Recently I have been talking to a lot of people who are applying to grad school. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all of the things that go into the application process. There are so many things that you need to do before the day comes that you are actually in grad school. It’s easy to get overloaded and quit with all of the responsibilities on your plate. Today I am going to go through all of the steps you need to take in order to apply and get into grad school. Hopefully this will help you calm down your anxiety. You can also download this checklist to help you.
First Step: Narrow Down Schools
Go to open houses, view their websites, talk to students, talk to alumni, visit the campus, talk to admission counselors, talk to people in the community about the program. Some people just jump into taking the entrance exams before narrowing down the schools but I found starting on this step the most beneficial. This is because I was able to send my test scores immediately to the institutions when I was done. I also felt like I had a plan in place and some idea of where I was going to go. It made it real and it made me study for the exam harder because I knew the test scores I would need to get in order to be accepted to the programs. I also knew how hard and long I would need to study. So if you don’t know where you are going before the test, how do you know how well you need to do on the test?
Here are some questions you can ask:
- Is there a mentoring program available?
- What type of support do you have to help students find jobs after graduation?
- How does this program set itself apart from other programs?
- What are the backgrounds/average age of current students?
- What is the application process? Are there any test requirements?
- What is the deadline for application?
- What is the cost?
- What is the teaching philosophy of the university?
- What is the average salary/employment rate of recent graduates?
- Is the program accredited?
- What is the background of the Professors?
- Do they offer the classes in your specialty and interest?
- What is the size of the program? What is the student size of each course?
- Is this a full time program or part time? Can you have another job while going through the program?
Step 2: Determine Deadlines
Before you can do anything else you have to determine the deadlines for the schools that your want to apply to. This will allow you to backup into all of the remaining requirements you will need to do so you can create a schedule. So make a list of each school name that you plan to apply to and the deadline for the application.
Step 3: Determine All Requirements
Write down all of the requirements you will need to complete before you apply. This will include the following:
- Determine your professional goals
- Narrow down a list of grad schools
- Determine application deadlines for grad schools
- Ask for recommendations
- Prepare notes and items for recommenders to write recommendations (make it easy for them!)
- Take practice entrance exam to determine how long you will need to prepare for the exam
- Book the entrance exam (GMAT, GRE, LSAT, MCAT, etc.)
- Book entrance exam course if required.
- Buy entrance exam study books.
- Study for the entrance exam
- Complete the application
- Set up informational interviews with students, alumni and professors
- Complete the essays and personal statements
- Have someone you trust review your essays
- Determine financial requirements
- Complete the admissions interview
- Complete your resume
- Retake entrance exam if you weren’t happy with your score
- Visit schools and attend open houses
- Book and complete exam for international students (TOEFL)
- Complete the required experience for entrance
- Get official transcripts
- Finalize list of prospective schools
- Fill out FAFSA for financial aid
- Complete scholarship applications
- Send thank you notes to people who provided recommendations
- Make final decision
- Celebrate your acceptance!
- Notify program of your acceptance
- Notify programs you are declining
- Network with other students in your future class
Once you determine all of the requirements, start making a schedule of each item you want to do and what you want to do first-last. Put a month and date next to each action that you want to complete it by.
Give yourself plenty of time for this process. As you can read on my business school application advice post here, The business school application can be a stressful process and one that often leaves applicants disappointed and frustrated. I took the GMAT right after college and thought I would ace it without studying. I was wrong and did very poorly on the test. After I failed, I enrolled in a GMAT course but still did not feel adequately prepared so I ended up putting my MBA dream on hold. After a few years, I buckled down and started studying every night after work. The second time I took the GMAT I was very relaxed and much more prepared. The only reason I did great the second time was because I was focused on one thing, the GMAT, and not all the other parts of the application that would come later.
So my advice is to: Devote a month or two to study for your entrance exam before you start applying to schools so that you can focus on the test and not worry about all the other steps of the application process. Just get yourself organized with my checklist and take one step at a time! Good luck!