Grad School Application Timeline: Part 1

Start Early.

If you are planning to go to graduate school, it’s best to start EARLY—it will give the school plenty of time to complete the administrative procedure and enable the program to review your application. Here’s a six-month plan for a Ph.D. applicant who wants to enter the grad school next fall.


Let’s assume most programs you are applying to are due on December 1st, which means you may start the whole preparation process in June. As you can see, there are three different colors in the graphic representing three kinds of preparation work. Let’s start with the Program Selection!

Start making a list of schools. (June to mid-July) 

You may search online, consult with your current professors, friends and family members working or studying in the fields you plan to enter. When searching for prospective programs online, using keywords with the degree and major in which you are interested will be more helpful than looking at the general school ranking. At this time, make your list as long as you want but be practical about your choices. For instance, you won’t just put Harvard, MIT, and Stanford on your list without checking the tuition fees and the program ranking in your major. 

Refine your list of schools.
 (mid-July to mid-August)

What makes you want to study this program? Does this program offer graduate assistantships or scholarships for incoming students? What is the estimated cost of completing this program? Do you really want to go to that city/state?
Prioritize your concerns before keeping the school’s name on your list. What would you do if you’ve found a super nice program in Florida (endless sunshine and beautiful beach views!) but they currently do not offer any scholarship for their new students? How about a program with plenty of grant funding but is located in Oklahoma (endless tornados!) or Alaska (snow, ice, and rainfall!)? Or a program in California offering great scholarship opportunities but requires graduation in seven years? What matters the most to you?  

Reach out to prospective schools.
 (mid-August to mid September)

In most cases, you can find a list of all the faculty members under a tab called “Faculty/People”. Review their  research areas and read some publications they listed on their CV or their websites (you may find their research work by searching their names via Google Scholar or the Ellis Library website). 
Emailing professors and asking if they are taking advisees will enable you to get the first-hand information of the program and the professor’s research. You may also get a sense of the professor’s mentoring style when you receive the professor’s response. You may consider removing the program’s name from your list if the only professor you are interested in working with tells you that she’s not going to accept any advisees. 

Sample Email:
Subject: Fall 2028 Prospective Student 
Dear Dr. A,
I am applying to the XXX Doctoral program at the University of AAA based on my research interest and experience in XYZ. I have read some of your research publications and I am particularly interested in your work of XYZ. As a senior studying (your major) at the University of Missouri, I have worked on projects with a certain focus on XYZ. If possible, I would like to learn more about your research and your availability as a faculty advisor. Thank you for your consideration!

Truman Tiger
B.A. in (your major) | Class of 2028
University of Missouri-Columbia | College of (your college)

Finalize your list.
 (mid-September to mid-October)

Congrats for making it to this stage! Reading research, drafting formal emails, and communicating back and forth with professors can be super time-consuming and stressful. With all the information you’ve been collecting, you can narrow down the number of your prospective programs. Don’t forget to check the application fees to estimate how many programs you are affordable to apply. You can also email the programs to ask about the application fees waiver. 

It is normal to 
feel confused and nervous about programs selection because you will be working closely with your advisor in a program for 5-7 years. Therefore, choosing the most suitable program and advisor will facilitate your academic, research, professional, and personal growth. You can always come to the MU Career Center and let the Career Specialists guide you through the whole process! Best of luck with creating your own school list!