Gray pencil lying on yellow background, checkboxes aligned with 12-10 months out

Grad Admission Checklist: 12–10 Months From Applying

Planning to apply to grad school? This series walks you through a 12-month timeline leading up to submitting your applications, starting 12–10 months out.

The biggest mistake prospective students make by far is not doing adequate research and preparation before submitting their graduate school applications. Grad school isn't something to be taken 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 the information you want and need. This is the first part of a series on what to do in the 12 months leading up to submitting your graduate school application(s), broken down into three-month increments over four installments. Use this first installment to plan out 12–10 months ahead, and when you're done, visit the checklist for 9–7 months out to learn your next steps. 

12 months before applying

  • Do an initial online search for graduate programs in your intended field of study. Be sure to do several searches so you can find as many institutions matching your criteria as possible.
  • Next, make an alphabetical list of all your options, regardless of what you presently know/have heard about them. Write them all down or put them on a spreadsheet. Remember: It’s where you end up, not where you start! Be careful about accepting word-of-mouth advice or what you think you know as final at this point. We’re all individuals with different needs, expectations, and experiences. This is your educational experience, not someone else’s. So don’t eliminate any of your options at this point. You want to get as much information as possible so you can decide what program is best for you.
  • Do some research on all the institutions you have on your list. Assess not only the content of material on websites but the way it’s presented. Is information easy to find? Is the tone friendly and inviting? Are there easy and quick ways to request more information? Speaking of which, this is a good time to request written/electronic information from each institution. This will enable you to review what you receive anytime you want. It will also provide you an opportunity to find out just how responsive admission offices are to you. This can be very telling and may shed light on the general level of responsiveness of those institutions about which you have inquired. You can even grade them on this in your spreadsheet.

Related: 10 Overlooked Questions to Ask About Grad School

11 months before applying

  • You should now start to narrow your search down a bit—but don’t narrow it too much. If you still have an interest in a college or university despite a bad first impression, keep it on the list for now. However, if you continue to get the same treatment (unresponsive, hard-to-navigate website, etc.) you did when first browsing for information, ask yourself: If I’m being treated this way now, how will it be if I apply, get accepted, and enroll?
  • Expand the spreadsheet you created last month to compare each of the options that remain on your list. I suggest putting your options down the left-hand column in alphabetical order, with schools or programs you wish to compare going across the top row. Here are some suggestions on what information to add: 

1. Program formats (on campus, online, hybrid)
2. Location/distance from home
3. Friendliness of admission staff
4. Interaction with current students
5. Interaction with faculty
6. Interaction with alumni
7. Perception from campus visits or admission event(s) you attend
8. Number of students enrolled in the entire institution
9. Number of students enrolled in the program you're considering
10. Student-faculty ratio
11. Average class size
12. Grading system
13. Facilities
14. Housing options (should you be relocating)
15. Extracurricular opportunities
16. Career services/employment percentages
17. Tuition and total costs for one year
18. Financial aid (including scholarships, loans, assistantships, fellowships, and work-study)
19. Application deadlines
20. Application fees
21. Application requirements (including any standardized test[s] needed)
22. Helpfulness of website and brochures
23. Is an interview required?
24. Do they keep a waiting list of applicants?
25. Can you appeal/get feedback if denied?

Some of the columns in your research spreadsheet might have letter grades; some will say “yes,” “no,” or “maybe”; some will be dates, dollar amounts, or various numerical responses; and some will be more evaluative (on a scale of 1–5, with 1 being terrible and 5 being outstanding). 

10 months before applying

  • Work on completing your research spreadsheet, filling in every column for each option. As you go along, you’ll eliminate some or many options. That’s okay! You’re doing what you should be doing: comparison shopping.
  • Do a very general ranking of the options that remain. You could rank every option, starting with #1 and going to the end of the list. Or you could group your options: top group, second group, third group, etc. Ideally, you should have at least five options left. However, depending on the type of graduate program you seek, the number of options will vary. The point is that you’re still not at the place where you need to have a “short list.” You’re still 10 months away from applying, and you’ll have several opportunities to narrow down your list before that time. 

Related: How to Find a Graduate Program That Fits You

The grad school admission process is no joke. There are a lot of moving parts, a lot of research to do, a lot of requirements, and a fair amount of stress involved. But if you keep yourself organized and on top of the process by breaking it down into these easy-to-follow monthly tasks, it will be a lot easier and more effective in the long run.

Ready for your next steps? Keep your grad school application plans moving forward with the 9–7-month installment of our 12-month checklist, and learn more about the author at

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


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, including Columbia University (Teachers College), University of Chicago (Booth School of Business), Northwestern University (Medill School of Journalism), and Wheaton College (in Illinois). 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. He 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. Dr. Martin's 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. Learn more at


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
Casey Kammeyer

Casey Kammeyer

$500 Refer-A-Friend Scholarship Winner

I love the site CollegeXpress; it has been very helpful finding colleges and getting them to send me information. It has also been very, very helpful with finding tons of scholarships. Also, I told many of my friends about it and they love it as well!

Brooke Maggio

Brooke Maggio

High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress has helped me tremendously in my college search in narrowing down the schools I’m interested in. Using the college search tool, I was able to narrow down my choices to schools that matched what I was looking for. I also used CollegeXpress for their scholarship search, which helped me find scholarships that I meet the requirements of.



High School Class of 2023

CollegeXpress helped open me up to many colleges that fit my interests. I’m only a sophomore in high school, so I like having a lot to look at, and CX does a great job of picking colleges that meet my wants. It's a great website that I'll continue to use until it comes time for me to apply for colleges. I also like that it notifies me through email with options to look at. Thanks CX!

Rose Kearsley

Rose Kearsley

High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress has seriously helped me out a lot, especially when it comes to scholarships and studying for tests like the ACT. I also really love the financial help. It’s a little harder to pay because I live with a family of eight, so any help is appreciated. Thanks for this opportunity!

Abhishek Kumar

Abhishek Kumar

High School Class of 2022

As a high schooler, I know how hard it is to plan for college. You have to consider a lot of factors: SAT/ACT scores, college searches, scholarships, and more. CollegeXpress has been a helpful resource that solves all these problems. One can easily create a free account and search away. They help you search for scholarships and colleges, they have graduate program search, they have lists and rankings, and so much more. CX also has a lot of articles and advice to read—whether it’s financial aid, test prep, campus visits, internships/careers, or anything. Not only that, CX gives out free scholarship money to students who sign up and create a free CX account. I love CX and will continue to use it! Thank you CollegeXpress for making my college journey easier!

College Matches

Colleges You May Be Interested In

High Point University

High Point, NC

Waynesburg University

Waynesburg, PA

Bridgewater College

Bridgewater, VA