Now that youíve completed all your research and know exactly what graduate schools you want to apply to, itís time to start working on your graduate applications. But first a word of caution: every school has its own application process, so what Iíll offer here are general guidelines that should be tailored for each school you apply to.
First, check the schoolís website to see how they would like to receive your application for admission. Most schools now offer an online application process, which makes it easier for you to work on your materials without the time constraints of snail mail. Keep in mind that most graduate programs require that you apply to the graduate school and to the department (e.g. English, History, etc.). With that in mind, be sure that you check the schoolís requirements so that you donít forget anything. You will probably find a ďgraduate application checklistĒ on the admissions page. Print that out and check off each item as you complete it.
The next thing to do is to send off for your school transcripts. This can be done by mailing in a transcript request form, or electronically on your former schoolís website. Either way, do this as soon as you can, since transcripts may be lost in the mail or may take longer to process than you expect. Remember that you need official transcripts. They are sealed, unopened, and come directly from the degree/credit conferring institution that you attended, not from you!
If you havenít taken the GRE, LSAT, or whatever entrance exam you need for graduate school, take it now! Test scoring and result delivery can be slow, so as soon as you decide to go to graduate school you should start planning to take those exams. They are costly to take and to send your scores to several different schools can get expensive.
Prepare your statement of purpose. This arbitrary but completely necessary component of your graduate application may be your ticket in or out of graduate school. It should be thoughtful, focused, and present a clear case of why you think graduate school is the place for you. However, donít get too personal. What admissions committees really want to know is what kind of research you want to do, not how much you love reading or the History Channel. A good idea is to get a former or current professor to look it over and give you suggestions.
Last, but not least, ask professors who are knowledgeable about your academic ability to write your letters of recommendation. If youíve been out of school awhile, a supervisor is acceptable. Give them plenty of time to write the letters, and supply all the necessary information so that they can write a letter with confidence. My favorite professor asks that you send a copy of your resume or C.V., statement of purpose, and grant information or whatever you have that can help her to write a thoughtful letter of recommendation. Itís a great idea. If you havenít seen your professors in years, how are they supposed to remember everything about you? Itís up to you to refresh their memories.
So now that you know what you need to do to get started, go ahead and get started! Graduate applications are time consuming and can be stressful. Donít wait until the last minute to get your materials ready as deadlines are just that, deadlines. If you donít get your application in on time, it may not be considered at all. Rest assured, the process will be worth it when you get your acceptance letter in the mail.