By Laura Morrison, July 2014
Making the decision to apply to graduate school is not a thing that most prospective students do lightly. Not only is pursuing graduate studies itself a monumental and, more often than not, life-changing decision, but the application process can also be a rigorous and demanding a task.
Knowing how much time to give yourself when it comes to planning, assembling and submitting your graduate applications can feel like rocket science. Students want to strike a balance between giving themselves enough time to produce quality materials and avoid overthinking the process to the point where it becomes detrimental. If graduate school is in your future, here are some tips to help you manage your time through the application process better.
The Application Process Starts Earlier Than You Think
Despite the fact that there is an undeniable finality associated with the moment of mailing off your application, that one event is the terminus of an entire process that spans months. In other words, if you wait until the weeks or even a month or so before your application deadline, you're in trouble. Not only are the materials you send the only reflection of you and your abilities the admissions boards will have to base their decision on, even choosing which school and program is best-suited to you warrants careful planning and consideration.
Idealist recommended starting the process a full year before your planned enrollment - three months before the applications are due. This will give you sufficient time to do your research, round up your reference letters and prepare for any testing requirements. A guide published by the Committee on Institutional Cooperation suggested you give yourself even more time. According to their recommendation, you should begin researching schools and programs the summer before your final year of undergraduate school.
Use Your Time Wisely
A little more than a year may seem like an inordinate amount of time for something as simple as filling out an application form and writing an essay, but students may be well served to use the time they have to produce the best possible application. Another important factor to consider is that there are aspects of your application that are out of your control; for example, requesting reference letters from supervisors and professors can take longer than you'd think, as many professors are quite busy. Similarly, admissions tests like the GRE are often held at set dates and times. Knowing when and where the next test will be administered is a crucial step in your early research to ensure you can submit your application on time.
About the Author: Laura Morrison is the Web Content Manager for GradSchools.com. She earned an MBA from the Rutgers School of Business in 2010.