12-Month Checklist for Applying to Grad School: 3-1 Month Out

Trying to find the right graduate program? This series will walk you through the 12 months leading up to your grad school application submissions.

This blog is the fourth and final of a series on what to do in the 12 months leading up to submitting your graduate school application(s). 

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 the information you want and need.  

3 months before applying

  • Now is the time to make sure you have current graduate application materials. You will most likely access applications on the admission website. Having reviewed the information on your research spreadsheet, you should be pretty familiar with the deadlines you’ll need to meet for your applications.
  • This is a great time to create outlines of the essays and personal statements you will write. Jotting down notes for each question is extremely valuable and helps ensure you answer each question fully—and that you answer the right questions for the right schools.
  • If you haven’t done so already, start thinking about who you will ask to write letters of recommendation for you. If you’re applying to several schools, be sure to have more than one or two individuals selected.  If they are going to do a good job for you, they’ll need time to work on their recommendations. A good rule of thumb is one person could probably do two or three recommendations. Once you have selected those you would like to ask, contact them and confirm their approval.
  • Similar to the spreadsheet you created when initially doing research on your options, create an application spreadsheet. Place the names of each of your options 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. Here are a few examples:
    - The deadline by which you will apply
    - Ease of completing the application (i.e., user friendly technology)
    - Your rating of the contact with the admission staff between the time you applied and the time a decision was communicated to you
    - The admission office’s decision deadline 

2 months before applying

  • Start completing 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, and/or making mistakes.
  • With the exception of essays, it may be helpful to complete the same section for each application you are submitting. That way, you are going over the same information and will have a sense of accomplishment. For example, completing the demographic section for each of your applications lets you move on knowing this section is done for all of them.
  • Work on or complete one essay each time you work on your applications. This helps to spread things out and not leave you out of time later on.
  • 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 your undergrad transcripts. Most universities are completely familiar with this part of the application process and have very efficient procedures in place. 

1 month before applying

  • Now it is time to fine-tune your applications. Thoroughly recheck your essays, then have someone else check them. Go over each of the sections 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, your applications are exactly the way you want them to be.
  • Start preparing your application fees. If you’re sending a check, make sure you have the money to cover it. Bounced checks do not make a good first impression! 

Pro tip: There’s 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.

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 email), and you’ll have time to resubmit things in the event something goes awry—heaven forbid! 

Stay tuned for a new series about the graduate school application process starting in August. Joining me will be my colleague, Kevin Kiley, who has recently joined the Grad School Road Map team. Check out our website (gradschoolroadmap.com) or join us on Twitter (@GradSchoolGuide). 

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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 dmartin@gradschoolroadmap.com.


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