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Career Exploration and Success

Timeline: Planning and Applying to Graduate or Professional School

When Should You Begin Graduate School?

If your goals are clear and financial resources are available, consider studying for a master’s or doctoral degree shortly after graduation. If your career goals are not yet well established and your resources are insufficient, you should probably wait several years.

Planning and Applying to Graduate or Professional School

The following is a general timeline to follow when applying to graduate or professional school. This timeline can vary greatly depending on the area of study you’re pursuing, so be sure to note individual program deadlines.

12-14 months prior to application

  • Explore your career interests. Is a graduate degree necessary to reach your career goals?
  • Use organizational tools such as a planner to keep yourself focused and consistent with your work.
  • Identify and research schools/programs related to your career interests.
  • Speak with faculty members, alumni, and professionals in your field of interest for professional insight!
  • Have a clear idea of what you want in a graduate/professional education in order to apply to programs suited to your needs.
  • Identify potential writers for letters of recommendations and begin your requests.
  • Explore and research potential financial aid resources.
  • Note financial aid deadlines for schools to which you are applying.
  • Engage in and/or continue involvement in experiential learning opportunities (e.g., research, internships, service-learning, fellowships, etc.).

6-10 months prior to application

  • Develop a list of programs/schools to which you will apply. Consult with faculty and students from each program.
  • Continue consulting faculty and advisors for recommendations.
  • Attend workshops and utilize services offered via Career Exploration and Success during the application process (e.g., Planning for Graduate School workshop, mock interview practice, personal statements/essays critique, etc.,).
  • Prepare for required standardized tests (e.g., the GRE, and/or GRE Subject Test; if applicable, GMAT, MCAT, LSAT) and register to take them.
  • 3-5 months prior to application
  • Finalize list of programs/schools you will apply to—include at least one “safety sure-shot” and one “dream school long-shot.”
  • Register to take all required test(s) and have scores sent to schools.
  • Allow approximately 10-15 days after test date for scores to be released to schools—computer version.
  • Allow at least six weeks after test date for scores to be processed—paper version (e.g., if the application deadline is February 1, make sure you’ve taken the test by November 1).
  • Request official transcripts.
  • Begin completing graduate/professional school applications.
  • Begin drafting and revising your personal statements/ essays.
  • Stay in touch with those who are writing your letters of recommendation and make sure they have information and instructions on where and how to submit letters.

1-2 months prior to application

  • Follow-up with schools to confirm receipt of materials and that all is complete. If you have not already, make plans to visit schools/programs to which you are accepted.
  • Once you decide on a program to attend, withdraw applications from all other schools.
  • After receiving notification of acceptance to the program of your choice, send the required deposit and notify other schools to decline acceptance.
  • Send notes of appreciation to those who assisted you through the process (e.g., writers of recommendation letters, faculty, alumni).