5 Ways to Get Ahead on Your Graduate School Applications this Summer

Jun 14, 2019 • Views -

By Keara Cormier-Hill

It’s summertime! Whether it is the extra hours of sunlight, school letting out, or all of the talk about vacation planning, there is something about this season that makes us think differently about how we can differently utilize our days.

For those who have decided to apply to graduate school, this re-budgeting of time can be particularly advantageous to get applications in order for target schools, as the general deadline season between October and December approaches quickly thereafter. With that in mind, here we share 5 strategies you can implement this summer to take advantage of the season and make meaningful progress in your graduate school planning.

1) Make a checklist of your application components

Graduate school programs typically request submission of multiple items for a complete application, including university transcripts, letters of recommendation, personal statements and test scores from standardized exams. Every program will have their own variation of these standard expectations; for example, variations of the number and type of recommendations required, different suitable lengths for personal statements and short answer responses, or distinctive exams required, if at all. Furthermore, more specialized programs may require more specialized additional components, not to mention, applications for graduate fellowships and scholarships may have their own similar, time-intensive applications.

Creating a spreadsheet, Trello board, or a plain and simple checklist will help you get a big-picture sense of all of the different application components you will need to apply and plan accordingly. It will also help make sure that no required components slip your mind down the line!

2) Put the deadlines on your calendar.

Just as each school will have their own unique application components, they will also each have their own application deadlines, both for the graduate school itself, as well as for fellowship opportunities that may potentially have a separate application. Having all of these deadlines plugged into your calendar, be it physical, digital, or both will allow you to prioritize and plan with plenty of time before the due dates are looming too close for such composed preparation.

However, this should not be a “set it and forget it” situation! Building in reminders for exam dates, ideal times for recommendation and transcript requests, and self-imposed deadlines for writing drafts along with peer review will be crucial to success, especially when submission deadlines stack up around the same time. Obviously, some of the internal deadlines can be adjusted as needed, however, setting them in the beginning will give you a helpful place to start.

Finally, your calendar can also be a great way to keep track of any upcoming recruitment events and information sessions that you learn about in advance of the fall application season.

3) Block times on your calendar to prepare.

Now that you have your end goals indicated with your deadlines and delineated application components, you know what you are striving towards. The summer is the time to put in the effort to reach those goals with as little stress for yourself as you can plan for. Block out times to work on the various components, whether it is starting personal statements, making connections on campus to creatively fund your education, or updating your resume.

Again, this is not something you can just plan and move away from, expecting positive results. Have a specific goal-oriented plan for these times and protect them from distractions or delays. Applying for graduate school is hours and hours of work – this is not a time to procrastinate! If you are able to disperse and protect the time now, you will have a much less hectic experience and a much greater sense of confidence when it is finally time to submit your materials.

4) Prepare for your required tests.

If you need to take a standardized exam (e.g. GRE, GMAT, LSAT or MCAT)  for entrance into your program, you will likely need to dedicate many a time block to this. Studying for the exams, registering for a test date and having the opportunity for a retake if desired will require some planning ahead.

Summer is the ideal time to investigate or create any study plans and establish studying routines and formats that work best for you, whether it involve in-person courses, online options, video tutorials, flashcards or textbooks. The process can be intense, but the good news is, there are several who have done it before you and they have created resources aplenty — with the whole summer in front of you, you can optimize time to utilize them.

5) Reconnect with your referees.

Lastly, the summer is a great time to approach what can be one of the most nerve-wrecking elements of the process; the recommendation request. Make a list of who you want as your referees based on the programs you are applying to. If you haven’t spoken to some of them in a while, it’s good to reconnect with them far ahead of the application deadlines so they know your official letter request will be coming.

When the summer season is winding down and you feel the chill of fall in the air, if you have organized yourself with these tips and spread out the work according to your plan, you will have a strong and well-prepared application ready to submit with confidence for the application deadlines ahead. Good luck and happy summer!


Keara Cormier-Hill is an alumna of the Harvard University Graduate School of Education (HGSE), there having completed her Master’s of Education and Certificate of Advanced Studies, along with the Child Protection Certificate from the Harvard François-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) Center for Health and Human Rights. Prior to HGSE, Keara collaborated with youth-centered international organizations in the Dominican Republic for two years as a Princeton in Latin America Fellow.

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