White table with basket, daily to-do list pads, pens and pen holder, other items

A Non-Stressful Graduate School Application Timeline

Before getting overwhelmed by grad school applications, take a deep breath. These suggestions break the upcoming year into manageable, season-sized chunks.

If you’re considering graduate school, you may feel slightly overwhelmed right around now. A flood of new university rankings and standardized testing dates has been bombarding your browser, educational blogs are putting out information at a lightning pace, and the days aren’t moving any slower. Before getting overwhelmed by the updated timelines or lists of hundreds of prospective school rankings, take a deep breath. Here are some suggestions for breaking the upcoming year into manageable, season-sized chunks.

Winter through early spring

Make a starter list of 10–20 schools in January, but if this doesn’t work with your personal timeline, don’t panic. Start by simply considering exactly what you’re looking to get out of a graduate program and build your list from there. Search for graduate programs online and develop your own list. Then you can compare your list to school rankings. As you learn more about these institutions and compare them to your initial list of criteria, you can cross off programs that don’t work as you go. Do you have responsibilities or desires that make a certain location a deal-breaker? Cross it off. Are you unwilling to make the financial commitment to a full-time program? Mark down part-time, online, or extension programs. Ask for advice from people you work with or those who are established in the profession you are interested in. By February, you should have a fairly good list.

Related: 6 Things You Should Know Before Applying to Grad School

Late spring through early summer

March through June should be your thorough research period. During this time, continue to narrow down your list by exploring each school’s programs and requirements. Reach out to the admission office, academic program offices, and even faculty by phone or email to ask questions about what makes their institution different from others. Look into financial aid options. Reach out to current students or alumni—either those you know, those listed on the website who have similar research interests, or those who the admission office puts you in touch with. You can gauge the academic environment by speaking with school administrators and professors, and students and alumni can give you realistic feedback. If school visits are realistic in your situation, plan them as early as possible to ensure that you can visit schools while they are still in session.

Summer through early fall

By June, be sure you have checked the requirements of all the schools on your list. Standardized test requirements will take up most of your time, and the GRE and GRE Subject Tests may only be given on specific days in your area, so be sure you pick a date and sign up well ahead of time. Begin studying in early summer so that you will be ready to take the tests by September. This will allow you time to learn the material while allowing the opportunity for a retest. In September, finalize your list. Make a spreadsheet (or several, if you’re as unorganized as I am) with information regarding school requirements, fees, and deadlines. Begin to brainstorm ideas for your personal statement, and if applying to doctoral programs, do more thorough research on faculty members whose work you can mention in your statement.

Fall

Once you’ve organized yourself for success, the actual process of applying is easy. In September and October, finish your personal statement, leaving enough time for faculty members or those in your field to read and edit it. By October, finish your standardized testing requirements and send scores to your prospective schools. Begin your applications in early November; if you apply to about 10 schools, as most students do, this will allow you plenty of time to finish early. Set aside an hour or so every few days to fill in biographical information, brainstorm short essay responses, and send transcripts and résumés. Once you’ve submitted your applications, check your school websites for information on financial aid processes and be sure you complete all necessary paperwork.

Related: 3 Great Grad School Application Essay Examples

By breaking down the process into small, easy steps, finally taking the step toward graduate school becomes a much less daunting task. Once you’ve submitted everything, relax: you’ve passed the first hurdle to achieving your professional and educational goals!

Find the best grad program for your goals and aspirations with our Graduate School Search tool.

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now

Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress
Fernando Ponce

Fernando Ponce

High School Junior

College is a way of life that helps us find out who we are as a person, and CollegeXpress is a great way to stay connected with our future, even for students with little time on their hands due to the challenges of high school we face.

Christina

Christina

High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress helped me find Allegheny College with the super-user-friendly search tool for both schools and scholarships. Using CollegeXpress, I was able to search for programs I was interested in studying and find colleges that offered those programs. Also, once you search for the college, CollegeXpress can get you connected!

Ruth Aguilar

Ruth Aguilar

High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress helped me by providing me with many scholarship opportunities and information about universities I want to attend. What I love about CollgeXpress is how it provides a variety of information, and as the first child attending a university next year, it has been very essential and helpful. I’m so grateful for this because the information provided by CollegeXpress has also helped me see that there are so many college opportunities, and it always informs me by email. In other words, CollegeXpress has been like a guide for me as a future college student.

Elizabeth Stafford

Elizabeth Stafford

High School Class of 2021

As a UK student moving to California due to my dad's job in the military, when I first signed up for CollegeXpress a few months ago, the college process ahead seemed daunting and incredibly stressful. That all changed after I started to explore what this website had to offer. Not only was I helped by the vast array of resources available to me, but through being a CollegeXpress member, there have been so many more benefits. There have been emails with college tips—all of which I found incredibly helpful—as well as invitations to events and notifications of scholarships that'll make college possible for me. Overall, I'm very grateful to CollegeXpress for all of these things and more. Not only have they helped me grow my understanding of the college process, but they've also helped me to grow as a person, giving me new skills that I can take with me through life.

Farrah Macci

Farrah Macci

High School Class of 2016

CollegeXpress has helped me in many ways. For one, online searches are more organized and refined by filtering scholarships through by my personal and academic interests. Due to this, it has made searching for colleges and scholarships significantly less stressful. As a student, life can already get stressful pretty quickly. For me, it’s been helpful to utilize CollegeXpress since it keeps all of my searches and likes together, so I don’t have to branch out on multiple websites just to explore scholarship options.

College Matches