You are finally applying to grad school, but you have just about three months in which to do so. If you missed Part I in this two-part series about how to accomplish this feat, you can find it here. Part I covers how to use month 1 to strategize and start. With a strategic plan tailored to what you must accomplish, and the discipline to follow it, you can apply on time and even submit an application that stands out for the right reasons.
After you have gotten clear on why and how you will apply to grad school, and identified and contacted those who will help you along your journey, it is time to zoom in on “the little things”. Breaking your application journey into small, daily tasks is key; do each task to the best of your ability, and your final product will shine. Here are the steps to take in months two and three.
MONTH 2: WRITE YOUR WAY IN
- Find your CV/ resume. Ensure that it reflects your latest and most relevant achievements in a convincing way. Your CV, like your personal statement, functions as a marketing document. It must be clear, cohesive, and as convincing as possible. If your CV needs to be updated, start tweaking it, and approach a friend or professional to help you review it once you are done.
- In month 1, week 3, you approached your recommenders. Now it is time to give your recommenders an information packet to refer to as they write on your behalf. It should include the main message you will explore in your personal statement, your CV, and information on your chosen program(s). Give them a specific date by which to submit their letter, and make them aware that you will remind them about the deadline. Add the dates to remind them to your personal calendar.
- Continue studying for your standardized test. Take a timed practice test at the end of the week, review it thoroughly, and note the areas which need improvement.
- Begin writing your personal statement according to your time table. Create an outline that expounds on your main message, and start fleshing out the outline. If you are writing multiple statements, prioritize the one for the program you most want to get into or the one which will require the most effort (research, writing, editing). As much as is possible, work on one statement at a time.
- Continue updating your CV/ resume. Ensure it is focused on the impact you have had in relevant professional roles, not on the tasks you have performed in these jobs. Admissions officers don’t care that you “Entered data in a spreadsheet daily,” they care about what you made possible by doing that.
- Open an application at all the schools to which you will be applying. Thoroughly review each application form—ensure that you are aware of any and all short essays/ commentaries requested and the format in which you are expected to submit your CV (as a Word document or PDF file, or typed directly into a form the school supplies). This will help you accurately estimate how much time you need to complete each application.
- Continue studying for your standardized test. Take a timed practice test at the end of the week, review it thoroughly, and note the areas that still need improvement. Block out a few hours on the weekend to complete and review as many practice questions focused on your problem areas as possible.
- Continue writing your main personal statement. Give yourself a deadline, by the end of the week, to send a completed draft to those reviewing your statement.
- On Thursday, use these three tips to make sure your personal statement draft is as strong as it can be. On Friday, send your draft, the writing prompt, and a description of the program to your editor.
- Continue updating your CV/ resume. Ensure it complements the main message in your personal statement. The information in your CV should corroborate what you explore in your personal statement. It should also tell a story of its own—one that has no holes.
- Continue studying for your standardized test. Take a timed practice test at the end of the week, review it thoroughly, and note the areas that require that you fine-tune your knowledge.
- Send your CV/resume to a friend or a professional to be edited. Get help. Two sharp minds are better than one. It is much better to do everything you can to prepare a strong application and ensure that you only need to apply once than to submit a mediocre application and run the risk of having to reapply.
- Edit your main personal statement based on feedback you have received. It is important to find reviewers who you trust so that you don’t question the validity of their feedback.
- Check in on the delivery status of your recommendations and transcripts. Communicate with your recommenders in a respectful, eager manner, but not in an entitled manner.
- Review the application fees for each school and ensure you are on track to pay them.
- Continue studying for your standardized test. Take and review at least two timed practice tests during this week. Once you have mastered your problem areas, exposing yourself to as many past questions as possible will increase your confidence.
MONTH 3: TEST, FINALIZE YOUR WRITING, AND APPLY
By now, your main personal statement and your CV should be in robust shape. This means you should be able to complete both with as little as 30 minutes of work each day over the next few days. It’s time to focus on writing additional personal statements, filling out your application forms, and taking any outstanding tests.
Weeks 1 and 2
- Review what you wrote down in month 1, week 1. Remind yourself why going to graduate school is the best move you can make in your life right now, then remind yourself that as important as this is to you, you have an abundance of options in your life. You don’t need to worry, because your ability to create and enjoy a fulfilling life does not rest solely on getting into your top choice school.
- Devote just an hour or two each day (or every other day) to writing and editing your remaining personal statements. As before, try to work on one statement at a time. If you find that you are staring at the computer screen but not making progress, ask those supporting you for help rather than letting the time go to waste. Sometimes a quick conversation is all you need to get ideas flowing.
- Remind your recommenders to upload their letters on your behalf. In your email, include the web links they must use to do so. Check each program’s application system for confirmation that the letters have been delivered.
- Take and review at least two timed practice tests during each week. In week 2, test closer towards the beginning of the week, and leave a few days between your last practice test and the actual test.
- Take your standardized test. You did it!
- Devote three to four hours each day to editing and copyediting your personal statements and CV/resume. Ensure that you have followed all formatting directives, including margin widths, fonts, placement of your name and applicant number etc.
- Triple check that your recommendations and transcript(s) have been submitted.
- Upload your personal statements and CV/resume.
- Complete your application forms. Review your forms to ensure you have uploaded the correct documents, according to submission regulations.
- Submit your applications.
Take a few days to rest and celebrate this bold step you have taken towards achieving the goals you have for yourself. Be sure to thank those who supported you during the process.
In the weeks to come, if you need to, start searching for scholarships that can give you more discretionary income with which to enjoy your graduate school experience. Otherwise, start thinking about how you want to spend the last few months before you head off to school. If you managed to impress the admissions committee, it won’t be long from now.