Grad school application checklist/timeline

Hi guys! With several months before the deadline for most graduate programs, I wanted to jump on and outline the steps you should be taking if you’re thinking about applying. I know the process can be quite overwhelming but I am here to offer any advice and insight that I can so your experience is as stress-free as possible.

  1. Make sure you have taken required exams such as GREs, subject GREs, TOEFL etc. that may be required for various programs and candidates. It’s good to get this over with way before you start actually applying but not TOO early on because sometimes schools don’t accept GREs that were taken too long ago. Also with some schools eliminating requirements for such exams, this may not be pertinent to you.

  2. Which leads me to my next point, do your research on the schools and programs!! This is arguably the most important step. Grad school is a huge commitment so be sure you find programs that are good fits for you and your interests. I would recommend not just going by rankings but actually do deep dives on departments and professors. It matters more the professor you work with (if you’re applying to a PhD) and the research that is being done at the department than how high US News claims the department is ranked.
    If you can, reach out to individual professors to expressing your interest in their department and their research. A lot of profs are happy to talk to prospective students and this definitely doesn’t hurt your chances if a professor recognises your name in the list of applicants.

  3. Compile a list of schools and programs and make sure you are clear on all their deadlines and requirements. There are also schools that offer application fee waivers so if you think you may qualify check that out as well.

  4. Write your personal statement/statement of purpose (SOP). This is kind of like the one for undergraduate admissions but tailored for graduate school. You want to tell a personal story and really convey that you are passionate about the field you want to study. If it’s a PhD program, it’s crucial you demonstrate your desire to do research. It’s not supposed to be a laundry list of all your accomplishments but something that will move and convince the person reading it that you have really thought about the decision to apply and why you’re someone they would want to admit. Also, if you can, ask a few people to read it (maybe a professor) and ask for their feedback. Various graduate programs will likely also ask for other kinds of essays or writing samples.

  5. Ask for letters of recommendations as earlier as you can. Usually, schools want to see these letters coming from professors who know you well and ideally, have mentored you in some research capacity. Professors are generally very busy and if you don’t give them enough time, it’s not only a bit disrespectful, they are more likely to say no. Try to make the process as easy for them as possible, send them a list of schools you’re applying to and their respective deadlines for recommendation letters. I would aim for at least two months before their deadline.

  6. Request official transcripts.

  7. As the deadline approaches, make sure all your test scores and submissions are received by the school.

  8. And wait for decisions…

This is just a very brief overview of the main things that need to get done for a graduate school application. As the weeks go by, I will be providing more information and advice. If you have any questions or are unsure about grad school, please feel free to ask!