Application Consulting: The Graduate School Countdown

Posted by Sophie Pauze on 12/2/13 12:40 PM

graduate school admissions

It's the final countdown....

All of the country (and frankly, world), aspiring graduate students are cranking out their applications, many of which are due in the coming weeks! Many graduate schools have rolling deadlines, which begin in the end of Decemebr. Some deadlines happen later, but starting early is a good thing; the earlier your application is received, the earlier it will be reviewed, and the sooner you’ll know about admission!

So, if any of these statements rings true to you, then this post might prove useful to you.

  • “I want to start graduate school in the fall of 2014.”
  • “I’m not sure how to manage all the pieces of my graduate school application.”
  • “I’m stuck writing my personal statement for graduate school.”
  • “I want to study X, but I’m not sure which schools to apply to.”
  • “I’m trying to study for the GRE and prep my applications all at once. Eek!”
The bottom line is that graduate school applications are tough because they ask you to do several things at once:
  • The personal statement asks you to reflect on the why of graduate school: Unless your passion or career path is totally clear-cut, personal statements to grad school often conjure up more existential questions about your future path, and the uncertainties of doing the right thing for your career. It’s not easy to sum up your life story in a succinct way that is also compelling!
  • The GRE test brings back the anxieties of high school test prep and worse many of us haven’t done the kind of math tested since! Most people don’t like standardized testing, and most of the content tested has no bearing on your future degree, so it feels rather frustrating to prepare for this merciless exam.
  • The graduate school application involves many moving pieces: your undergraduate transcript, a resume, a personal statement, recommendations, (sometimes writing samples and/or GRE subject tests). Getting the application together is a project in of itself that tests your organization skills; this aspect of the process alone can be overwhelming.

You might be asking yourself: Ok, so what’s the good news?  You’re making this sound even worse that I thought it was!

Here’s the upside: you can easily stay on top of it all if you compartmentalize the process and plan in advance. Run through these questions in your head to start breaking up the application components to build out your timeline:  

What are the most time-consuming aspects of the application?

  • The personal statement
  • The resume
  • GRE
  • GRE Subject test (dependent on the degree)
  • Writing Samples (dependent on the degree)
  • Applying for financial aid
  What application components can be dispatched or quickly resolved?
  • Requesting your transcript
  • Soliciting letters of recommendation
  • The application portal

With your complete list of requirements in front you, you'll have a better sense of the effort required and you can start mapping your process onto specific calendar dates.

For the sake of this exercise, let’s say your application deadline is in 6 weeks, on Monday, January 13th: 

Remember to do the easy stuff first, and start planning the longer-term projects in advance. Set yourself very clear deadlines and stick to them:  

Week 1

  • Request your transcripts in paper and PDF form. Done!
  • Reach out to your recommenders: Formally request a recommendation and provide a clear timeline/guideline for the recommendation. Set a false deadline that’s earlier than the actual thing (December 20th, for example). Here’s a post on selecting and requesting your recs:  Done!
  • Review your resume: Edit your resume to reflect your recent experiences, then share it with a trusted peer or family member to receive their feedback.
  • Are you applying for financial aid? If so, figure out the requirements.
  • If you haven’t already taken the GRE, register for a test date as soon as you feel ready (you can do this up to 1 day before the application deadline). Keep studying!
  What’s left?
  • Finishing your resume
  • The personal statement (and/or writing samples)
  • The GRE (and/or GRE subject test)
  • The application portal (work history, personal data, etc.)
  • Financial Aid application
  Week 2
  • Finalize your resume. Done!
  • Fill out the easy parts of the application portal (personal data, educational history, income information, etc.). Done!
  • Keep studying for the GRE. For more information on prepping for the GRE, check out this series of blog posts:
  • If you require writing samples, look at past writing and start to fine-tune the work.
  What’s left?
  • The personal statement (and/or writing samples)
  • The GRE (and/or GRE subject test)
  • Financial Aid application
Week 3
  • Keeps studying for the GRE (and/or GRE subject test). You’re probably planning to take the test(s) soon. Take a practice test this week to get a sense of where you are scoring.
  • Brainstorm your personal statement. Visit our application consulting ( page to learn more about how some students get help with this part of the application.
  • Complete the financial aid application requirements. Done!
  Week 4
  • Make this week all about the GRE. Do nothing on your application but study for the exam.
  • Take it easy this week: don’t go out too much, get lots of sleep and try to get home from work on the early side.
  • Take another practice test, or the real thing!
 Week 5
  • Outline and draft your personal statement.
  • Work with a consultant or trusted editor; feedback on your writing is crucial!
  • Check in with your recommenders if you haven’t yet received your letters of rec.
  • Take the GRE already! Done!

Week 6
Finalize your personal statement.
Review and tweak all application components. Think about the application as a package, and check for cohesion.

Voila! It’s certainly a fair amount of work, but totally manageable if you break it up. You’ll thank yourself later if you put in the time to plot out your workflow in advance. If the process still seems unwieldy, or if your timeline is even more abbreviated, many students find it helpful and reassuring to work with an outside consultant on all aspects of the process, or even just the writing.  Good luck!      

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Tags: career advice, graduate admissions, graduate school