Early? How early, you ask.
When applying for the start of any semester (some graduate school programs accept new students in January, start of the Spring semester), follow this schedule to stay ahead of the game.
Note: this schedule accounts for time to craft your best application, resolve unforeseen problems such as lost transcripts or a forgetful recommender and submit with enough time to spare. The time indicated is months before the first wave of application deadline.
7 months prior:
- Begin researching potential universities. Create a list of 15-20 universities your profile is suitable for. This list can be based on your peers and their inputs. It’s a shortlist. There is further work to be done in shortening this list.
Applying to a Ph.D. program? Follow this proven method to getting the admits you want.
- Take a diagnostic GRE test to determine how much preparation you’ll need.
6 months prior:
- Begin GRE prep. Take 2 months on a moderately intense schedule or 1 month on a rigorous schedule (See our blog post for an in depth study schedule).
- Register for the GRE. This gives yourself a deadline to study till. Deadline are a psychological way of focusing on GRE prep. Make sure you register before you begin or at the beginning of the prep to avoid dragging it on because of low self-confidence.
- Narrow down to 5 – 10 universities and request for more information. Applying to 7 universities is ideal. More than 7 and you are wasting money by applying to too many universities. We believe in focusing on a handful of applications to improve quality. Diluting your focus by applying to 15 universities makes each application weak.
How do you do this? Read this blog post to find out more.
- List out potential recommenders. Select your recommenders based on those who know you the best. Your LOR should contain information not everyone knows about you. The recommender should include several personal stories of how you exhibit a quality that the recommender claims you to possess.
How do you do this professionally? Read this blog post and you’ll be on your way to obtaining great letters.
- Complete GRE prep and take the test. You can send your scores to 4 universities for free. By this time you should have a good idea for which universities you want to apply to based on your research.
- If you’re not happy with your scores, sign up to take it again, but plan for sufficient practice.
- Begin drafting your personal statement or statement of purpose. It’s your only opportunity to directly communicate with the admissions committee. Make the most of this.
This is a critical step in your application. Why? Read this blog post from a universities’ ADMISSION COMMITTEE. To get you started with the SOP, I have a detailed post on the content of the SOP here and here.
- Prepare and register for an English language proficiency test such as Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or International English Language Testing System (IELTS). This is the perfect time, immediately after you take the GREs. The language is fresh in your mind. TOEFL practice should last 2-4 weeks.
- Register for the November GRE subject test (if necessary).
- Finalize your list of prospective schools. Conduct the research based on questions like: ‘How will they benefit your goals?’ ‘How will you benefit their goals?’ ‘What does the program emphasize on?’ ‘What types of candidates are they looking for?’ ‘What are the strengths of each program?’
If you are going down the route of research, become familiar with the professors who share your research interests at each school (if applicable).
- Research funding opportunities to reduce your tuition burden.
- Narrow your list to 5 recommenders and contact the top 3. Do this based on the strength of your relationship with them, the variety of strengths you think they will write about in the recommendation letter (you want to make sure the recommendations combined portray a great sense of your strengths. Each recommendation should focus on a handful of skills you possess), while maintaining a balance between the source of the recommendation (equal representation from undergrad and your workplace, if applicable).
- Keep polishing your statement of purpose. Your SOP is an iterative process. The first draft will be a start to your SOP, but it’s nowhere close to the final draft. The final draft will have to evolve over time, as you brainstorm and research more on appropriate information. We have a blog post to help you out with that.
- Take the TOEFL or IELTS. Reschedule, if your score is not up to par with the universities’ minimum requirements.
- Request official transcripts from your undergraduate institution.
- Send supplemental materials (such as your resume, personal statement at least) to your recommenders that they can use as a reference. Write down a few pointers for each recommender to focus on. This eases their burden. Guide the recommenders to write about these points. Also, give them specific examples and incidences to write about.
- Make contact with students and professors at your prospective schools. Arrange a campus visit if feasible.
- Have a trusted one in the field of interest and a few creative and honest friends read over your personal statement.
- Take the GRE subject test. Make sure that your scores will be sent directly to schools.
Application Deadline Week:
- Complete and submit all applications, keeping copies of every section for your records. Double check spelling and gramatical errors in all aspects of your application. One slight error makes you look horrible, especially in the top tier programs.
- Verify that your recommendation letters have been sent.