The 12-Month Timeline for Applying to Graduate School: 3 to 1 Month Out

Author, Enrollment Expert

May   2016



This article is the fourth and final installment in our timeline for what to do in the 12 months leading up to submitting your graduate school application(s).

Related: The 12-Month Timeline for Applying to Graduate School 6 to 4 Months Out, 9 to 7 Months Out, and 12-10 Months Out

As previously discussed, graduate school is not something to take lightly. It involves a major investment personally, intellectually, socially, emotionally, and financially. Be sure to allow yourself enough time to do your “due diligence” and get all of the information you want and need to make an informed, thoughtful decision.

3 months before applying to grad school

  • Now is the time to make sure you have all your current application materials required by your intended graduate program(s). You will most likely be accessing applications on the schools’ admission webpage. Having reviewed the information on your spreadsheet, you should be rather familiar with the deadlines you will need to meet.
  • This is a great time to create outlines for your graduate application essays. Jotting down notes for each question is extremely valuable and helps to ensure you answer questions fully. (This also helps you make sure you’re answering the right questions for the right schools!)
  • If you have not already done so, start thinking about whom you will ask to write letters of recommendation for you. If you are applying to several grad schools, be sure to have more than one or two individuals selected. If they are going to do a good job for you, they will need time to work on their recommendations and tailor them to your intended graduate programs. A good rule of thumb: one person could probably do two or three recommendations. Once you have some viable candidates in mind, contact them, and if they agree to recommend you, give them any necessary details.
  • Similar to the spreadsheet you created earlier in the timeline, when you were doing initial research on your grad school options, now you should create an application spreadsheet. Place the names of each of your intended programs alphabetically down the left-hand column. Across the top place the items you want to be sure you remember, or compare, throughout the application process. While everyone’s lists will vary, here are a few examples: application deadline, required application materials, recommendation writer(s), admission office contact person, any given admission decision deadline, notes.

2 months before applying to grad school

  • Start filling out your applications. Set aside time each day, or every other day, to do this. That way, you get a little done each time and lessen your chances of feeling overwhelmed, rushing, or making mistakes.
  • With the exception of application essays (which are time intensive and need to be tailored to each graduate program), it may be helpful to complete the same section for each application you are submitting instead of filling out one full application after another. That way you are going over the same information at the same time. For example, you could complete the demographic section for each of your applications and then know you’re done thinking about that information.
  • Work on or complete one application essay each time you work on your graduate applications. This also helps to spread things out.
  • Make sure your recommenders are ready to go with their letters/forms, and confirm that you have provided them all the information they need.
  • Start requesting transcript(s) from any undergraduate institution you may have attended. Most colleges and universities are completely familiar with this part of the grad school application process and have very efficient procedures in place.

1 month before applying to grad school

  • Now it is time to fine-tune your applications. Thoroughly proofread your essays. Then have someone else check them. Go over each of the other sections of your applications to be sure you have accurately and correctly answered all questions. Check for mistakes. Then have another person check for mistakes.
  • Be certain, to the best of your ability, that your grad school applications are exactly the way you want them.
  • Start preparing your application fees. If sending a check, make sure you have the money to cover it. Bounced checks do not make a good first impression!
  • If you follow this timeline, you should be ready to submit your grad school applications well in advance of your deadlines—after all you’ve been working on them steadily for almost a year! And the bigger buffer you can give yourself, the better, because you want to have plenty of time to follow up on your materials (whether via an online portal or by phone or e-mail), and you’ll have time to resubmit things in the event something goes awry—heaven forbid!

Pro tip! There is a fine line between conscientiously reviewing your applications, and obsessing about perfection. We are all human. Admission committees are not looking for perfection; they are looking for proof that an applicant took time to prepare his or her materials.

I hope you find (or have found) this timeline helpful! Stay tuned for a new series about the graduate school application process. In addition, feel free to check out my website and/or join me on Twitter (@GradSchoolGuide).

Note: Did you know you could win a $10,000 scholarship for college or grad school just by registering on CollegeXpress? This is one of the quickest, easiest scholarships you’ll ever apply for. Register Now »

About Donald C. Martin

Dr. Donald C. Martin is an expert in the fields of enrollment management, student affairs, and higher education administration. From 1980–2008 he managed divisions including admission, financial aid, student development, registration/advising, and career, disabled, and international services. He has been employed by some of the best colleges and universities in the United States: Columbia University (Teachers College), University of Chicago (Booth School of Business), Northwestern University (Medill School of Journalism), and Wheaton College (IL). Along with a team of dedicated professionals, Dr. Martin grew both the applicant pool and the enrollment yield at each institution he served. In addition, students’ ratings of their experience at those institutions improved dramatically during his tenure.

Having visited over 60 countries on every continent, Dr. Martin has worked with thousands of prospective and current students of varying nationalities, backgrounds, beliefs, interests, and goals. His book, Road Map for Graduate Study: A Guide for Prospective Graduate Students, was released in May of 2008. A supplement for international students was released in 2009.

Dr. Martin continues his work with students and educational organizations worldwide, speaking on college and university campuses, and also at graduate school fairs, forums, and education conferences. His focus is on the value of education and negotiating the graduate school experience from start to finish, dispelling the myths that hold many back from earning a graduate degree and financing their graduate education. In addition, he provides one-on-one coaching services for graduate/business school applicants.

For further information please contact