Article contributed by chief-editor of MyGraduateSchool.com - Sarah Brown Tesolin
September is just around the corner here, which means that for many students hoping to get into a Masters or Ph.D. program, graduate school application deadlines are fast approaching. Depending on your own situation, you may still have a lot to do before that time comes. The holiday period and the beginning of January are good times to tie up a lot of loose ends in your application, without the pressure that comes from preparing for exams. It is for that reason, that I put together the following step-by-step timetable to help you plan your own course of action for the holiday period into January and right up until your application deadlines.
Keep in mind that the timetable outlined below assumes that your earliest application deadline is March 1st 2013. Obviously, you will need to make adjustments if your earliest application deadline is more than a few weeks before or after March 1st 2013.
If you are still working on your application forms, then be sure to fill them out properly. Many people mistakenly expect to spend only an hour, or slightly more, filling out a graduate-school application form, but in fact, it can take much longer than that for some of the longer and more complicated ones. The first one might even take a couple of days to get right! Although many of the line items on application forms are straightforward and the information is readily available, such as biographical data, others require a bit more thought. These include details such as relevant employment history, research experience, or work in progress. Think about what you are writing down for items like these. Consider how it would sound from the perspective of the admissions committee members. Take a little bit of extra time here — it can make a difference.
If your applications are ready, send them in now so they arrive a few weeks before the application deadline. (Remember, this sample timetable assumes a March 1st deadline). If you are sending your application by regular mail, make sure to make photocopies of all the materials in each application package before you mail them. If you are not ready to send in your applications yet, then be prepared to pay the extra shipping fee for an expedited service to allow you the time needed to do a thorough job. Of course, this is assuming that you cannot send your applications on-line, which many graduate programs now offer.
The grades you received in courses that you just finished were not included in your earlier transcripts. As such, you will need to contact your college or university admissions office and order official transcripts for these courses and have them sent to the programs to which you are applying.
Plan a visit
If you have time over the holidays or into the beginning of January, and if you can afford it, you should consider making an effort to visit any interesting programs that you were not able to visit during the previous summer. Schedule appointments with graduate students and potential advisors that you can meet up with during your visit.
If you cannot visit the schools that you are applying to, this should not stop you from contacting some of the graduate students who are currently in that program. You can ask the Graduate Program Director to help you get in touch with a graduate student, preferably someone who has been around long enough and has the experience needed to provide well-informed answers to your questions.
Email is a convenient and non-intrusive way of corresponding with graduate students in a prospective program. But some of the advantages of a real conversation over the phone are absent in email correspondence. Use email to ask your graduate-student contact a few questions, but at some point you should try to arrange a time to phone when they would be willing to talk with you. Many subtleties that would be present in a phone conversation are lost in electronic mail.
Do not plan to call more him or her more than once, unless you are invited to call again. You do not want to be seen as a pest. Do not flood them with email either. Keep in mind that this student may discuss your correspondence with the graduate supervisor and thereby influence the decision concerning your application.
If you are applying to programs that conduct pre-selection interviews, start saving now to make sure that you will have the money you need to attend an interview in the spring, if you happen to be invited for one.
This will be the time for following-up and correcting any last-minute deficiencies in your application. Check with your referees to see if they have sent your letters of recommendation and remember to thank them for taking the time to do so. If you sent your applications by regular mail during the holiday period, call the programs to make sure everything has arrived and your file is complete. If you have not sent in your application forms yet, because they are not ready, then consider making this a higher priority.
You may need to apply for student loans at this time, if you think you will need this form of financial aid when graduate school begins in the fall. Visit your financial aid office to make an appointment to determine what loans you may be eligible for. If you are student in the U.S. you will also need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid - FAFSA, which can be found here: http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/
Deadlines for the FAFSA will depend on the state in which you live.
Once you have sent in your applications and confirmed that everything is in order, you should probably try to forget about them for a couple of weeks and just concentrate on any coursework you have ongoing. All matters concerning your applications are out of your hands at this point, and you may need some distractions to help deal with any undue anxiety you have about this.
If you have applied to programs that conduct pre-selection interviews, start preparing in case you are invited for one. Mental imaging and frequent practice rounds with a friend or mentor can help you prepare for most interview questions and help reduce any anxiety that you may have about them. There are many good books and on-line articles on the topic of preparing for interviews.
Very few students can manage to implement the following plan exactly, and according to the suggested timetable. Do not be distressed if you realize that you did not begin your planning early enough. Most of those applicants with whom you will be competing will not have done so either. Use this sample plan as a guideline for making a plan that's works best for you. Good luck!
Sarah Brown Tesolin is the chief editor for MyGraduateSchool.com For more information, check out her profile on LinkedIn or on Facebook
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