When to Start Preparing to Apply to Graduate School
Around September or October is when many universities start publishing the current year’s information on applying to graduate programs. If you are certain about applying to Ph.D. programs, it is a good idea to start soon thereafter to get your application package together. Getting into grad school is likely to be a huge influencing decision on your intended career path. For this reason is a really bad idea to wait until the last minute to start working on your application package.
Take the GRE
GRE testing examinations only occur a select number of times across the year, so make sure you know the deadlines to apply, and then register. Whether it’s your first time or you’ve taken the GRE before and want to improve your score, there no better than now to purchase your GRE test preparation materials and start studying! If you need to take the GRE Subject Test, start prepping for that as well.
Ph.D. Program Search
First things first… You need to know which Ph.D. programs to apply to. Start by identifying your research interests and aligning with a particular program. Use the Internet as a tool to identify a potential faculty mentor at your program of choice. Faculty-student fit is a key factor in getting accepted to top ranked Ph.D. programs, so make sure that your research interests align with a mentor. If you get the chance, visit a few universities, or at the very least email contact your potential advisor to make sure they are accepting new students in this application cycle.
Start planning out your personal statement now! You will likely want to do a bit of personal reflection to clearly convey your specific research interests and vision for your career. In addition, you will want to figure out how to clearly organize your admissions essay and present a very strong argument for why you are a good fit for the program. Because this is such an influential piece of the application package, you will likely go through several drafts until the final version. Do yourself a favor and begin now to develop a strong piece of writing.
Letter of Recommendation
You already know… Your TAs and/or professors are very busy people. You will absolutely NOT want to wait until the last minute to express your interest in graduate school or ask for a letter of recommendation. As the semester progresses, these busy people get even busier, and may have already committed to writing lots of other students’ letters. Be proactive to make sure you aren’t left out in the cold. Not only that, but your recommender will very much appreciate the foresight involved in preserving their time.