose and personal statement. It’s a good idea to take a week-long break from your applications so that you can approach them again with a fresh eye.
Many graduate applications are due this month. Remind your recommenders of the final deadlines, and finish up your application.
Ensure you have your perfected resume, transcripts, and final personal statement ready. Upload them—and don’t forget to pay the application fee if that’s required!
If you’re American and think you might want to take out any amount of loans to fund your degree, you should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) . Once completed, you’ll be eligible for a loan to fund up to 100% of the total cost of your degree, including both tuition and living costs.
February to April
Most graduate school results will come back in this time period. Many graduate schools offer in-person visit days in March and April. Some will even pay for your transportation and hotel costs. These visits will allow you to ask questions to faculty members and current students.
When choosing a graduate program, make sure to pay attention to how well the program fits your interests as well as its prestige. You should also pay attention to placement or job outcomes after graduation.
If you’re in a research degree, your supervisor is vitally important to your potential success—carefully evaluate your potential options (but remember that some advisors could leave, so you shouldn’t choose a program for just one potential supervisor!)
Try to hang out with current students in an informal setting to ask them questions you might not otherwise be comfortable asking. Ask what the work expectations are like—do they get time off? Do they feel like they’re being treated fairly? This is especially important for doctoral programs, which are several years long.
Make sure to read the fine print of any funding that you might receive. Will you have to teach or work in a certain position for a certain number of years afterwards? Choose carefully!
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A good starting point to aim for is about 18 months before you would start the program, or 6–9 months before the applications are due.
In the first few months of the process, research programs and study for any standardized exams you might need.
You can then begin writing your personal statements and statements of purpose , as well as contacting people to write your letters of recommendation . Ensure that you give recommenders plenty of time to complete their letters (ideally around 2–4 months).
Most graduate school applications for American graduate programs are due in December or January for a September start.
Some types of programs, especially law school, are rolling applications, meaning that the earlier you apply, the earlier you’ll hear back. In this case, you should aim to apply as early as possible to maximize your chances.
Medical school follows a completely separate timeline with much earlier deadlines. If you’re applying for medical school, you should speak to advisors at your university for more information.
Some students apply to graduate school straight from undergrad, but it’s also common to go back to school later in life. The ideal time to do so depends on various financial, personal, and career considerations . Graduate school is a big commitment, so you should apply at a time when you can devote your full attention to it.
Your career path may also determine when you should apply. In some career fields, you can easily progress without a graduate degree, while in others—such as medicine, business, and law—it’s virtually impossible to move up the career ladder without a specific graduate degree.
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