So you’ve decided to apply to grad school. While further education opens a lot of doors, the process of getting in can be extremely intimidating. Having just recently submitted my own applications (after a grueling semester of preparation), I wish I had understood the process much earlier in the game. Though every school is a little different, here is a list of general steps to take when applying to graduate programs — because it doesn’t have to suck.
1. Make a list of programs you want to apply to
Seems simple, but it’s important to know early on. Grad school is very personalized–since you’re targeting a very specific field of study, every aspect of your application process will be influenced by the type of program you’re going for. Different schools might have different requirements and deadlines, as well. This isn’t a one-size-fits-all type of deal, so do your research early.
2. Sign up for the GRE
The GRE is not a joke, people. It will aid your mental preparation to know your test date well ahead of time, and early enrollment also means you have your pick of test times. If you’re not a morning person, this is even more important. Though you can really take the GRE at any point before applications are due, it’s helpful to get it out of the way a couple months before deadlines so you can focus on other things. I would recommend signing up at least two months in advance, and if possible, start studying even earlier than that.
3. Get your hands on some GRE prep materials
You should start preparing for the GRE the second you’ve decided on grad school. Though this test score is just a part of your application, doing badly on it can definitely weed you out of programs. Additionally, the material of the test is so broad that it’s not a test you can cram for at the last minute. An excellent prep tool is a website called Magoosh–you pay one fee and have access to the tools as often as you need.
4. Start your statement of purpose
Yet another part of the application that cannot be thrown together last-minute. Your statement of purpose is very important; this is your opportunity to tell Admissions exactly why you are interested in grad school. Even being a writer, it took me months and many drafts to get my statement to an acceptable point. Start drafting early, and make sure you give it to professors and peers for feedback.
5. Ask for letters of recommendation
When you’re thinking about grad school early on, I would advise making yourself known to professors or faculty you’re interested in receiving a letter of recommendation from. When it comes time to actually obtain those letters, it is courteous to ask a professor (or other qualified individual) for a letter of recommendation 4-6 weeks before your applications are due. This gives them plenty of time to write a good letter without feeling rushed. Nowadays, most universities simply ask for the email addresses of your recommenders within the application, to which they send a link for them to upload their letters. This prevents you from having access to the letters and tracks submissions.
6. Fill out applications and pay fees
The actual completion of the applications is probably the easiest part of the process, but it is still time-consuming. This can be done at any point, and requires you to submit a lot of tedious information, including transcripts, honors, and personal information. Some schools even ask for supplemental essays or resumes.
As overwhelming as the whole process sounds, it’s highly manageable if you follow a set timeline. And, it’s so worth it when you receive that beautiful letter of acceptance into your dream program.