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

Jun 14, 2019

By Keara Cormier-Hill

It’s summertime! Whether it’s the extra hours of sunlight, having a break from your classes, or all of the talk about vacation planning, there’s something about this season that makes us think differently about how we can spend our days. For those who have decided to apply to graduate school, this additional free time can be the perfect opportunity to get a head-start on your applications. 

The general graduate school deadline season of October to December approaches quicker than you might think. With that in mind, here are 5 strategies you can implement this summer to make meaningful progress in your graduate school planning.

1. Make a checklist of your application components

Graduate school programs typically require you to submit multiple items, including university transcripts, letters of recommendation, personal statements, and test scores from standardized exams. Each program will have its own variation of these standard expectations; for example, the number and type of recommendations may differ from school to school, as might the word count of your personal statement. 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 University will have its own unique application components, each will also have its own application deadlines, both for admission and for funding opportunities that may have a separate application altogether. 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 start to loom. 

However, this should not be a “set it and forget it” situation! Building in reminders for exam dates, ideal times to request recommendation letters and transcripts, and self-imposed deadlines for writing drafts and receiving peer review will be crucial to your 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 you can attend 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 set times to work on the various application components, whether it is starting your 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 requires hours and hours of work — so it’s not the time to procrastinate! If you’re able to block out some chunks of time now, you’ll have a much less hectic experience and a much greater sense of confidence when it’s 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 to re-test if desired will require some planning ahead.

Summer is the ideal time to research or create study plans and establish the studying routine and format that works best for you, whether it involves 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 your 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-wracking elements of the application process; the recommendation request. Make a list of who you want as your referees based on the programs you’re applying to. If you haven’t spoken to some of them in a while, it’s good to reconnect with them far ahead of your application deadlines so they know your official letter request will be coming soon.

If you put these tips into action, when the summer season is winding down and you feel the chill of fall in the air, you’ll have strong, well-prepared applications ready to submit with confidence when the application deadlines approach. 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.

© Victoria Johnson 2019, all rights reserved.