When to Apply to Grad School: 5 Things to Consider
Figuring out when to apply for grad school can feel like a daunting task. Here are a few things to consider.
Grad school can be a big commitment. Trying to figure out the right time to apply can feel like a daunting task. However, if you take a step back and review your life and your timeline, you can get a feel for what makes sense for your situation.
As you decide when to apply to grad school, here are a few things to consider.
1. Application timeline
One of the first things you need to consider is the timeline for grad school applications. Because applying for grad school can be a time-consuming process, it’s important to plan out six months to a year in advance. Items to consider with your application timeline include the following:
When the application is due
Check to see when your application materials are due. Depending on the program, it could be anywhere from December to March ahead of the fall semester you plan to begin the program. You’ll want to set up a timeline that ensures you have all of your tasks accomplished well ahead of time.
That is especially important if you plan to apply for a fellowship, scholarship or assistantship. You might have extra requirements and different due dates for those items.
Many graduate school programs require some type of testing. You might need to take the GRE. If you’re applying to law school, you need to take the LSAT. Some MBA programs require the GMAT.
You’ll need a timeline that includes studying for these tests, taking them and accounting for the possibility that you will have to retake them. Plus, you’ll need to make sure you can send the tests to the schools in the appropriate time frame.
Recommendations and essays
Plan time to find people willing to write letters of recommendation. Give them plenty of time to write and submit the letters. It’s also a good idea to work on your personal statements and essays so they are polished.
Even for grad school, you need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Don’t forget to fill it out so you can find out what aid you’re eligible for. There are federal student loans available for grad students, and you can also use this time to apply for private student loans for grad school. Juno can help you get the lowest rate you qualify for, allowing you to close any college funding gap that might arise.
2. Expectations in your field of study
Sometimes the timing is about what’s usual for your field of study. In some fields, it’s normal to get some work experience and then return to school later to get a graduate degree. In other cases, you’re expected to go straight from undergraduate studies to graduate studies. Do your research to find out what makes sense for your situation and field of study. Consider speaking with a mentor in the field or with career services to get an idea of expectations so you can plan your grad school application timing appropriately.
No matter the expectations in your chosen field, your finances are going to impact your ability to attend grad school. Sometimes, your grad school application has to wait until you figure out your finances. Your strategy might need to include a combination of work, assistantships, loans and savings.
Additionally, when considering finances, think about whether you might be able to refinance later. For example, you might have a hard time getting a low-rate private loan for school, so you might need to get a Grad PLUS Loan. However, once you finish your program and have a good job, you might qualify to refinance your Grad PLUS Loan to a lower rate.
Think about your finances and plan your grad school application around what’s likely to work for your individual situation.
4. Strength of your application
Don’t forget to consider the strength of your application. In some cases, you might be surprised to discover that a good GPA isn’t enough to get into the graduate program of your choice. In fact, some programs look at a good GPA with no accompanying experience or extracurriculars as a drawback.
If you haven’t taken the time to strengthen your life and work experience, you might want to put off applying to grad school until you’ve had the time to boost your resume and CV a bit. Ways to strengthen your application include the following:
Internship or externship: Even a part-time internship or externship can be useful and allow you to show that you have some experience.
Volunteer: Look for opportunities to volunteer in areas that complement your desired program. For example, if you want to enter a grad program for social work or counseling, volunteer at a domestic violence shelter.
Work experience: Even a part-time job could help you. Get work as a paralegal prior to applying to law school. Consider working in the marketing department before you apply for an MBA program.
Find a mentor: Maybe your main drawback is that you don’t have enough references. Use your undergrad alumni network to find a mentor or work with someone in your field of study. That can help you network and find people to serve as references.
Take additional classes: You might not have some foundational classes for your grad school program. Check to see what classes can help you boost your knowledge base for potential acceptance.
No matter your deficiency, look for ways to shore it up before you apply to grad school.
5. Personal life
Sometimes, a grad school application is all about timing in your personal life. If you just had a baby or got married, it might not be an ideal time to apply to grad school. Perhaps your spouse is getting a new job in a different city or you just went through a messy divorce. Take a look at where you are and where grad school fits in. You might have to figure out a better time to apply when grad school works better with your situation.
Deciding when to apply for grad school requires that you look at a variety of factors to decide what works best for you and what timeline works with your experience, finances and personal circumstance. Weigh the factors and then decide when you’re ready.
Miranda has 10+ years of experience covering financial markets for various online and offline publications, including contributions to Marketwatch, NPR, Forbes, FOX Business, Yahoo Finance, and The Hill. She is the co-host of the Money Tree Investing podcast and she has a Master of Arts in Journalism from Syracuse University
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