The Graduate School Application Process
It is important to start gathering information early to be able to complete your applications on time. Most people should start the process a full year and a half before their anticipated date of matriculation. There are, however, some exceptions to this rule. This time frame will be different if you are applying for national scholarships or if your undergraduate institution has an evaluation committee through which you are applying, for example, to a health-care program. In such a situation, you may have to begin the process two years before your date of matriculation in order to take your graduate admission test and arrange for letters of recommendation early enough to meet deadlines.
Application deadlines may range from August (a year prior to matriculation) for early decision programs at medical schools using the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) to late spring or summer (when beginning graduate school in the fall) for a few programs with rolling admissions. Most deadlines for entry in the fall are between January and March. You should in all cases plan to meet formal deadlines; beyond this, you should be aware of the fact that many schools with rolling admissions encourage and act upon early applications. Applying early to a school with rolling admissions is usually advantageous, as it shows your enthusiasm for the program and gives admissions committees more time to evaluate the subjective components of your application, rather than just the "numbers". Applicants are not rejected early unless they are clearly below an institution's standards.
The timetable that appears below represents the ideal for most applicants.
Six Months Prior to Applying
- Research areas of interest, institutions, and programs.
- Talk to advisers about application requirements.
- Register and prepare for appropriate graduate admission tests.
- Investigate national scholarships.
- If appropriate, obtain letters of recommendation.
Three Months Prior to Applying
- Take required graduate admission tests.
- Write for application materials.
- Write your application essay.
- Check on application deadlines and rolling admissions policies.
For medical, dental, osteopathy, podiatry, or law school, you may need to register for the national application or data assembly service most programs use.
Fall, a year before matriculating
Obtain letters of recommendation.
Take graduate admission tests if you haven't already.
Send in completed applications.
Winter, before matriculating in the fall
Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and Financial Aid PROFILE, if required.
Spring, before matriculating in the fall
Check with all institutions before their deadlines to make sure your file is complete.
Visit institutions that accept you.
Send a deposit to your institution of choice.
Notify other colleges and universities that accepted you of your decision so that they can admit students on their waiting list.
Send thank-you notes to people who wrote your recommendation letters, informing them of your success.
You may not be able to adhere to this timetable if your application deadlines are very early, as is the case with medical schools, or if you decide to attend graduate school at the last minute. In any case, keep in mind the various application requirements and be sure to meet all deadlines. If deadlines are impossible to meet, call the institution to see if a late application will be considered.
Presented with permission from Peterson's by Virtual Ink Press,