Let’s say you’ve already decided which grad school program to pursue. Now you just need to settle on a school. Herewith is Twainstein’s 2013 Grad School Selection Primer. Included in each step is a suggested timeframe for its completion.
STEP ONE: Pay a visit to www.gradschools.com and do a search for the degree and program you are interested in (i.e. Masters in Physical Therapy). Unless you are pursuing a decidedly obscure field (Cryptic Eyptology, for instance) your search will yield a score of results. Fret not. What you want to do now is divide them into neat groups so that you can easily winnow them down and separate the wheat from the chaff. First thing’s first–eliminate any school whose location says online. Unless you’re looking for a drive-thru education, ignore these Wannabe U’s. Second, take another look at location and eliminate those campuses that dwell in cities you can’t fathom living in for 3-5 years. Chop! This should leave between 10-15 schools. These are the ones whose Visit Website button you want to click on and start reading about.
TIME FRAME: Spring of the year that you are applying. (For example, if you intend to enroll in fall 2014, this step should be conducted in spring 2013).
STEP TWO: Whittle your list down to seven schools. You heard me–seven. No more, perhaps less. Five to seven is a perfect number. In reading about the programs you will inevitably fall in love with one that puts into words exactly what your interests are and you will be floored that a program like this even exists. This is your dream school. Others will come close but something inside tells you that this is the ideal place for you–location, faculty interests, research facilities and curriculum all fit you like a custom-tailored suit. Of the seven schools, select FIVE that you will be applying to. You heard me–five. Let’s be clear about this: Applying to more than five grad schools is dumb. It will not only water down each individual application’s strength (less time to devote to each) but also, and perhaps more fatally, will cause them all to look alike (less time to customize each). More than anything else, using generic application essays for a multitude of schools rings the death knell for any applicant. Upon completion of step two you now have your list of schools. Time to apply.
TIME FRAME: Step Two should be completed by early summer.
STEP THREE: This step is going to require some leg work on your part. Most major universities will have information sessions and such–both live and online–for prospective students. You want to satisfy all of the following for each school before you start filling out the application and brainstorming your essays:
- Online information webinars.
- Live information session in your city.
- Invitations to visit the campus and talk to students/administrators/faculty (if you can afford it).
- Visit a class or two on campus.
TIME FRAME: Set aside the entire summer for this step–you’ll need it. Take your time and enjoy learning about the different programs. Keep a journal if you can and, who knows, you may even discover that what you thought was your dream school is replaced by one that’s a better match.
STEP FOUR: With the end of summer and all of your research about the various programs for which you will submit applications complete, it’s time now to submit letter of recommendation requests. Do this before you fill out a single field in the application. Why? It takes time. If you are applying for early round submissions they are usually due sometime between October-December; later round deadlines are typically January-March. (Incidentally, the term “application season” in the grad school world refers to the six months between October and March.)
TIME FRAME: All of October. Use this month to decide who you want to request letters from and give them a six week heads-up before deadlines.
STEP FIVE: Begin brainstorming your essays. Not writing them–brainstorming them. Trust us when we say, these essays will require some deep self-examination about your motivations, inspirations and perspirations (accomplishments). Deciding which elements of your life to include, how to cast light on them, all while weaving together an overarching theme of who you are as a “brand” is not an exercise that can be accomplished in one sitting.
TIME FRAME: A week in late October, when all LOR request have been submitted will be sufficient to get a clearer idea of what you want your message to the adcoms to be.
STEP SIX: At this point, the back-end work having been completed, the front-end load of actually completing the application awaits you. Be sure not to miss the submission deadline and try not to work on more than one application at a time. Once you complete one application, move onto another. Remember, you will have between 3-5 to complete. You will find that applying this one-at-a-time strategy will benefit you when themes in your personal statement and supporting essays start emerging that you can develop and incorporate into other school’s applications.
TIME FRAME: The holidays. Thanksgiving and the various religious holidays of December are the high point of application season, when deadlines approach. Make it a goal to have essays complete before the calendar turns; just not at the expense of submitting a rush job to meet the goal.
STEP SEVEN: The most agonizing part of your journey: doing nothing. Absolutely…nothing. Waiting….and waiting…and waiting some more. It can be excrutiating, especially if you’ve really vested yourself in this seven-step seven month process diligently. You want an answer. Unfortunately, an answer will not come for another 6-8 weeks. That is how long it typically takes to get either an interview request or a decision letter (which these days comes in the form of an email; less romantic than the days of yore when the mad-dash to the mailbox with bated breath was a daily occurrence).
TIME FRAME: It will seem like forever but in most cases, you will know one way or the other by mid-March.