Welcome to the third installment of the Graduate Admission Checklist series on what to do in the 12 months leading up to submitting your grad school application(s). This portion covers six to four months before you apply. As previously discussed, graduate school is not 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. And read through to the end to find your way to the last three months before you finally submit your applications!
6 months before applying
- Make a few campus visits. Institutions offer a variety of ways to visit campus. You can usually find more information on their website in the section dealing with applying. Most institutions provide opportunities to visit at any time during the academic year. Visitors can attend classes, take a campus tour, meet current students, and talk with someone in the admission office. If an admission interview is required as part of the application process, have an admission interview as part of your visit. Some institutions also have special campus visit programs, which include sessions on the admission process, financial aid, housing, student life, career services, and more.
- Find out if admission information sessions are being held close to where you live. Many institutions recruit in areas they've identified as strong or developing markets. This provides a great way to get to know the institution better, especially if you're not able to travel there for a visit.
- Strategically plan in such a way that between campus visits and local admission presentations, you'll be able to “visit” all of your options before applying. Make sure to evaluate your visit on your research spreadsheet as soon as possible after it’s completed when your experiences and impressions will be fresh in your mind.
- Remember: Reputation, rankings, and reality are very different things. When it comes to reputation, while an institution may be considered prestigious, this doesn't mean it has to be one of your final options or that it has the best program for you. Rankings are useful, but those publishing them are looking to sell what they publish. Also, some methodologies are sound while others are lacking. If an institution is ranked highly but the methodology isn't credible, you'll need to interpret that accordingly.
5 months before applying
- Schedule a date to take whatever standardized test(s) you need as part of the application process. On your research spreadsheet, you have a column for application requirements. You should start familiarizing yourself with both the logistics of taking the tests required as well as actually doing some practice test-taking.
- Find more test prep resources. Most major bookstores have a college/grad school prep section that offers help. Also, as most graduate school applicants are asked to take the GRE, GMAT, LSAT or MCAT, you can look straight to the source: Educational Testing Service (GRE), Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAT), Law School Admission Council (LSAT), and Association of American Medical Colleges (MCAT).
- If you don't score as well on your test as you had hoped, take it a second or even a third time. This doesn't make you look less competitive in the application process. Rather, in most cases, it demonstrates that you're trying your best to perform well on the test.
- Start thinking about who you'll 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. A good rule of thumb is one person could probably do two or three recommendations.
4 months before applying
- Narrow down your options to those you're applying to. You've been working on your search for eight months now, and you should have a very good idea of where you would like to apply.
- Take a close look at your research spreadsheet. Which of your options have the highest evaluations, based on all of your research, campus visits you made, and/or admission presentations you attended?
- You'll need ample time to complete your grad school applications. Obviously, there's no limit to the number of schools to which you can apply. But you need to know how many you can tackle, doing a good job on each one.
- Be careful about applying to only one institution. If you're certain that it's by far the only option, be absolutely sure to prepare yourself for whatever decision you receive.
- It's important to keep all the information you've gathered about your options until after you've made your decision about where you'll attend and have actually enrolled there. Should your plans change in some way and you decide to hold off on your graduate studies for another year or longer, or if you decide to leave the institution, you won't be starting from scratch when you resume the research process.
The grad school admission process is no joke. There’s 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 stay 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. Keep moving forward and don't give up—you're almost ready to submit your apps!