Think of the graduate school application process as a project: adopt a systematic approach that will help you stay organized and meet all the deadlines. As students become increasingly mobile, you might be considering schools in different countries that have very different application “cultures”. This checklist will help you navigate the process. Tweak, complete and adjust to suit your needs:
Clarify your goals
Why get a graduate degree? Do you wish to improve your career prospects? To impact public policy? To specialize? Write down your personal goals, hopes and aspirations and be as specific – and honest - as possible.
Do you “own” all your goals? Or do you need to manage other people’s expectations – a sponsor, employer or parent, perhaps? These can go in a separate list.
Be clear. Striving for clarity early on will ensure that your future choices stay aligned with your goals. This will make it easier to adjust your project as your objectives evolve over time. When your project is fully aligned, it’s an easy “sell” to the selection committee.
Review your schools list
Do the schools match your goals? If your research project is your highest priority, do recent faculty publications indicate expertise in this topic? Do the student and alumni communities reflect your networking needs?
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Make sure that your list includes a couple of schools where you are confident of your chances of admission, as well as your dream, or “reach” school. Remember that many different routes can lead to success, but don’t overload yourself with too many applications.
Reality check: if admitted, is there something that would make it impossible for you to attend a certain school, such as cost or distance?
Clarify application requirements
What will each school need from you? Transcripts, testing, writing samples, perhaps an interview? If you’re not 100% sure, ask – an incomplete application file might not be considered.
Note down all the deadlines for each school. Estimate how long you will need to prepare each step of the process, and note these dates working backwards from each deadline. For example, if you need to submit the results of a standardized test (GRE, TOEFL…), check how long they will take and register for a test date early enough. Don’t underestimate how long you will take to write your cover letter or order transcripts.
Include a safety margin in your calendar. Admission officers tell endless tales of computer crashes, and even regional power outages, preventing applicants from pressing “submit” a minute before midnight. Give yourself a few extra days!
Stay in touch
Who can help? Note the contact details of the people who can help you at each school: usually, the admission officers. How do they connect with their applicants? Phone, e-mail, social media… Can you count on them to reach out if you forget a document, or are you expected to check proactively? Is a campus visit an option, if necessary?
Graduate study will require you to be organized, independent, proactive and accurate, and this starts right with the application.
If you have any questions about applying to the Graduate Institute, write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org!