Life cycles are interesting: learning how a cocoon transforms into a butterfly is a story of determination and triumph. In the same way, getting into a grad school and landing the program you’ve always dreamed of is definitely not easy, and the process is definitely not short. However, it is infinitely rewarding, and it can be a very stress free process if properly managed, planned and guided.
This is probably the perfect time to think about this, given that the typical application cycle usually stretches from March of one year to the March of the next. Hence, you have ample time to internalize this calendar, and plan to fit your application plans in with the rest of your busy schedule.
Here is a look at one possible year long cycle for a Grad School applicant; there may be variations depending on when you’re thinking of applying, and what kind of course you’re applying to. We have also given you a brief glimpse of what each step entails.
March, Year 0: Strategy
In the first year, you can start thinking seriously about applications in March, approximately. In case you are still in college, this will be a little more than a year before you graduate. In case you are working, it is about 1.5 years before you will join a foreign university, so it gives you enough time (in either case) to prepare yourself for the time and energy you will need to spend on cracking the GRE and the application.
At this time, you should think about the field in which you want to apply, and talk to as many people as possible (for example, expert GRE coaches and Admissions Consultants like Jamboree) to ratify your choice of field of application, and to help you evaluate your own profile, to see whether you will be able to give yourself a good chance of admission, should you apply to a given program. Once you are sure that you should apply in a given field, and that you have a decent shot at success, you can start planning.
Finally, you start planning. In case you need further experience in a certain area to strengthen your application (again, expert advisors will come in handy here) you should quickly move to secure an internship or research assistantship so that you can gain that experience. In case you need to improve marks in some area before you apply, you might want to take on extra summer courses (in case that’s an option) or work on your next semester’s marks. If you want to make your application better from an all round perspective, there’s an entire year to work on that, and no time like the present – especially if you want to get involved with volunteer work. Finally, you need a coach and a mentor for all of this, and you need to settle on the best option for you.
By the end of March, you should have a roadmap towards your seat in grad school, and be ready and poised to execute against that roadmap.
April – May, Year 0: Filling up the experience section
Basis your strategy, you should have a clear plan of how to fill the gaps in your research / professional experience, and should be able to secure an internship or other position to help fill the prominent gaps. In fact, you should already have confirmed your internship well before March; the check in March is only to confirm that it matches your requirements.
One important thing about your internship is that you are not only relying on it for a large chunk of your application, but are also potentially thinking of securing a recommendation from your guide on the project. Therefore, you will need to work as hard and as smartly as possible, and keep your eyes focused on the results, and proving impact for your project to get the kind of recognition it needs. Remember, this will make or break your entire application.
April – May, Year 0: Initiating GRE preparation
Along with your summer project (or relevant project in case you are already working) you could also start preparation for the GRE, both to give yourself a break from the project work, as well as to give yourself a longer time window for preparation. It might not be possible to attend classroom coaching sessions (in our experience, those always have the most impact), but weekend sessions and / or remote training through DVDs are a great way to make sure that you’re up to date with everything that’s being taught to others taking the test, and are also able to evaluate your own performance and preparation regularly with the help of sample tests.
An early start on the GRE will help you score more in the long run; this is a no-brainer, and we have a lot of data that we have collected over the years that proves just this.
June – August, Year 0: Giving the GRE
In case you haven’t given it earlier, this time of year is usually good, as it is far enough removed from the application deadlines that no last minute work will happen, and it also enables you to spend at least 3-6 months on both tasks, without overlapping effort. Give your GRE when you are sure that you are at the peak of your preparation.
The exact choice of your GRE date is a function of many variables. First, you should be able to ensure at least two weeks’ vacation (or virtual vacation) before the date of your test. In addition, you should be able to get the date you want, by booking far enough in advance. Finally, you should be confident that you will finish all your preparation well before test date, so that you have a few buffer days in hand in case of surprises.
September – November, Year 0: Shortlisting universities; getting into the groove
Once you have given your GRE and hopefully scored very well, it is time for the home stretch. You will start by making your final list of universities to apply to, and categorizing them as dream programs, safe programs and others. You should also immerse yourself in the application world, and work with your application counsellors – for example, Jamboree’s grad school application experts – and other mentors to understand exactly what your application will entail, and start thinking of what you want to cover in it. This time period is all about getting the small details right, and preparing yourself for the months of application writing – and tense waiting – that lie ahead.
December, Year 0 – January, Year 1: Writing applications, completing formalities
The last part of your year long journey is also the most critical. Every university on your short list will have a different deadline over a two month period, and you will need to create a base application, and tailor it to every program to which you are applying. The first part – creation of a base application – is something that you will create well before you start applying, and iterate on with your coaches and mentors. The key for success here is to show it to people who have seen many successful applications before, and have been able to guide people with your profile and background to apply successfully in the past. The second part – tailoring – is something that you have to do based on extensive research about each program, so that it neither comes across as too impersonal (in case you send exactly the same thing everywhere) or too rehearsed (in case you tell every university that your childhood dream was to study there).
In addition, you will need to complete all the other formalities – transcripts, application questions, recommendation letters, and so on.
March, Year 1: Success!
After you have completed all the hard work of completing your application, you will have an anxious month or so during which you wait for your app results. However, your year of hard work will pay off when you get the accept emails, and feel on top of the world as you see your dreams within reach. At this time, remember that you were able to succeed because you started early, worked hard, and always had a plan to succeed.
We hope that this Jamboree in depth feature gave you clarity into the application process, and convinced you that it’s definitely not going to be all stress but that, if planned properly, can be a hugely rewarding process that stretches over a year, and teaches you as much as it rewards you at the end of it.
In case you want help or support with any part of your journey to Grad School, we at Jamboree can help. Our two decades of experience coaching candidates for the GRE has made us ideal test prep partners: we do it all well, from teaching to practice. In addition, our expert mentors and guides will be able to craft the perfect plan for you to gain admission to the course of your dreams, and advise you at every step of the way.