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.

Get a Head Start: Those interested in applying to graduate school for Fall 2020 should use the coming months to get a head start on the application process.

School Selection:

  • If you’re a Fall 2020 applicant, remember that it is never too early to begin researching your school choices. The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll determine which programs and schools offer the best overall fit for your needs and goals. It’s also a good idea to start tracking the various application deadlines that different schools use. That will help you prepare a schedule that will give you the flexibility and time you need to prepare well-rounded applications.

  • Next, schedule visits to the schools of your choice. Consider meeting 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.


  • If you haven’t already taken the GRE, register for the test now and begin reviewing test material. Again, it is important to check the application deadlines of the programs you’re applying to in order to guarantee that your test scores will be reported to the schools in time for the deadlines.

  • 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!


  • Spring and summer are good times to take some courses at a local college or university if you need to build an alternative transcript to 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. See if the course instructor would be willing to write a letter of recommendation for you when the time comes.

  • Request copies of your official transcripts for your own use. Make sure you remember to get one from every institution you’ve been enrolled at. You’ll use your copies of the transcripts to refresh your memory about your school performance and position yourself for grad school admission.


  • 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.)


“Most of your application will come down to the telling 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 Thomas Steffen is the Former Director of Graduate Admission at Duke University.

  • Check school websites to get an idea of what their admissions requirements are, including any supplemental materials (such as a writing sample). Also check to see whether you would need to complete any prerequisite courses to be eligible to apply to the program.

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

  • Review your resume. Determine whether you should take the coming months to obtain additional work experience. You may also want to consider taking on another project at work or joining a professional organization, as these can also help strengthen your credentials. By starting early, you have enough time to further build your professional profile if need be.

  • Think about issues or topics you might want to include in your statements of purpose or personal statements. Ask yourself how well each one would serve 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.

  • Start thinking about who you would like to ask to write your recommendation letters. 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? Once you have chosen your recommenders, 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 May 1.

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