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.
July – August
Be Aware of Early Deadlines: One of the key aspects of applying to graduate school for many applicants is obtaining teaching and research assistantships. Many schools have early deadlines for scholarship consideration. Thus, use the remaining summer months to thoroughly review all the scholarship and funding opportunities that may be available to you. Jump start your application process this summer so that you may possibly capitalize on these funding opportunities.
In order to present a confident message to the admissions committee reviewing your application, it is imperative that applicants demonstrate that they have completed their research for each respective school. Therefore, it is helpful to narrow your focus by researching specific programs that may be of interest. To help keep you on track, create a list of criteria that encompasses your overall needs and objectives. Here is a list of factors that many applicants tend to consider:
- Academic Qualifications. As you consider your school choices, make sure that one of the first items you look at in a program’s profile are the academic qualifications for admission. You will save yourself a lot of time and frustration by choosing the programs that best fit your academic profile.
- Specialty. It is important to decide on your academic focus and research interests before you begin researching schools and programs. Make sure you look into the job market in your chosen field to better understand how your choice of degree and field may affect your professional opportunities. Once you have defined your interests, you can start researching specific programs.
- Finances. As stated, many graduate programs offer fellowships and scholarships based on either financial or academic qualifications. However, the number and dollar amount of these awards are often quite limited, and there are always a large number of qualified students competing for the same awards. It is important that you conduct thorough research to determine which schools offer the best financial incentives for your situation. You should also create a back-up financial plan in case you do not receive an adequate award.
- Location. Keep in mind that your commitment to a graduate program may keep you in one place for up to 6 years, depending on the degree you are seeking. That’s why it is imperative that you consider location as part of your school selection. Think about what kind of environment you (and your family, if your spouse or children will accompany you) will be happiest in – i.e. a rural, urban, or suburban setting. Don’t forget to look beyond the campus to the community that surrounds a school.
- Prospective Faculty Advisors. Research work is a major element of the graduate school experience. Master’s students are often required to complete a thesis based on original research, and most doctoral programs require a dissertation. Having helpful faculty who will mentor you through this process is essential. Thus, you want to identify potential faculty advisors whose research interests are similar to your own. To better assess a faculty member’s interests, it is helpful to read some of their published works and to speak with them directly.
The research component associated with the application process is not the only time consuming issue to consider. It is also important to reserve enough time to prepare and register for the Graduate Entrance Exam (GRE) that is required by most U.S. graduate programs.
- Take the Test. If you haven’t already taken the GRE General Test, register for it now and begin reviewing test material. Check the application deadlines for the programs you’re applying to and make sure that your test scores will be reported to the schools in time for those final deadlines.
- Subject Tests. Some programs require GRE Subject Test scores. Check the requirements for the programs you’re applying to and make your test plans accordingly.
- Not sure whether you need a GRE prep course? Call us at 1.800.809.0800 to discuss your situation. We’re here to help you!
Defining Your Profile:
Submitting a successful application requires the incorporation of a well rounded profile which can attest to your determination and capability.
- Alternative Transcripts. Summer is a good time to take additional 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 of 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.
- 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.)
- Consider Your Application Strategy. Before you begin work on your actual applications, it is useful to create an application strategy. By outlining your strategy ahead of time, you’ll find it easier to keep focused and on track. A key part of devising your strategy is to identify the story themes and ‘wow’ factors that you want to incorporate into your applications. Remember that a confident and well-crafted application will take account of both your strengths and your weaknesses. Once you have those pinpointed, you can create a winning strategy that will mitigate your weakness and capitalize on your strengths and achievements.
- Highlighting the ‘Fit’ Factor. Make sure your application strategy addresses the issue of your fit with each school and program you apply to. You will need to sell the admissions committees not only on your achievements but also on your confidence, your academic promise, and your ability to make significant contributions to the school and the program. Securing an admissions offer works both ways: candidates are looking for programs that will cater to their needs and schools are looking for impressive future alumni who will work to promote the school.
“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 Tom Steffen, former Director of Graduate Admission at Duke University.
- Order Your Transcripts. 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 decide how to position yourself for grad school admission.
- Review Your Resume. Determine whether you should take the coming months to obtain additional work experience. You may 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.
- Start Drafting Your Personal Statement. Think about the 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 Your Recommenders. Start thinking about who you would like to ask to write your letters of reference. Take a moment to double-check your recommendation strategy. Identify recommenders who will be able to best articulate your strengths and potential. 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 September 1.