Timeline for Applying to Graduate School

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Applying to graduate school is a lengthy process that begins well before application time. Your graduate school application is the culmination of years of study and preparation. 

What You Need to Do (and When) for Grad School Applications

Here's a handy checklist to help you keep track of what you need to do and when.

First, Second, and Third Years of College

In your first and second year of college, your choice of major, courses and out-of-class experiences influence the quality of your application. Research and applied experiences can be important sources of experience, material for admissions essays, and sources of recommendation letters. Throughout college, focus on obtaining mentoring and other experiences that will let faculty get to know you. Letters of recommendation from faculty hold a great deal of weight in graduate school admissions decisions.

Spring Prior to Applying to Grad School

In addition to obtaining research and applied experiences and maintaining a high GPA, plan on taking the necessary standardized tests for admissions. You will either take the GRE, MCAT, GMAT, LSAT, or DAT, depending on what your program requires. Take the necessary standardized exam early so that you have time to retake it if needed. 

Summer/September Prior to Attending Grad School

  • If you haven't done so already, take the GRE or other standardized exam needed for admission.
  • Gather information about graduate programs online. Review department websites, peruse faculty web pages and examine program curricula and requirements. Narrow your choices.
  • Consider which faculty members to ask for letters of recommendation.


  • Research sources of financial aid.
  • Carefully examine each of the program applications. Note any questions or essay topics that will require your attention.
  • Write a draft of your graduate admissions essay.
  • Ask a faculty member or the career/grad admissions counselor at your school to read your essays and provide feedback. Take their advice!
  • Ask faculty for letters of recommendation. Provide faculty with a copy of your transcript, links to program information and forms (all clearly labeled in one email), and your admissions essay.  Ask faculty if there's anything else that you can provide to help them.


  • Arrange for your official transcript to be sent to each program to which you apply. Visit the Registrar's office to request your transcript. Request that the Registrar hold your transcript until the Fall semester grades are in (unless the application is due December 1, which is common).
  • Finalize your admissions essay. Don't forget to seek additional input from others.
  • Apply for fellowships and other sources of financial aid, as applicable.
  • Check and record the due date for each application.


  • Complete the application for each program. Most will be online. Pay attention to spelling errors in your name, address, email, and email addresses for professors who will write your recommendation letters. Reread your essays and statement of purpose. Spell check! If you are to cut and paste it into an online form, check the spacing and formatting. If it's all text, include a blank line between paragraphs. If you are to upload a pdf, be sure to review your document to check for formatting errors.
  • Relax and breathe!
  • Most schools send an email upon receipt of each application and will follow up as files are completed. Keep track of these. If needed, follow up with faculty who have not submitted their letters.


  • Depending on your field, start planning for the admissions interviews. What questions will you ask? Prepare answers to common questions.
  • Fill out the Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application. You'll need your tax forms to do this.


  • If needed, visit schools where you've been accepted.
  • Discuss your decisions regarding programs to which you were accepted and reasons why you may have been rejected by a faculty member or the career/graduate admissions counselor at your school.
  • Notify the program of your acceptance.
  • Notify programs that you're declining.
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Your Citation
Kuther, Tara, Ph.D. "Timeline for Applying to Graduate School." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/timeline-for-applying-to-graduate-school-1685152. Kuther, Tara, Ph.D. (2021, February 16). Timeline for Applying to Graduate School. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/timeline-for-applying-to-graduate-school-1685152 Kuther, Tara, Ph.D. "Timeline for Applying to Graduate School." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/timeline-for-applying-to-graduate-school-1685152 (accessed March 25, 2023).