Grad School Tip of the Month: When to Do What

Fall is not only the time for colorful leaves and cooler weather; it’s also the time to get cracking on those grad school applications!  Here’s a timeline to help you get organized for the fall. We realize some of these dates will vary depending on the due dates of your specific schools; this schedule assumes December and January application due dates.  

September of your Senior Year:

  • Sign up to take the GREs if you haven’t done so already.  Determine if you will need to take a subject test.  The subject test is only offered three times a year.
  • Decide who you will ask to write letters of recommendation (usually need 3) and start prepping your information packet for them.  Letter writers will likely ask for a resume, undergraduate transcript, and draft of your personal statement.


  • Finalize the schools to which you will be applying. One rule of thumb might be to apply to 4-7 masters programs or 7-12 doctoral programs, but those numbers could vary depending on the specific schools to which you are applying, their competitiveness, and the number of spots available in the programs. Those interested in doctoral programs might also consider applying to a masters program or two. If you have added any schools at the last minute, double check whether you will need to request additional GRE score reports. 
  • Ask faculty for letters of recommendation (see
  • Begin filling out application and financial aid forms. Note that many schools will require more than one application (general graduate school plus departmental application).
  • Write first drafts of personal statement and have several people read these over.
  • Think about what you could use as a writing sample (if necessary for the application).


  • Send transcripts to the schools to which you are applying. These will often need to be official transcripts sent from the University itself, and you may need to send official transcripts from every institution you have attended (e.g., if you are a transfer student). Note that there are typically fees associated with obtaining transcripts.
  • Finalize applications, financial aid forms, writing sample (if necessary), and personal statements. Make sure you answer the specific questions for each school in your personal statements.
  • Give your letter of recommendation writers an organized list of schools, deadlines, and forms (online or paper). You should provide at least two week’s notice and more (e.g., a month), if possible. Keep in mind that faculty members are writing letters for many students at the same time.


  • Submit your applications! If you are submitting a paper copy, xerox a copy of your application for your records.