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Graduate School Admissions Timeline

The road to graduate school is long – and can be complex and sometimes confusing. To help keep you on track, here's a calendar of what grad school applicants should be doing, and when.

January – February

Don't Forget: The final deadlines to apply to graduate programs for admission this fall are coming up soon. If you want to be considered for scholarships or fellowships, you may have to meet even earlier deadlines.

GRE:

  • If you haven't already taken the GRE, register for the test now and begin reviewing test material. Check the application deadlines of the programs you're applying to and make sure your test scores will be reported to them in time.

  • Not sure whether you need a GRE prep course? Call us at 1.800.809.0800 (+1 703.242.5885 outside the US and Canada) to discuss your situation. We're here to help you!

School Selection:

  • If you're applying for this fall, you should have already finished making your school choices. The number of schools you should apply to varies widely depending on your program interests and personal goals. As a general rule, the more important it is to you to begin grad school this coming year, the more schools you should apply to.

  • Visit schools. Try to meet with admissions staff and students. Attend an admissions information session. See if you can sit in on a class. Think carefully about the differences you notice between various programs and how they affect your preference for one program over another. You'll want to include those points in your personal statements.

Academics:

  • Request your official transcripts from every undergraduate institution you've attended. Make sure you follow the instructions for each of the schools involved, and that you request transcripts in time to meet your application deadlines.

  • Order unofficial copies of your college transcripts for yourself. You'll use these to refresh your memory about your school performance and position yourself for grad school admission.

  • Winter is a good time to take some courses at a local college or university to build an alternative transcript that can mitigate weaknesses in your official transcripts. Good performance in graduate-level courses could reassure admissions committees of your academic ability and your commitment to graduate study.

Extracurriculars:

  • Extracurricular activities can enhance your grad school applications. Think about the activities you participate in and the organizations you belong to. Will those activities and memberships support your case for graduate study? Would you benefit by getting involved in additional groups or activities? (Beware, however, of starting a number of new activities at the same time. Doing so could leave an impression that you joined the groups in question out of expediency rather than out of genuine interest.)

Applications:

"Most of your application will come down to the telling of your story. It's critical that you communicate to the admissions committee your motivation and readiness for graduate study. That's why it's important to provide strong letters of recommendation and essays that detail the unique skills and experience you can bring to a graduate program. These are the elements of an application that often have the biggest impact in admissions decisions."

– Senior Admissions Consultant Heather MacNeill.

  • Begin your applications. Either get copies of the application forms for each school you want to apply to or visit the online application websites. Familiarize yourself with their requirements, including what supplemental materials (writing sample, etc.) they require and what their submission procedures and deadlines are.

  • Make sure your supplemental materials are appropriate for the programs you are applying to. For example, if you're applying to a public policy program, you may need to submit a writing sample in the form of a public policy memo.

  • If you want to be considered for assistantships, fellowships, or financial aid, make sure you understand what deadlines you need to meet. Also, make sure your application highlights the qualities that make you a strong candidate for these awards.

  • Review your résumé. Update it as needed. Remember that you are applying for a graduate program, not for employment. Your résumé should be tailored to that purpose. Depending on the type of program you're applying to, you may want to use a curriculum vitae (c.v.) format rather than a résumé format.

  • Review your statements of purpose or personal statements. Ask yourself how well it serves to promote your candidacy at your targeted schools. Oftentimes, you'll want to use different personal statements for different schools or programs. After all, different programs seek different qualities in their graduate students. A well-crafted personal statement is often the factor that makes the difference between being accepted to a graduate program and being denied.

  • Ask for your recommendation letters at least 6 weeks before they are due. Take a moment to double-check your recommendation strategy. Can your chosen recommenders discuss your candidacy in adequate detail? If not, will you benefit from including an additional, optional recommendation that substantiates your story themes or 'wow' factors, highlights your strengths, or, possibly, mitigates your weaknesses? Be proactive and tell your recommenders which points they need to make to give your applications your best chances of admissions success.

Our Graduate School Admissions Timeline page will be updated on March 1.


Do you have questions about any of the items you see here? Please call us at 1.800.809.0800 (+1 703.242.5885 outside the US and Canada) or email us if you do. Our consultants can help you with school selection, application strategies, application and interview preparation, and all other aspects of the graduate school admissions process.

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