One of the most common mistakes that students make is to wait too long to start preparing for their graduate-school applications. The result is that several compromises are made along the way, and a rushed job to make an application deadline often ends up in rejection, a missed opportunity, and a blow to one’s self-esteem.
A great deal of research is needed to find the right programs in light of your specific interests or objectives, so you need to get busy on this at least a couple of months before application deadlines. Do not underestimate the amount of time involved in properly filling out application forms (several hours) and writing a good personal statement (several days), or the typical delay between when transcripts or standardized test scores are requested and when they actually arrive at their destinations (several weeks).
You also need to give professors at least a few weeks notice prior to when you will need a letter of recommendation.
Many programs stick to their deadlines and will not consider an application if any of the required components are missing or late. It is your responsibility to make sure that all of your application materials have arrived and are in your file by the deadline. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that because a document has been sent, it has also been received.
Organization is the key to dealing with multiple items for multiple application packages. Use a checklist to keep track of those things you have taken care of for each application, and which things remain to be dealt with. You need to follow up at each end, first to make sure that materials have been sent, and later to make sure they have been received.
There are several advantages to beating the application deadline by a couple of weeks: It may allow you enough time to respond to unexpected problems that occur close to the deadline, such as unfulfilled requests for transcripts, test scores, or letters of recommendation. Getting your application in a couple of weeks before the deadline will also indicate that you are well-organized and enthusiastic about the program. Your application may receive a closer evaluation if the admissions committee begins reviewing files before the application deadline.
Financial support for graduate studies is another area where many students fail to act soon enough and miss opportunities as a result. You should act immediately to find out about scholarships and fellowships that you are eligible to apply for. Be aware that in most cases the deadline for application for scholarships and fellowships comes long before deadlines for application to graduate schools. In other words, if you’re applying to enter graduate program next September, then you’d better find out what you need to know about scholarships and fellowships by this September. More great articles on paying for grad school and How much does grad school cost? Can I afford it? available at MyGraduateSchool.com
Being organized, starting early and being certain of your reasons for going to graduate school in the first place will be invaluable to you as you get through the application process. Going the extra mile and avoiding the pitfalls and mistakes that your competitors will likely be making will get you into the graduate program of your choice.