How to Stay Organized During the Graduate School Application Process
Applying to graduate school can be an organizational challenge. You have to keep track of various program requirements and deadlines, and also coordinate with your undergraduate institution, recommendation letter writers, and the Educational Testing Service (ETS) to make sure you submit all of your application materials on time.
My biggest tip for staying organized during this process is to give yourself enough time. Here’s what this means for various facets of the application.
Personal statement: Start the writing process 2-3 months in advance so that you can review and revise it yourself before soliciting feedback from your mentors and friends.
Letters of recommendation: Ask your professors and PIs for recommendations at least a few months in advance and then provide them with program names and deadlines at least 3-4 weeks before the due date. The more time you give someone to write you a letter of recommendation, the more likely they are to write a thoughtful, detailed statement.
Other components, such as GRE scores and academic transcripts: Request these materials be sent to each school as soon as you create an application. Be sure to check each program’s standardized testing requirements and schedule your tests sufficiently before the application deadline. For example, ETS website says that computer-delivered GRE scores take 10-15 days to be delivered, whereas paper-delivered test scores require six weeks.
Fee waivers: Inquire about fee waivers — provided by many programs to applicants who demonstrate financial need — at least two weeks before the application deadline so that administrative personnel have time to process your request.
Here are other tips to staying organized:
- Make a list of all of the programs you are applying to and when each application is due. Distribute this list to everyone who is writing you a letter of recommendation, and post the list somewhere you can easily reference. Update the list as changes occur.
- Keep track of program requirements by making a checklist for each program and crossing items off the list once you have received confirmation of their submission. Update this list regularly.
- Go through your online application a week before each program’s application deadline to make sure that everything is submitted. Follow up if you notice an item is missing. Sometimes details get lost because of an oversight, and you don’t want to miss out on your dream school because of it.
- Check the program’s website once you’ve submitted your application to see if they have posted this year’s on-campus interview dates. Save the dates for your top programs now to avoid potential conflicts later.