Application Timeline

This timeline allows for exploration and preparation throughout your undergraduate years; application steps may begin in your senior year or following graduation. 

First, Sophomore and Junior Years

  • Read, observe, and listen. Take advantage of conversations, lectures, and panels in which advisors, faculty members, alumnae, and others describe their experiences in your intended field. Talk with faculty and ask for advice concerning graduate school. Specifically ask about graduate school preparation, researching and choosing schools, testing and admissions procedures, and financial aid.
  • Try to take more than one course with a member of the faculty in your field of interest. Graduate schools are particularly interested in a student’s academic development and the more a faculty member knows about your work, the easier it is for the faculty member to write a strong and detailed recommendation.
  • Do not wait until your senior year to request letters of recommendation. If you have excelled in a course, request a letter of recommendation from that professor and have it placed on file at the CWS.
  • Look for opportunities to do research in your field of interest either as part of your course work or as term or summer work.

Spring/Summer Prior to Senior (or Application) Year

  • Attend a CWS Graduate School/Fellowships meeting.
  • Research programs via graduate school and financial aid websites.
  • Discuss graduate programs of interest with faculty advisor(s).
  • Determine guidelines for the application essay or personal statement in your proposed field of study, after both speaking with faculty advisor(s) and reviewing the websites of programs in which you are interested. Draft a personal statement and begin to revise and rewrite with the assistance of the Pforzheimer Learning and Teaching Center and your faculty advisor(s).
  • Identify which standardized tests you will be required to take and prepare to take them. Research availability and registration processes. The GRE General Exam is now computerized, although the subject exams are still administered by pencil and paper (see the Educational Testing Service (ETS) web site for more information). The registration deadline is usually more than six weeks in advance. Review test material using a guide book (e.g., Barron’s, The Official Guide to the GRE revised general test, etc.) and/or attend test preparation classes offered on- or off-campus. Financial aid for these programs is often available through test preparation companies.

Application Year

Summer/early fall

  • Register for and take required standardized tests. GRE scores are accepted by graduate schools for up to five years from the testing date. Many students feel more confident taking the GRE while they are still in college, even if they do not plan to apply to graduate school at that time. Others wait until their year of application. Applicants should check the expiration dates of their test scores with the admission offices of the graduate programs to which they plan to apply.


  • Attend CWS Applying to Graduate School and Fellowships meetings.
  • Attend information sessions presented by graduate schools on campus.
  • Review online the application materials for graduate programs you are considering.
  • Ask your professors to write or update letters of recommendation. Give them material describing the programs to which you are applying, a copy of your resume and a draft of your personal statement (see Letters of Reference). Ask for their advice in strengthening your essay.
  • Investigate financial aid resources for graduate school by considering Fellowships/Scholarships, and reviewing Financing Your Education. Most graduate programs make financial awards based on merit as well as financial need, so it is important to complete this part of the application process even if you believe you might not be eligible to receive financial aid.


  • Order academic transcripts from the Registrar’s Office. (Find out if first semester grades will be recorded in time to meet school deadlines.)


  • Complete applications. Plan to submit your applications early!
  • Apply for financial aid as soon as you submit your applications. Don’t wait to learn if you have been accepted.


  • Consider visiting the graduate/professional schools to which you have been admitted.


  • Some financial aid programs may require that you file a copy of your federal income tax return.