Use this timeline to kickstart your grad-school planning! It will help you think through yearly goals to better prepare for your graduate education.

Graduate School Timeline

two to three years before applying

  • It’s never too early to start brainstorming!
  • If you’re thinking about attending a research-intensive program, consider getting involved in research and planning to write a senior thesis.
  • If you’re thinking about law school or health professions, connect with your school’s pre-professional advisers. For pre-med, you’ll probably want to meet with a pre-professional adviser in your first or second year to understand how to fit the academic requirements into your course schedule.

one year before applying

  • Solidify what area of study you’d like to pursue.
  • Speak with advisers, professors, and career counselors about your interest in graduate school. Seek out advice and suggestions. Remember, you’ll be reaching out to your faculty advisers for letters of recommendation. The better they understand your interest in graduate school, the stronger a recommendation they’ll be able to write.
  • Research institutions and programs.
  • Contact schools and visit their admissions sites for application forms, application deadlines, course listings, and financial aid information.
  • Gather information about financial aid: scholarships, fellowships, and graduate and teaching assistantships.
  • Register and prepare for any necessary graduate admissions tests, such as the GRE, LSAT, GMAT, or MCAT. Medical and law school applicants will need to register for national application services: AMCAS for medical school and LSDAS for law school.

the summer before applying

  • Take required graduate admissions tests.
  • Continue gathering admissions, program, and funding information.
  • Visit prospective schools, if appropriate, and talk to admissions staff, current students, and faculty.
  • Reflect on how you can incorporate what you’ve learned about department research and initiatives into your application essays.
  • Draft application essays. Solicit feedback from your advisers and Writing Center consultants. Revise, revise, revise!

 the semester you’re applying

  • Take required graduate admissions tests if you haven’t already.
  • Request letters of recommendation from faculty and supervisors who know your work. Try to ask at least one month before the deadline!
  • Look into Columbia’s dossier services, which allow you to forward files (i.e., transcripts, essays, and recommendation letters) directly to graduate schools.
  • Based on the school requirements, gather and submit your application, including admissions test reports, official transcript, letters of recommendation, and application essays.
  • Complete necessary financial aid applications such as the FAFSA, as well as scholarship and fellowship applications.

after you’ve applied

  • Find out if admissions interviews are part of the application process.
  • Once you receive admissions decisions, consider visiting institutions or speaking with faculty and current students if you haven’t already. Reach out to your support system for help evaluating your options.
  • Form a contingency plan in case you aren’t accepted to any programs. This might include working, interning, volunteering, or taking relevant courses.
  • Once you’ve made the decision to attend a program, notify the other institutions you are still waiting to hear from of your plans.
  • Send thank you letters to your recommendation writers, letting them know your plans.

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