Below I’ve listed out what you should be planning to accomplish each month leading up to submitting your application for a Fall entry into graduate school. If you’re planning to start in the Spring, adjust by starting 6 months from the application deadline. Still thinking about whether or not you want to pursue a graduate degree? Check out some of my other blog posts on the topic: 1) Is Grad School “Worth It”? 2) Graduate School Application Tips.
- Do your research: Do your research to find out which colleges have programs, professors, and labs dedicated to the research or topic you’re interested in conducting or learning more about. Talk to professors at your undergraduate institution, employ the internet, ask colleagues. Make a list and rank them in order of precedence to you. Keep in mind that each school charges a non-refundable application fee of somewhere around $75-$100. It can get very expensive just to apply to graduate school so you may have to save up or pare down your list of schools.
- Take the GRE: When to take the test really depends on how much you plan to study and whether you want to have the option to take it more than once if you don’t get the score you want the first time around. Again, please remember that the exam is not cheap. It will cost you around $200 to take the GRE. Experts probably recommend first taking the test in something like August. I took the GRE twice: once in October and again in December during the application process.
- For my favorite study resource, click here. The second time I took the test I wanted to improve my score so I utilized online test prep through Magoosh. Using this online tool, I improved my score by 8 percentile points in verbal reasoning, 18 percentile points in quantitative reasoning, and 17 percentile points in analytical writing! They have video lessons, flashcards, and practice questions and tests that help you in every area of the GRE. They also guarantee a +5 score improvement or your money back.
- Start drafting your Statement of Purpose: A clear statement of purpose is one of the major pieces that the admissions committee will be paying attention to while reviewing your application. Basically they want to know why you’re interested in pursuing a graduate degree and how you think their program will help you reach your goals. Click here for a brief article on how to write a statement of purpose.
- Polish your resume: You’ll need an updated resume to send to each person you request a letter of recommendation from. This will help them write the most personalized letter possible. Additionally, a resume, or portions of it, may be requested as part of your graduate school application or while applying to scholarships. It can also be helpful to send your resume to professors when reaching out about funding opportunities in their lab.
- Ask for Letters of Recommendation: Most schools will require 2-3 letters of recommendation. Do not wait until the last minute to ask for these. Many schools allow your recommenders to directly upload the letter via an e-mail link. Be sure to send your updated resume and personal statement (even if it’s only a draft) to your recommender so that they can write a more personal letter.
- Make a list of Professors with similar research interests: A good way to get a preliminary list of professors you’d like to talk to is to look at which schools have labs dedicated to the research areas you’re interested in or look for journal articles on those topics. Most schools provide contact info for professors on their websites and list their area(s) of specialty. Shoot over a brief e-mail with your resume attached sharing a one or two sentence background about you and why you’re interested in their research area. Let them know you’d like to learn more about the research they’re conducting and that they can learn more about you through your attached resume.
- Request Transcripts: Official college transcripts will be required as part of your application materials for each school.
- Reach out to Professors: If you’re planning to earn a spot in a specific professor’s lab, it’s important to reach out early on in the application process so that they don’t promise away all their funding to other students before you get to them. In my opinion, my persistence in reaching out to professors and being extremely upfront about my intentions to seek funding were paramount to how I was able to get paid to attend graduate school.
- Perfect your Statement of Purpose: Have a professor or honest friend, sibling, or colleague review your statement of purpose and provide feedback. Once you have a basic statement of purpose you’re happy with, slightly tweak it and save different versions for each school you apply to. Make sure you read the instructions for each application to ensure you’re addressing each school’s prompt in full.
- Submit your application: Because a school’s application deadline will vary, it’s important to check early on so that you don’t miss it. Some schools have rolling deadlines. When I applied to graduate school the deadlines for those seeking funding and those planning to provide their own funding sources (either paying out of pocket or coming with a scholarship) were slightly different.
Best wishes as you contemplate the next steps on your journey.