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.

Don’t Forget: Although the final application deadlines for many programs are still a few months away, the deadlines for fellowship and grant consideration begin falling much earlier. Check to make sure that you’re meeting the deadlines you need to.

November – December

Standardized Tests:

  • If you have not yet taken the GRE, or if you are not happy with your score, try to take it at your earliest convenience. Your applications will not be considered complete until your test scores have been received. To register for the test, go to the GRE website (www.gre.org).

  • Are you unsure if 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:

  • Define your most important search criteria so you can narrow down your school choices. If your top priority is to begin a full-time graduate program next fall, count on applying to several schools. There’s no need to apply to every school out there, but you’re taking a risk of winding up nowhere if you apply to just one or two. The number of schools you ultimately decide to apply to will depend upon how high you rank a safety school and on the time and resources you can commit to applications.

  • Don’t sacrifice quality for quantity. You will do much better if you submit 5 applications that each reflect 100 per cent of your best effort than you will if you  submit 10 applications that each reflect 50 per cent of your best effort.

  • Visit schools. Try to meet with admissions staff and students. Begin networking with current students, faculty, and alumni from these schools. Take notes about the programs and research that are especially relevant to your interests.

Academics:

  • Request copies of your college transcripts for yourself. You’ll use these to refresh your memory about your school performance and position yourself for graduate school admission.

  • Take the same objective look at your undergraduate transcripts that the admissions committees will. Do they show that you took adequately rigorous courses? Or do they make it look like you lacked focus and only did well in certain classes? If you had a bad semester, do your transcripts show adequately long and strong trends that mitigate that weakness? Depending on the picture your academic record paints of your performance, you may want to consider constructing an “alternative transcript” by taking additional classes on a non-degree basis. But exercise caution in the number of courses you enroll in. Taking too many supplementary classes can leave admissions officers with an even worse impression than your not having taken the right classes in the first place would.

  • If you’re not sure that you can assemble a strong application in time for this year’s deadlines, you may want to consider whether you would be better served by deferring your applications by a year. This is a difficult and inevitably disappointing step to have to take. For some applicants, however, it may be the wisest course of action. Keep in mind that attaining that graduate degree is a major, long-term life goal. The most important question in your mind should not be what year you will get your degree in but rather what you need to do to position yourself to be a successful candidate to your top-choice programs.

Extracurriculars:

  • Think about what you do outside of work and/or school. Will those activities and memberships support your case for graduate school admission? How can you best spin the personal and professional development you have gained from these various activities? Is there anything about these involvements that can successfully differentiate you from the other highly qualified applicants or, possibly, that can provide you with a ‘wow’ factor that will make the graduate school programs drool all over you?

Applications:

  • Remember that it’s generally to your advantage to apply early to graduate school programs that use rolling admissions policies, since the earlier you apply the greater number of openings will be available. We stress generally since it may be advantageous to wait until later in the cycle if you need more time to polish a personal statement addendum, to re-take the GRE, etc.

Strategic Positioning:

  • If you’re applying to grad schools this year, you should already be hard at work on statement of purpose that reflects your story themes and ‘wow’ factors. The best ideas and deepest introspections are never rushed!

  • Take a hard, critical look at your candidacy. That is what the graduate school admissions committees will most certainly be doing. Understand your candidacy from their perspective so you can optimally mitigate your weaknesses and highlight your strengths.

  • Your weaknesses. Sometimes it is best not to bring attention to a weakness. Other times, it must be mitigated. Weaknesses can be mitigated in the personal statement, addendum, or letters of reference.

  • Your strengths. You need to become a self-promoter without coming across as arrogant. You also need to prioritize the strengths you want to draw attention to, as you will not likely be able to highlight all of them in adequate detail within the limited space of your applications.

  • Your story themes and ‘wow’ factors. What are the most important points you need to make about your background, values, beliefs, experiences, and reasons for pursuing grad school? What makes you unique in a way that is going to make the admissions committee want to have you attend their school?

  • Your fit. Why are you a match made in heaven for the specific grad school being targeted? Why will you be a better fit and contribute more to the program and community than the other applicants? Does your application convincingly argue that, if admitted, you will gladly attend the program?

  • If you’re applying to graduate programs next year, you need to take a critical inventory of your candidacy. Will you clear the academic qualifications hurdles at the schools you are targeting? Would you benefit from an alternative transcript? Can you engage in some additional extracurricular activities that further your career interests without the starting date of your involvement looking overly expedient to the admissions committees?

Our Graduate School Admissions Timeline page will be updated on January 2.

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