If you have made the decision to attend graduate school or are seriously considering attending, you’ll want to plan ahead and get a sense of a general timeline – what you should be doing and when you should be doing it.
There are many elements involved in researching applying to graduate schools. Regardless of the graduate program, you should maintain consistent communication with your faculty or pre-professional advisor to assure completion of prerequisites in preparation for graduate school.
- Begin assessing the reasons for your interest in attending graduate school
- Begin developing relationships with faculty
- Talk with faculty, alumni, and other advocates about their graduate school experiences
- Develop research and other experience to increase your competitiveness for graduate school
- Attend the Graduate & Professional School Fair
- Begin researching programs more in-depth
- Explore financial aid and funding resources
- Determine which entrance exam you will need to take (if applicable); obtain exam prep materials and sign up for a reputable practice test
- Attend the Graduate & Professional School Fair
- Identify faculty as potential references to write letters of recommendation
Summer Between Junior and Senior Year
- Take any required entrance exam
- Research components of the application for schools of interest
- Visit schools of interest, virtually or in person if possible; connect with school representatives
Senior Year, Fall Semester
- Retake entrance exam, if necessary
- Contact the Registrar’s Office at William & Mary to order official transcripts
- Complete your personal statement, have it reviewed by a faculty member and a career advisor
- Ask faculty to write your letters of recommendation; do this early in the semester to allow them adequate time
- Schedule a mock interview with the Office of Career Development & Professional Engagement, if the program requires an interview
- Submit your completed application, including any other requirements such as financial aid documents (deadlines will vary by school)
- Continue visiting schools or connecting with school representatives, if necessary
Senior Year, Spring Semester
- Follow up with each school to ensure receipt of your materials and any additional information that may be needed
- Conduct further assessment if accepted to multiple schools, to determine the best fit for you
- Once you have committed to your program of choice, notify the other schools so that your spot may be released for another applicant
- Complete any financial aid documents
- Send a thank you note to individuals who have assisted you throughout this process
Program Applications and Application Fees
It is important to be clear on what the application process will entail for any given program. Familiarize yourself with the application requirements for programs you are interested in, as the process and associated fees will vary from program to program. Do this research early so you will know what is needed in advance. Some graduate schools or admissions offices will offer an application fee waiver to individuals enduring economic hardship, so inquire with the appropriate office to see if this is an option.
Official Academic Transcript
Graduate programs that you apply to will request your official academic transcript. Look over William & Mary's specific options to see how you can order copies and have them sent to other institutions.
You may be required to take an entrance exam as part of your application process. There are various exams used for different programs. Plan ahead to allow time to study and prepare for an exam and to schedule your exam date and location. Some now allow you to take the exam at home, such as the GRE.
Letters of Recommendation
Programs typically require 2-3 letters from individuals who can speak to your suitability for graduate school. It is important that your references can write about the quality of your work.
Who do you ask?
At least one professor; a supervisor from an internship, research experience or job; or a coach. Some applicants think a big name can help their chances, but that is not always the case. Your references need to know about your work or academic performance and other attributes applicable to graduate school. Do not ask a family member or family friend to supply a letter of recommendation. Also, have a backup in mind in case someone declines your request.
When do you ask?
You should give your recommenders advanced notice and time to write the best possible letter for you. Ask at least 4-6 weeks before the date you'd like to have the letter. Remember that other people may be asking that person to write a letter of recommendation for them too, which is why it is imperative to ask well in advance. Requesting a letter the day or week before it is needed is unprofessional and discouraged.
Should I keep it confidential?
Graduate programs strongly prefer confidential letters. It shows your confidence in the strength of your application. It also allows your recommenders to impart honest feedback about your strengths, as well as your weaknesses.
Also known as the "Essay" or "Statement of Purpose," its importance is often underestimated. Your grades and exam scores are critical and serve as a baseline for the admissions committee; however, the personal statement can tip the scales in your favor when they are unsure whether or not to offer you a place in the program. Likewise, a poorly written statement can hurt your chances of being accepted. Take the time to proofread and find at least one reviewer, including your faculty or research advisor, before submitting it. Additional reviewers can include a career advisor or a Writing Center representative. Some personal statements will provide specific prompts to reply to, while other personal statements may be general. Pay attention to the length guidelines for each school, which may be measured in number of pages, words, or characters. Be ready to write several drafts prior to submitting your final version.
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