How should you start the grad school application process? Before you get overwhelmed, here is a checklist to help you identify some related tasks

  • Research programs and request information and applications.
  • Decide on first-choice programs to which you will apply.
  • Register for appropriate qualifying exams, both general and subject test, as required by individual programs.
  • Take exams and submit results to your chosen schools.
  • Ask professors and employers to write letters of recommendation. Comply with instructions given by each graduate program.
  • Request official copies of your undergraduate transcripts from the registrar's office to be sent to graduate programs.
  • Complete applications, personal essays, and other information requested by graduate programs. Meet all deadlines!
  • Confirm that application materials, recommendations, and test scores have been received by the deadlines.
  • Relax and wait to hear from the school(s).

Now you know what needs to be done. Below is a proposed timeline to help you know when to do some of the tasks we’ve described. Some variation in timing is likely.

This might help you know what to expect and may make the process a little less stressful. Even if you don’t complete these tasks in the exact timeframe listed here, you will most likely have to do them sometime in the process.

Junior Year

  • September-June: Create and maintain contacts with potential reference writers through classroom work, volunteer work, internships, research, and employment. You’ll need recommendations to go with your grad school application.
  • October-November: Research information to help you get admitted and to learn about graduate programs from multiple institutions.
  • January-June: Research schools and request information and applications. This is especially helpful in identifying schools that offer the specific program in which you are interested.
  • January-March: Research nature of appropriate graduate entrance exam; begin review and test prep.
  • April-June: Continue review for exam(s); consider a review course. Schedule test during the summer when you’ll have less distraction from other academic work. This will also allow you enough time to retake the exam if you are unhappy with your score.

Senior Year

  • July-August: Continue researching schools and programs.
  • July-August: Finish general test if possible.
  • July-August: Request financial aid information from programs and other sources (loans, grants, fellowships, assistantships).
  • July-December: Comply with requests from graduate programs for recommendations. Prepare your reference writers for individual requests since programs may request different things (letter, completion of a form, telephone screening).
  • September-December: Discuss decision with advisors and faculty to narrow down your top choices for programs.
  • September-December: Last chance for tests. Take subject tests if required.
  • September-December: Complete applications for first-choice schools.
  • September-December: Complete all financial aid applications. Collect tax information.
  • January-March: Meet all deadlines.
  • January-March: Confirm that reference letters have been received by deadline.
  • January-March: Acceptances begin shortly after deadlines.
  • January-March: Meet deadlines. Aid offer may accompany admission offer.
  • April-June: April 15 is a common notification date. Try to be patient!
  • April-June: Inform letter writers of outcomes of applications.

Calendar adapted from Applying to Graduate School: A Student's Guide (1985) by Marliss G. Strange and Jack W. Bennett.