When it comes to preparing for graduate school, the earlier you start to research your options, the easier the process will be for you later on when the deadlines begin rapidly approaching.  Some students start to speak with professors and advisers about suggested paths or programs as early as their junior year.  Of course, students who do not know they intend to go graduate school early on can still get accepted to programs, but simply must be more organized as they have shorter amounts of time to prepare application materials.

The majority of PhD program applications are usually due in December or January, while Masters program deadlines can be as early as November, or as late as March. Each program is different, so be sure to check with your specific program and mark important dates on your calendar. A good graduate school preparation timeline to follow can be seen below: 


  • Begin consulting advisers and professors to discover if graduate school is right for you, what path you might take, and which schools have strong programs for your area of focus. 


  • Begin putting together your list of programs that you want to apply to, adding or cutting schools as you go along.
  • Figure out which standardized test your field requires –the GRE, GMAT, LSAT, or MCAT—and take a practice test to gauge how much time you’ll need to study before you take the real test.
  • If your scores on the practice test are lower than where you’d like them to be, consider registering for a test preparation course.
  • Register ahead of time for the real test. Slots fill up quickly at testing centers, so don’t save this step until a few days before you intend to take the test.


  • Begin crafting your personal statement and/or statement of purpose, brainstorming ideas for the best ways to accurately portray yourself.
  • Take your standardized test, leaving time in the coming months to retake it if you’re not happy with your scores on the first time around.
  • Research financial options. Consider government agencies, philanthropic organizations, campus fellowships, teaching assistantships, professional organizations, and honor societies as potential sources and funding.


  • Meet with faculty members in your department to discuss your personal statement, program options and potential funding sources.
  • Finalize the list of schools you will apply to.
  • Get organized and create a file for each school and retain all related application material for your records.
  • If needed, take your standardized tests again and ensure your scores are sent to the appropriate schools.
  • Complete your personal statement and have it reviewed by the CCO staff during Drop-Ins.
  • Set up IN-PERSON meetings with faculty to request letters of recommendation. Arrive prepared and provide them with a copy of your statement of purpose, resume/curriculum vitae (CV), and the recommendation letter submission process and deadlines for each school.


  • Order transcripts from all post-secondary institutions and request official copies be sent to the schools you have applied.
  • Submit application materials one month before the application timeline.
  • Remind your recommenders of when your letters of recommendation must be received.


  • Follow-up with the schools you have applied to and verify they have received all your application materials.
  • Conduct informational interviews with students who are currently in the programs you applied to in order to better understand the program and consider scheduling campus visits to the schools you’re most interest in.
  • Send thank you notes to your recommenders and update them on your application status.