When to Apply for Graduate School – Step-by-Step Monthly Guide

when to apply for grad school

After making the important decision to pursue graduate school, it is crucial to meticulously map out your application process, allowing yourself ample time to complete the necessary steps:

  • Determine which schools you wish to apply to.
  • Collect all required transcripts and recommendation letters.
  • Craft a compelling personal statement or statement of purpose.
  • Prepare for any standardized exams that may be required.

In general, it is advisable to initiate the application preparation at least 6 months before the deadline. Most program deadlines typically fall within a span of 7-9 months prior to the program’s commencement date. Remember, thorough preparation and careful time management are key to a successful application.

When is the right time to apply for graduate school?

Some students apply to grad school straight from undergraduate degrees, but it’s also common to return to school later in life. If you’re not sure yet whether you’re ready to apply for graduate school, ask yourself these questions.

Career and field

  • Are you considering a career change? Many individuals pursue graduate school to transition into fields such as nursing, physical therapy, medicine, business, marketing, or communications.
  • Do you need a graduate degree to advance in your chosen field? Some fields, like law, research, healthcare, and business, typically require advanced degrees for career progression. However, in areas like software engineering or data analytics, practical experience may hold more weight.
  • How much work experience is recommended before applying to graduate school? MBA programs often prefer applicants with several years of professional experience, while medical school is sometimes pursued immediately after completing an undergraduate degree.

Personal considerations

  • Do you have the bandwidth to dedicate most of your attention to school at this stage of your life?
  • Are you open to relocating, either within your country or abroad, if necessary? If not, considering graduate schools within your local area might be more suitable.
  • Does your current family situation allow you to pursue further education?

Financial Considerations

  • Do you have enough savings or a realistic financial plan to finance your graduate education? If you’re considering government loans, it’s essential to carefully evaluate the repayment terms based on your projected income after graduation.
  • Can you afford to reduce or modify your work commitments without significant financial strain?
  • Are the graduate programs you’re interested in flexible enough to accommodate part-time work? Keep in mind that certain fields, like medicine, often require full-time commitments. Additionally, studying abroad might have visa restrictions that affect your ability to work part-time.

Considering these aspects will help inform your decision on the right time to embark on graduate school.

Month-by-month timeline for grad school applications

When it comes to applying to graduate school, planning ahead is key. Ideally, you should start considering graduate school options around 18 months before you intend to begin your studies. Keep in mind that application deadlines for most programs fall between 7 to 9 months prior to the start date. This gives you a reasonable timeline of 6 to 9 months to gather all the necessary materials, secure recommendation letters, and complete any required exams.

It’s worth noting that certain fields, such as medicine, may have different timelines. Additionally, some areas of study, like law, follow rolling deadlines, meaning that submitting your applications earlier can work in your favor.

The timeline presented below reflects the typical schedule with a December submission deadline. If your deadline differs, be sure to adjust your timeline accordingly.

MonthKey Tasks
MarchSelect programs of interest and initiate test preparation.
AprilProgress with test studies and solicit letters of recommendation.
MaySit for initial standardized tests and finalize the list of target programs.
JuneCheck in with recommenders and research funding opportunities.
JulyAcquire past transcripts and consider retesting if scores were suboptimal.
AugustDraft personal and statement of purpose documents.
SeptemberRefine personal statements and maintain recommended communication.
OctoberReattempt exams if previous scores were unsatisfactory.
NovemberFinalize statement of purpose.
DecemberEnsure completion of application components and prompt recommenders for final submissions.
JanuaryFor U.S. applicants, file the FAFSA for loan eligibility.
Late February–AprilAwait admission decisions, visit campuses, arrange finances, and confirm chosen institutions.


First, determine the specific type of graduate program you wish to pursue and begin exploring potential schools that align with your preferences. Engage in discussions with former professors or current supervisors to obtain insights on suitable programs to target.

Many programs offer valuable data regarding accepted students’ test scores, undergraduate grades, as well as work and research experience. Aim for ambitious goals while remaining practical about your chances of acceptance. It is advisable to consider a mix of programs that are likely to offer you admission.

Furthermore, ensure to register for and commence preparation for the standardized test required by your chosen program. Remember that different programs may mandate different exams, so carefully review the program’s website for precise information.


Keep up with your preparation for standardized tests. Take advantage of the resources available at your local library, where you can often borrow study books for free. Make it a point to allocate some time each day for studying, as this will help turn it into a regular habit. Additionally, it’s time to start reaching out to potential recommenders for those much-needed recommendation letters.


It’s important to take the necessary standardized test, especially if you’re aiming for a specific target score. Remember, you can always take the test multiple times without penalty and choose to send your best score. However, keep in mind that each attempt comes with a significant cost, so it’s not advisable to completely slack off!

When applying to different programs, it’s helpful to create a list with all the important information. One tip is to organize this information in a spreadsheet, including required materials, application fees, links to the online application sign-in, recommenders for each program, and deadlines. This organized approach will be highly beneficial throughout the application process.


It’s a good idea to follow up on your recommendation letters. Now is a great time to start meeting with potential recommenders in person. Don’t forget to update your resume so that you can share it with them, which will help them write you a strong letter.

Another important step is to assess if you’ll need additional funding. Creating a monthly budget that includes expected expenses like rent, food, transportation, prorated monthly tuition/fees, and any other potential costs will give you a clearer picture. If the total exceeds what you currently have in savings or expect to receive as financial support (including loans), then seeking additional assistance is necessary.

In case you need funding, it’s worth exploring various options. Programs like the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program can provide support but usually require additional essays and have earlier deadlines. Be sure to plan accordingly and not miss out on any opportunities.


If you haven’t done so already, now is the perfect time to start requesting your transcripts. Remember, for most graduate applications, it’s crucial to request transcripts from every university you’ve attended, even if it was for just a semester or if it’s in another country.

Also, if you weren’t satisfied with your standardized exam scores on your first attempt, don’t hesitate to retake them. It’s an opportunity to strive for better results and improve your chances of success.


It’s time to start crafting your statement of purpose! A statement of purpose is a concise essay where you delve into your academic and professional interests and provide insights into your background. Additionally, you might need to write a personal statement, which allows you to share your personal journey and motivations for pursuing graduate school. This part provides an opportunity to highlight the unique perspective you bring and how it can contribute to the program’s diversity. Let your voice shine through as you share your story and aspirations.


When sending your statement of purpose and personal statement to your recommenders, it can greatly assist them in crafting strong recommendation letters for you, as well as provide an opportunity for valuable feedback. Additionally, it is advisable to have a trusted friend, family member, or professional editor review your statements to ensure they flow clearly and to identify any grammatical errors.

Keep in mind that your statement of purpose should be comprehensible to any professional in your field, even if they specialize in a different sub-discipline. Graduate programs typically rely on committees of professors from various areas to evaluate applications, which means your statement may not be read by an expert in your specific interest. It is important to make your statement compelling and accessible to a broad audience within your field.


October is generally your last chance to retake any standardized exam whose scores you’re not happy with.


Craft a polished statement of purpose and a compelling personal statement. Consider taking a week-long break from your applications to revisit them with a fresh perspective and renewed focus.


This month is extremely important for submitting your graduate applications. Make sure to remind your recommenders about the approaching deadlines and complete all the necessary steps for your application process. Double-check that your well-crafted resume, transcripts, and compelling personal statement are ready. Then, proceed to upload these documents and don’t forget to take care of any application fees that may be required.


If you’re an American student considering taking out loans to finance your degree, it’s crucial to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). By completing this application, you’ll become eligible for a loan that can cover up to 100% of your degree’s total expenses, encompassing both tuition fees and living costs.

February to April

Graduate school results typically arrive within this specific timeframe. During March and April, numerous graduate schools host in-person visit days, some of which may cover your transportation and lodging expenses. These visits provide an excellent opportunity to interact with faculty members and current students, allowing you to ask questions and gain insights.

When selecting a graduate program, it’s crucial to consider how well the program aligns with your interests, in addition to its reputation. It’s also important to pay attention to the program’s job placement and career outcomes after graduation.

For research degrees, it’s vital to carefully evaluate potential supervisors, keeping in mind that some advisors may leave. Avoid choosing a program solely based on one potential supervisor.

To gather valuable insights, try engaging with current students in a casual setting, where you may feel more comfortable asking questions. Inquire about work expectations, such as time off and fairness, particularly in doctoral programs that span several years.

Always review the details of any funding that you may receive, paying close attention to any teaching or post-graduate work commitments. Choose your options wisely!

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