Grad School Application Checklist: 6 Months Out

Even at this early stage, students should be reviewing application instructions.

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Grad school hopefuls should check application instructions early on so they aren’t surprised by deadlines.
Grad school hopefuls should check application instructions early on so they aren’t surprised by deadlines.

This is the seventh installment of our series on what you should be doing in advance of submitting your graduate school applications. Six months before applying, begin reviewing the instructions for each application you will complete.

Why do this so far ahead of time? You want to be sure you know exactly what is required well in advance so that you are not caught off guard and can adequately prepare all of the application components. In addition, application requirements differ from program to program. Here are a few examples:

Faculty contact: Some programs ask you to contact a faculty member, outlining your interest in his or her area of expertise, and providing information about your background. That faculty member then communicates with the admissions committee, with either a confirmation that you contacted them, or in some cases, with a recommendation about your candidacy.

[Learn how to contact professors as a grad school applicant.]

Interviews: Some programs require an interview of all candidates before they submit their applications. Others conduct interviews with all applicants after they have formally applied. And in other cases, interviews are conducted with selected candidates, by invitation only.

Additional info: In addition to essays, some programs will request an additional writing sample or ask applicants to prepare a video presentation as part of the application.

[Learn how to strike the right tone in MBA essays.]

When reviewing application instructions on schools' websites, be sure to check the following:

Required materials: Copy and paste or print the requirements list and place it in an application folder for the program that you save on your computer or as a hard copy. Make sure you highlight any special requirements and the number of essays and recommendations, so that there are no surprises when you actually start preparing your documents.

Deadlines: Are there several deadlines, or only one? Is there an early notification option? If so, this usually means that if you apply for that deadline and are admitted, you are agreeing to enroll at that institution.

Is there a rolling admissions process? If so, this means you can submit your application any time between two dates, generally between October 1 and April 30.

Is there a two-part application process? This means that you initially submit certain information, such as a transcript and test scores, and complete a few short answer questions, and then wait to find out if you are invited to complete the rest of the application.

Once again, save this information for each of your options, highlighting which deadline procedure is followed.

Based on the deadline information you have gathered, prepare a preliminary application schedule for yourself. Look at the calendar and tentatively mark the date when you plan to submit each application. You may eventually change these dates, but doing some planning this far out allows you that flexibility.

[Find out how to pay for graduate school.]

Financial aid: Some institutions will ask you about financial aid as part of the application process. Others will wait until you are admitted to address finances. In some cases, there may be special fellowship programs for which you need to complete a separate application ahead of time, so it's important that you know how this part of the process works.