Lesson 3: Timelines


Here we'll tackle timelines. Applying to graduate school often involves significantly more lead time than applying to undergraduate programs. This lesson will give you a sense of some of the typical graduate school timelines and will help you build a personal timeline to keep your goals on track.

When you are ready to apply to graduate school, you should anticipate a longer process than the timeline for undergraduate applications. Our best bit of advice, start early. Unlike college, many graduate programs have strict starting terms. You can often only begin in the fall, and this has the effect of pushing application deadlines earlier.

Practically speaking, you will want to begin your application process-- thinking about programs, preparing for and taking exams, drafting personal statements, et cetera-- about two years before you want to begin your graduate school. So if you're a veteran with a few college credits transitioning from a community college or a four-year university, you might already be in the window to start thinking about graduate school. Even if you transfer as a junior, you have time to work through the full graduate application process.

We have divided the grad school application timeline into two years, the year before applying and the application year. These are academic, not calendar years. For example, if you want to attend graduate school beginning in the fall of 2021, the year before applying, according to our timeline, would be the academic year beginning the fall of 2019.

The fall before you apply, make sure that you take time to reflect, reflect, reflect. This is the time to think back to your values, your long-term and short-term goals. Connect with your interlocutors. Make sure to ask yourself a graduate school is the right path for you and what your career goals may look like when you complete your graduate degree. This is also a great time to get to know graduate school programs. Go to admissions sessions. Attend webinars. Connect with students and professors in the programs. Get to know the programs that you're thinking about, and determine whether or not they are a good fit for you.

The spring before you apply, solidify your plans to attend graduate school. Determine which types of programs you'll be applying to. Meet with your interlocutors. Talk with faculty members about your interest in graduate school. Discuss your undergraduate course plan with your advisors. Are there research or coursework opportunities that might strengthen your grad school application? Start studying for any standardized tests that your field may require. We suggest that you spend at least three to four months studying for your tests. If you need to apply for any disability accommodations or fee waivers for your tests, make sure to do so in that spring semester.

The summer before you apply, ideally, you'll take any standardized tests for your program. If you need to take the test again, you'll want to give yourself another two months between test dates. Taking your test in the summer allows for you to have some time to retake if necessary. You'll also begin drafting personal statements and statements of purpose depending upon the type of program you'll be applying to.

In the fall of your application year, be aware that many applications are due during the fall term. Begin to ask professors for recommendations. Give your professors at least six to eight weeks to write your letters before your deadlines.

Many students are surprised by the amount of time that it takes to apply to schools. If you are still attending classes you may want to think about this time as adding an additional course to your schedule. It may be best to take fewer courses in the fall and more in the spring, if your schedule allows. Depending upon the program, most students apply to between eight and 12 programs. If you're applying to medical school, this number can be as high as 20. Make sure that you're giving yourself time to thoughtfully and fully complete your applications.

In the spring of your application year, refine your financial aid plan. Complete your FAFSA and any other scholarship applications that may be required. Many programs are now interviewing applicants. Work on your interviewing skills through your career center, faculty members, and interlocutors. Prepare to negotiate your offers if you receive multiple scholarship opportunities. And of course, get ready to transition into your graduate programs.

You can see from this summary that graduate school applications take time, lots of time. Beginning early and staying organized are keys for success.