The Graduate School Application Process
A practical timetable to help you prepare and complete your graduate school applications and other requirements on time.
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 Educational Center
Graduate School Resources
Websites to help you prepare for graduate school
GoGrad – Success in Graduate School
Defining success for grad students online and on campus. Tips, ideas, and advice for making the most of graduate school.
Use these tips to find the graduate school that is right for you.
A directory of graduate schools in the United States and Canada. This site will help you find colleges and universities that offer accredited graduate programs that most interest you.
The leading and most comprehensive online graduate school guide to find the best graduate schools and graduate degree programs. Search more than 60,000 master’s degrees, doctorate/doctoral degrees and graduate certificate programs.
Provides free access to a searchable database of more than 1,000 grad schools including contact information and website links; detailed admissions information on graduate programs in business, engineering, nursing, health and teaching, as well as online inquiry capabilities to request application packages; information on member schools from faculty-specific accrediting bodies such as AACSB, ABET and NCATE; and a searchable database of articles and related resources on topics such as test prep, applications, financing, employment, etc.
How to Pay for Graduate School
The comprehensive guide walks students through the various sources of aid available to graduate students: institutional aid and loans, fellowships/assistantships, employer assistance programs, and more. Offers subject-specific advice, such as federal loan forgiveness programs for teachers, and medical school scholarships for military veterans. The guide offers something for all students.
Open Education Database – Graduate Scholarships
Scholarships for graduate school can help students pay for college and supplement their income as they pursue a graduate-level academic or professional degree. Even with a variety of options to help reduce the cost of their degree, including fellowships, teaching assistantships, and stipends, graduate students face stiff competition to obtain these awards and often continue struggling to pay living expenses once they receive financial assistance. Graduate scholarships are designed to meet the unique needs of this student group as they strive to obtain their degree in the years ahead.
Peterson’s Educational Center
Resources covering undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools and their degree offerings, including the capability of downloading an application and applying to many institutions, as well as financing your education.
Search for programs and schools. Review preparatory information for graduate and professional school admissions tests.
(Law School Admission Test)
(Graduate Management Admission Test)
Understanding and Preparing for the GMAT
A comprehensive guide to navigating and preparing for the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT), including definition, developing a study plan and accessing study materials.
(Graduate Record Examinations)
Mometrix GRE Preparation
Over six hours of tutorial videos and free practice questions to prepare for taking the GRE exam.
(Medical College Admission Test)
(Dental Admission Test)
(Pharmacology College Admission Test)
Common Questions and Answers
What type of financial assistance is available to help pay for graduate school?
What is the difference between a rolling admission and admission that has a deadline, and when is the best time to submit your application?
What options are available for taking the practice GRE before the real test?
How important are GPAs, the GREs and other entrance exams when applying to graduate school?
What kind of things can a student do to increase their chances of getting into graduate school?