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Prepare for Grad School

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Prepare for Grad School

The timeline below is just a sample, meant to give an overview of what’s involved in applying to graduate school. Every graduate program is different, and some have rolling admission (where applications are reviewed as they arrive), while others have deadlines in the winter (December through March) for Fall semester admission.

In addition to the steps described below, check out our YouTube Grad School 101 series for more advice on applying to graduate school, or our books in the Resource Center. Here's a selection of some of our books on graduate school, available in Wilson 303:

To talk more about how to fit these steps into your own timeline, consider meeting with a career counselor.

Sophomore/Junior Year

  • Explore career options to determine if graduate school would help you meet your career goals.
  • Begin talking to your Major Advisor or a career counselor about your thoughts on graduate school. Explore programs to consider, and identify experiences to seek out or undergraduate courses to take which might strengthen your application
  • Discuss your interest in graduate school with faculty connected to your field of interest. They can provide insight, personal experiences, and points of contact.
  • Begin researching possible programs by attending Graduate School Fairs, looking into programs that others have recommended, and using graduate program search engines.

Junior Year: Summer

  • Become familiar with entrance test requirements for your graduate program.
  • Begin preparing with practice questions (the GRE, LSAT, GMAT, and other tests make free practice questions available) or by taking a full practice test.
  • If you’re not pleased with your score, investigate online resources for doing more preparation on your own or consider taking a test preparation course through JMU (GRE, GMAT, and LSAT test prep courses are available) or Kaplan.
  • Request additional information (promotional packets, brochures, etc.) from programs that interest you to supplement what you’re learning through their websites.
  • Register for any required entrance tests (GREMCATLSATGMAT, etc.) that you need to take in the Fall.

Senior Year: Early Fall Semester

  • Take required entrance tests as early in senior year as possible.
  • Review materials from schools you are considering to determine which you are most interested in, and how many you will apply to.
  • Collect all application materials and review carefully. Make note of deadlines and application requirements to be able to plan accordingly. If requested, submit a resume or CV to the program.
  • Write a first draft of your application essay or personal statement. Ask for feedback from faculty, your advisor, or the University Writing Center to help you make revisions.
  • Identify the number and types of references needed, and approach potential reference writers with your request.

Senior Year: Mid-Fall Semester

  • Complete a Transcript Request Form and submit it to the Registrar’s Office. Request that the transcript be held until Fall semester grades are posted.
  • Investigate financial assistance like assistantships, fellowships, or financial aid options; complete necessary application procedures for these funding sources.
  • Provide your references with materials that will help them write recommendations for you or complete online reference forms. These materials can include your personal statement, a resume, brief descriptions of each program you’re applying to, and deadlines for each school.

Senior Year: Late Fall Semester

  • Complete all materials needed for programs you are submitting applications to.
  • Submit your application materials in the requested format (mail or online).
  • Verify that recommendations have been sent.
  • Keep records of your application process for each school, noting date submitted, confirmation received, and any follow-up that’s necessary.

Senior Year: Early Spring Semester

  • Fill out and submit the FAFSA and any other financial aid forms needed.
  • Follow up on your options for funding (private loans, grants, fellowships, etc.).
  • Some programs include interviews as part of the admissions process, and these are often conducted in the Spring (but check with the programs you are applying to for specific dates and details). Prepare yourself for interviews by considering ways to articulate why you are interested in each program, questions you interested in asking, and practicing your interview skills. If you do interview, don't forget to send thank you notes afterwards!

Senior Year: Late Spring Semester

  • Send correspondence to the program you accept admission to, and to any offers you are declining.  
  • Look into other loans or appeal the aid package if the amount the school is offering doesn't meet your needs.
  • Complete another Transcript Request Form and ask the JMU Registrar to hold the request until Spring semester grades are posted.
  • Keep track of your acceptances and rejections as they come in. Discuss your options, decisions or concerns with your advisor, faculty mentors, or a career counselor.