What you need to know to prepare your graduate school application

By Laura Morrison, July 2014

graduate school application tips
For prospective graduate students, the application process can be a time of stress and even panic protracted out over much of a year. While filling out your application is something that should be handled with care, it need not be a source of anxiety. You might be able to better manage the application process if you have a clear understanding of the roadmap your application process should follow. If you're considering returning to school for graduate studies, the first step in your journey should be to create an outline of the steps you're going to take to get there.

Manage your time

Perhaps the most important aspect of successfully completing your graduate school application is to have a realistic understanding of exactly how much time you have to complete your application. Graduate admissions committees often require applicants to provide information that must be obtained through a number of different channels, and assembling that information may take a great deal of time.

The Idealist outlined a basic timeline of the graduate application process designed to help you navigate the steps involved, and according to their estimate, you should count on the whole thing taking around a year. Between researching which schools would be the best fit for you, preparing for any test requirements, and tracking down reference letters, you'll want to allot yourself plenty of application prep time in order to avoid last-minute scrambles.

The details matter

Even if you're a straight-A student with a stellar GPA and test scores that are off the charts, you'd be well- served to pay close attention to the details of your application, no matter how minute they may seem.

Even more important is to pay very close attention to the directions outlined for you in the application forms. Regardless of how much you think you have to say on the essay topic, if the instructions call for a certain word count, you'd be wise to strictly adhere to that. Blatantly disregarding such a fundamental part of your application can make you seem absent-minded at best, or unable to take direction at worst - considering you're applying to go back to school, demonstrating your ability and willingness to adhere to procedure in such matters may be as important an aspect of your application as your transcript is.

It's also important to avoid using the same application for every school - according to Veritas Prep this is one of the biggest hidden pitfalls applicants fall into.

Count your pennies

Assuming your application efforts are successful, you'll need a plan to make sure you're able to actually afford your academic pursuits. Graduate school constitutes a major expense, and the financial strain can be prohibitive for those who aren't adequately prepared.

Fortunately, you need not empty your entire piggy bank if you're planning on heading back to school, as there are a variety of potential financial aid options that may be available to qualified students. While you're taking time to apply to graduate schools, do some research into scholarships that you might qualify for.

Of course, don't forget to assess financial possibilities from all possible sources. If you're an employee returning to the job market, check and see if your company offers a tuition reimbursement program - such provisions are often available for working students pursuing higher education in their chosen career field. Alternatively, consider seeking a job with the university of your choice. Working part-time in the admissions office or in another administrative position may be a great way to acclimate to campus life and may provide potential opportunities to take advantage of tuition assistance benefits.

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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.

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