When to Apply for Grad School and Where to Start


Put some thought into when to apply to grad school. Here's a suggested time line to help you make this most important of decisions the right way.

Graduate school is a major life change. The classes get tougher, and so do the demands of balancing coursework with the other things going on in your life. Here’s a tip to help you at least get off to a smooth start: Put some extra thought into the timing of when to apply for grad school.

Once you’ve made the decision to go, you’ll want to position yourself in the best way possible to be accepted into your desired school and program.

What’s the best way to do that?

Start by breaking down the mountain of tasks into manageable parts. Ask yourself the questions below, and follow the general timeline below to stay on track. (It follows the same general outline and prerequisites that most schools employ.)

How Long Should I Give Myself?

Target: 1 year before applying to grad school.

To give yourself the most breathing room, get the ball rolling about a year before your applications will be due. In this scenario, that’s late October/early November.

Another good rule of thumb: Start about 18 months before your first day of class. Some graduate schools and programs have hard and fast deadlines, while others may offer rolling admission on a space-available basis.

Start by talking to your professors (or former professors, if you have already graduated). Inspect social media. Visit Gradschools.com, TheGradCafe.com or the Princeton Review. Then, go on a campus visit.

Once you start forming a solid idea of the programs or schools that interest you, consider factors such as location, programs offered, faculty, research opportunities and cost.

Do I Need to Take a Test to Get Into Grad School?

Target: 8-9 months before applying to grad school.

By the end of winter, you should have a shortlist of schools. Now it’s time to organize your to-dos.

Come up with a checklist or tracking system that includes each university’s requirements and deadlines. Put any required admissions tests, recommendation letters, transcripts and personal statements or essays on that list. These crucial deadlines will let you know when to apply to grad school.

In late spring, you’ll want to register for the GRE or GMA exam, if it’s an admission requirement. Most test-prep organizations offer free practice tests on their websites. Take one and see how you do.

If you score lower than the average, or the minimum requirement for your desired program, consider one of the many prep course options available. If you end up close to or above the mark, maybe a review book will suffice.

Which grad school test is right for you? Sort through the GRE, GMAT, LSAT and MCAT with this guide.Go Deeper: Which Grad School Test Should I Take?

When Should I Start Writing a Personal Statement?

Target: 4-5 months before applying to grad school.

In July or August, you’ll take the standardized test. At that time, most schools also release their personal statement prompts.

Time to finalize your list of prospective schools and get to writing.

But first, understand this is not a last-minute proposition. You need plenty of time for revisions and for a trusted friend, classmate or professor to offer constructive feedback. Make certain your personal statement is an accurate depiction of the “real” you—what you’ve accomplished to get where you are, and why you want to pursue that degree at the specific institution.

You’ll also want to keep that list of trusted professors handy, because you will need their recommendations. Ask early—the start of the fall is a good bet—and be sure they know your deadline.

Then, help them help you. Provide your helper with a draft of your personal statement or other information about yourself and your accomplishments.

An illustration showing a personal statement for grad school that is typically part of a graduate school application.Go Deeper: How to Write a Personal Statement for Grad School

When Do I Fill in My Application?

Target: 1 month before applying to grad school.

In September or October, request official transcripts and start your application forms. Your essays should be ready for a final edit, and you may want to give a friendly reminder to your recommendation writers. If you need to retake a standardized test, do it now.

Most schools have application deadlines from Oct. 31 to Jan. 15. But for rolling admissions, submitting early gives you an edge. Earlier is also better for schools with rounds of admission—get that application in during the first round, if possible.

No matter what the application process entails, you never want to feel rushed. After all, you’ll almost always bound to run into an unexpected hiccup or two. Extra time will keep your stress levels manageable during what can be a high-pressure—but rewarding—process.

Grad School Admission at Elmhurst University

As you read earlier, all graduate programs handle things a little differently. At Elmhurst University we provide graduate school on your terms, built around your schedule and priorities.

Most of our graduate programs offer rolling admission and will continue to accept applications, on a space-available basis, until the final deadline. However, to receive priority consideration, Tim Panfil, our senior director of graduate admission, recommends you submit your application at least four weeks before these final deadlines:

  • Fall Term: August 15
  • Spring Term: January 15
  • Summer Term: April 15

Complete the form below to request more information today!

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