Graduate School Timeline


As October continues, the timeline for grad school continues to tick down for the seniors. Before we know it, January will be here and with it, application deadlines. Then April and May come bearing down and before you know it, the school year is over. Now is the time to get caught up on the grad school applications for the seniors. For you juniors, we’ll outline a timeline to keep in mind for next year. Underclassmen, this is the time for you to think about grad school so that you’re able to be ahead of the game when the time comes.

Preliminary Stuff

The very first step in the grad school decision is, easily enough, thinking about grad school. Does grad school appeal to you? What would you be pursuing? Are you looking for a Ph.D., a Master’s, or some other degree? Are there any programs that you already have in mind? What do you need to do to make sure you can get in at these programs? These are the sorts of questions you want to be asking yourself before you even begin the process. Ideally, this is done before the end of Junior year. Junior year, start talking to faculty about graduate programs that you might want to pursue and get advise on where to look.

Summer before Senior Year

So you’ve picked a subject to pursue at a higher level. Now what? It’s time to pick a few programs to apply to. What are you looking for in grad school programs? That depends entirely on what you want to do after you finish the program. Are you looking to use an MA to get into a Ph.D. program? Look for MA programs that are associated with high-level Ph.D. programs and have opportunities to break into the world of academia. Are you trying to get your MBA to launch your career in the business world? Look for programs that have high job placement rates at top companies.

While you search for specific programs, there are a few things to keep in mind. Be sure to pick a handful of programs to apply to, just in case you don’t make it into your top choice. Remember, graduate school is still very competitive, especially when it comes to scholarships.

1.     Cost. How expensive is this program going to be? Will they give you a living stipend? What kind of scholarships are available?

2.     Time. How long is the program? Be aware that most Ph.D. programs are 5-8 years long, while Master’s programs are typically 2-3 years. You may find some shorter or longer, but it could mean that if you try for an MA-Ph.D., you may have 10 years of schooling left.

3.     Admission requirements. Do you need to take the GRE or other standardized test? If so, how well do you need to score? If the program requires a standardized test for admission, begin preparing for it during the summer. How many letters of recommendation do they want? Are there any prerequisite courses you will need to finish? This bullet point is the exact reason you want to be thinking about the programs before you even get to senior year.

4.     Program requirements. Will you be writing a thesis? Will you be expected to be teaching while you take your graduate coursework? What kinds of classes will you be taking? How closely will you be working with the professors? What kind of opportunities does it provide?

Done to this point: Programs decided upon, registered for and prepared for admissions exams


Alright, you’ve picked a field and you’ve picked a handful of programs you’d like to get into. Now, for your senior year, it’s time to start working on it. August is when you want to register for (and possibly even take) whatever exam you need to take for the school, be it the MCAT, GMAT, GRE, LSAT, or whatever else. Take it for the first time as soon as possible, so that if you need to take it again, you have plenty of time for it. August is about the test.

Done to this point: First exam taken


By the time you get to September, hopefully you’ve already at least registered, if not sat for, entrance exam. At this point, you’re definitely back at school, so it’s time to start talking to faculty. Grad school will need some letters of recommendation, so talk to a few professors and ask about a letter of recommendation. In addition, you should have your exam scores back at some point in September. Check those scores and see if you need to retake the test. In addition, if you took the GRE, look into if you should take any specific subject tests (just like the SAT subject tests). If you need to, register for those.  

Done to this point: Exam results received, letters of recommendation lined up, subject tests registered for


October is the time to get paperwork in order. This means you have your writing sample prepared and cleaned up. You get the application itself ready. Most schools will want a statement of purpose or some sort of academic autobiography. October is the time to get that in order. It’s also time to pay attention to due dates. Some schools want transcripts before Fall grades, some schools want that Fall Semester of senior year on it. Pay attention to which they want and get those transcripts lined up. Follow up with those who are writing your letters of recommendation.

Done to this point: All paperwork in order. Application, statement of purpose, test scores, letters of recommendation, writing sample, transcripts all prepared.


It’s time to start submitting things. You should, by this point, have taken the relevant subject tests and had scores for those as well, and you’ve got all your paperwork in order already. Have a few people look over the relevant pieces of paperwork (statement of purpose, writing sample) to make sure everything is as good as it can be. Finalize everything as much as you can, then hit that fancy submit button. And there you have it. It’s all done, and before you hit your last semester.


Important note: This is not at all a formal “You MUST have it all in by this date” sort of timeline. This timeline exists to try to give you a general sense of how the process should go and making sure it all gets done with as little stress as possible. It’s a flexible timeline that can be shifted to accommodate the needs of different students. But if you want an easy, stress free, timely application process, try to get it done along these guidelines.