Grad School Application Checklist: 10 Months Out

It’s time to keep paring down your list of prospective graduate schools.

Ten months before applying to grad school, you should be further refining your checklist of prospective schools.
Ten months before applying to grad school, you should be further refining your checklist of prospective schools.

This is the third installment of our series on what you should be doing in advance of submitting your graduate school applications. Remember: You do not want to wait until the last minute to pull everything together. This usually ends up with you rushing, making unnecessary mistakes, and thereby lessening your chances of being admitted.

Here are 5 suggestions for what to do 10 months before your application deadlines:

1. Complete your research spreadsheet: For more on what that entails, see last week's post on what to do 11 months out. At this point, you should be filling in every column on the spreadsheet for each of the options, such as how responsive prospective schools are and how easily navigable their websites are.

As you go along, you will likely eliminate some programs on your list. That is OK. As a consumer, you should be engaging in comparison shopping. This is the time to do your due diligence and get as much information as you can.

[Learn what you should be doing 12 months before applying to grad school.]

2. Create a general ranking of remaining options: After you complete the entire spreadsheet, it's time to rank the remaining prospective programs that have made the cut. Start with No. 1 and go through the list. Or, if you prefer, group your options: top group, second group, third group, etc.

At this point in your research, you should have at least five options left that you are excited about. Hopefully, you will have many more than five; however, depending on the type of graduate program you seek, the number of options will vary.

My point is that you are still not at the place where you need to have a short list. With 10 months remaining before you need to submit your grad applications, you will have several opportunities to narrow your list.

3. Assess the general ranking you've constructed: As you look over the new list you created, ask yourself if the ranking is truly based on what you feel. Did you get enough information to complete your ranking? Did you fill in all of the columns in your spreadsheet? If not, this is the time to take another dive into the research.

[Read about four graduate school myths debunked.]

4. Don't consider your list set in stone: This next tip isn't something you need to do, so much as an attitude to embrace. You should feel free to change your spreadsheet evaluations at any point in your application checklist process.

As you learn more about your prospective schools, and as you have further contact with them, it's only natural that you will decide to move some up or down on your overall list. That is another great reason to take plenty of time to do your research. First impressions, while important, are often subject to change.

5. Consider taking a grad-level course or two: Perhaps you were an undergraduate student a while ago, or you may have received your bachelor's degree very recently but aren't comfortable with your undergraduate GPA. If either of those things are true, you should register at a local institution as a non-degree student and take one or two courses.

The courses need not relate directly to your intended field of study. A basic English, history, math, or philosophy course will be fine. If you earn an A or B in the course, be sure to alert the graduate school admissions committees when you submit your applications. The officials will likely take it as an indication that you are able to perform well as a student at this point in your educational career.