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The Best Timeline to Apply for Grad School in the US

Updated: Jul 28, 2023


Table of Contents:

  • Introduction

  • Researching and Exploring

  • Standardized Tests

  • Create a Strong Network

  • Preparing an Outstanding Application

  • Preparing for Interviews

  • Conclusions



Being admitted to graduate school in the US is a significant milestone that has the potential to change one’s professional and personal life. Before this adventure begins, it is important to understand the details of the application process and what is the optimal timeline to follow. By committing to a well-structured plan, aspirant candidates are likely to increase their success rates in gaining admission to their desired programs. This being said, let’s discover what is the best timeline to apply for grad school in the US and what each one of these steps should be focused on.

Researching and Exploring - 1-2 years before the deadline

Both for master and phd students, the journey usually begins much earlier than a few months before the application deadline. Indeed, it is fundamental to take enough time to explore and compare the programs that are offered by various universities and institutions. This research phase ideally begins one to two years before the application deadline.

Here you can find some preliminary questions you may ask yourself when exploring different programs:

  • What topic in my field of study do I want to research or specialize on?

  • What do I want to achieve with my degree on a professional level (becoming a professor, working in a company, etc.)?

  • What kind of school do I want to join (highly selective, ivy league, etc.)?

  • What is the strongest school based on my specialization area (e.g. Harvard vs. Stanford in STEM)?

  • What are my financial possibilities to study in a specific program? Are there scholarships/fellowships?

Standardized Tests - at least 6 months before the deadline

In the majority of graduate programs in the US, students are asked to submit their standardized tests scores. For example, a common requirement is to send the GRE (Graduate Record Examination) results. In addition to this, some programs demand applicants to submit subject-specific GRE scores. Another common test is the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test), which is usually necessary for MBA students. Starting to prepare at least six months in advance can allow you to retake the test in the case your scores are not competitive or satisfying enough the first time.

Create a Strong Network - 4 months before the deadline

As you may imagine, graduate programs usually require students to submit one or more letters of recommendation. This can be written by your undergrad professors, as well as by your employer or other relevant figures that have something to say about you. Given the fact that recommendation letters should delineate your academic and professional characteristics, it is necessary that the people you chose to write them know you well. That is why it is important to start engaging in projects and activities with these people well before the application deadline. In this way, they will have the possibility to know and appreciate all of your skills.

Preparing an Outstanding Application - 4-5 months before the deadline

Regarding the required documents in a graduate application, they usually include: statement of purpose (or personal statement), updated CV, research sample (specifically for a phd), official grade transcripts, and letters of recommendations, which were previously discussed.

The more a program is competitive, the more you will need to work on your application to make it stand among many others. There are two possible strategies that you can follow in this situation. Indeed, you can either choose to work on your application documents on your own, or you can ask for the support of an educational counselor. The last option is becoming more and more popular, as the help that educational consulting companies can provide to students is often the factor that makes their application memorable and valuable. More articles will follow to talk about these consultants!

Lastly, remember that it is very important that you submit your application one or two weeks before the deadline. In this way, you will avoid any last-minute technical issues or delays and you will have plenty of time to check that all your documents are perfect.

Preparing for Interviews - 1 month before the interview dates

Don’t think that once your application has been selected you are automatically enrolled into your dream program in the US. Indeed, the majority of schools require applicants to participate in an interview to better know them and understand if they are the right candidates for the program. Again, you have the option to prepare on your own for these interviews, or to ask the help of an educational counselor. Indeed, these companies offer interview preparation sessions and mock interviews.

Waiting for a Decision

After all the hard work to select your program, create a network, prepare the application and practice for the interview, you just have to wait for a decision. Always keep an eye on your email notifications and on the application portals, as updates on your application will likely be posted there.


As it was explained, applying for a graduate program is a long and demanding process. Even if in some moments this journey may seem overwhelming and even impossible, it must be said that a good plan and timeline can make the application procedure much smoother. Following the structure that was highlighted in this article will not only help you to achieve success, but hopefully it will also make you feel calmer and more in control of the whole process.

I wish you the very best with your graduate application <3

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