Let’s map this out for SIPA as an example, with an application deadline for 2016 of February 5. **Always double and triple check deadlines! (Don’t just take my word for it!) September 2015:
- Print out a list of the application requirements and paste it next to your computer or on your fridge. Wherever you’ll see it so you don’t forget. You don’t want February 1 to come along and you realize you’re missing something critical!
- Make a sketch outline of your personal statement. This will help you in a few of the other steps below. It doesn’t need to be pretty, just it should make sense. Be able to answer the questions of Why do you want to go to this grad program? Why now? What are your professional goals and how will this program help you reach them?
- Test scores! Make sure you’ve taken or have time to take whatever is required for the program. (GRE in the case of SIPA.) Make sure the scores have been sent to the right program. You also want to check that your scores meet any minimum requirement and if they don’t you may consider taking the test again or postponing your application until you can increase your score.
- Set up a school visit. See my blog post about the decision to visit the programs that interest you, but the bottom line is DO THE VISIT. Review your sketch outline of your personal statement before your visit and be ready to answer questions if you speak to an admissions dean or a professor (you should absolutely do both!)
- Consider signing up for the Comprehensive Package with The Art of Applying. The sooner you sign up, the sooner you’ll have a coach to help you through this process. Make sure to stay on top of deadlines you set with your coach so she can be of most help to you in editing your documents and helping you make decisions.
- Reach out to your recommenders and secure their commitment to recommend you. You’ll need that sketch outline of your personal statement for this too so you can write them compelling reasons why you want to go to grad school! Do this early so if you don’t hear back or something says they’re too busy you have time to find an alternate.
- Request your transcripts. You never know how long this could take and it’s a silly thing to be missing. It’s also an easy thing to check off your application list.
November/December 2015: Maybe you have a few days off over Thanksgiving? Or some around the winter holiday time? This is a great time to tick some items off your list:
- Write out a first draft of your Personal Statement. You already have your talking points so this should be easy. Read blog posts on The Art of Applying’s website for pointers on Personal Statements for the schools to which you’re applying.
- Write a first draft of your second essay (“Describe yourself to a future employer”). See my blog post about this one, and make sure you have a draft ready for multiple friends to read over. This is a critical component of your application and not something to leave until the last minute.
- Fellowships: Some fellowship or scholarship applications and essays are due at the same time as your application, so don’t wait until the last minute to explore options and get those materials together. A fellowship could make the difference between you going to grad school or not, so don’t sit on this part of your application!
- Complete the Application Form. There may be questions and information required that need some digging up. Again this is an easy thing to complete and then you just cross it off the list and can use your final month before the deadline to focus on the harder parts of the application process.
December 2015/January 2016:
- Refine your resume. This should be another easy thing to check off the application list, but don’t leave it to the last minute. Have someone proofread it even if you think it’s great already! There’s no excuse for a typo on your resume.
- Hammer out your Quantitative Resume. This shouldn’t take too much time but does require going back over your undergraduate transcripts and reviewing your standard resume. Get it done and out of the way so you can spend the final month before the deadline honing in on your essays.
- Complete final versions of your personal statement and second essay. And then double and triple check the essays for typos. Have someone else look them over too!
- Complete a draft of the Optional Essay. It’s optional so make sure you are solidly on your way to completing the required essays, but don’t leave the optional essay until the last minute or you’re likely to opt out and there’s no reason not to include it. As with all other essays, leave time for friends to review it and give you feedback. (i.e. don’t finish your first draft on January 31!)
January (slash, February) 2016:
- Double and triple check that you have ALL components of your application in. Double and triple check that every piece has been proofread by you and others. Double and triple check that you have the correct versions of everything. Double and triple check that your recommenders have submitted their recommendations.
- Submit your application fee.
- Submit your application!
Sounds simple, right? (Hint: It is!)