8 tips for preparing a (seriously amazing) grad school application

by GOLDEN KEY INNOVATION TEAM

Golden Key International Honour Society, founded on 29 November 1977, is an academic honor society which recognizes and encourages scholastic achievement and excellence among college and university students from all academic disciplines.

Applying to grad school this December? We know it can be an intense process, and getting super organized will make all the difference. You need to start now (if you haven’t already) and make sure you tick all the boxes to help you achieve success. Here are eight things you can do to help you get ahead of the rest:

1. First things first: create your application timeline

Deadlines vary from school to school, so it’s good to map out all the dates in one place. Grab a piece of paper, and write down all of the important deadlines for the schools you might be applying to and work out your own deadlines from there. Break down each big scary deadline into smaller subtasks (so that you’ll actually get them done) and set smaller deadlines for yourself before the big due date. The same goes for financial aid, standardized tests (see #2) and other related deadlines.

2. Find yourself a grad school buddy!

One of the main predictors of success is accountability. Not in the way your parents kept you “accountable” growing up by nagging you and punishing you – think more along the lines of someone you trust and respect to check in on you and measure your progress. If you know someone else applying to grad school, perfect! Ask them to be yours because they’ll know exactly what you’re going through. If not, ask a friend, family member or coworker who you can check in with regularly.

3. Get to know the programs you’re considering

Do as much research as you can about the schools and programs you’re considering. The more you know, the better. Go through their websites in as much detail as possible, reach out to people via email or LinkedIn to (politely) ask for information or advice, speak to people in your network who might have relevant knowledge and experience. 

4. Prepare for standardized tests

If you’re still looking to improve your score or haven’t taken these at all, it’s a good idea to use your time wisely over the next couple of months. Whether you choose self-study or a course, set dates for yourself to take practice exams and get comfortable with the format. By the time you go in for the real thing, you’ll be ready to pass with flying colors.

5. Make your recommendation letter action plan

The kind folks you’re asking to write your recommendation plans are probably pretty busy and important people, and your recommendation letter is just one of the many things they have to do. Plan for this process to take a few weeks, otherwise you’ll probably end up frustrated and maybe with a few bald spots. Be respectful of their time (remember, they’re doing you a favor) and make it SUPER easy for them to get you what you need by the time you need it. Following these steps should do the trick:

Step 1: Do a little research
Talk to friends, family, coworkers, etc to uncover your strengths and unique assets. (Hopefully some of these characteristics are the same ones that the programs are looking for, but it’s good to have some that differentiate you too).
Step 2: Prepare your packet
Using what you learned from your conversations (and what you know about yourself), prepare a recommendation packet. It should outline your strengths and provide examples of instances in which you displayed that trait prominently. Ideally, it’s one your recommender could know on their own (not totally out of the blue), but may not recall off the top of their head (remember, these are busy folks). Lastly, attach your resume/CV to this document so you can provide your recommenders all of the information they’ll need.
Step 3: Meet with your recommenders
Set up a meeting to talk with them, either in person or over the phone. Explain your goals and how grad school fits into that. Helping them understand why you’re going will help them understand what to highlight in their letter. Share with them your deadline and your packet to help them prepare a strong letter of support.
Step 4: Follow up! 
Follow up with them after after a few weeks. Take the pressure off them to remember your deadlines and make yourself available to answer any questions they have.

6. Organize your finances for your applications and life as a grad student

Spoiler alert: applying to grad school can be kind of expensive and the costs add up quickly. Also, grad school isn’t exactly high-living time. The goal here is to start grad school with no debt and as much savings as possible. Make a plan to pay down debt and develop a budget you can stick to this summer. Save all you can before school since you’ll be foregoing at least 2 years of income and there’s only so much pizza you’ll want to eat while you’re getting your degree. Grad school is stressful enough on its own, so eliminating additional stress from finances is really helpful.

7. Get to know the process of requesting transcripts and submitting letters of recommendation

Little known fact: getting copies of your transcripts sent to grad programs is more annoying than you think. You don’t want to wait until the night before your application is due to do this only to find out that it will take 5 business days to deliver these. It’s an easy thing to do when you’re not hyper-stressed about applying. Find out how it works and how long it will take to get your transcripts delivered. Likewise, the process for submitting your recommendation letters could differ from school to school. The more you know, the better off you’ll be when it comes time to hit the final “Submit” button.

8. Get outside and enjoy the last few months before you start applying!

Continue volunteering, your hobbies and everything that makes you an interesting human being. Don’t stop doing things you enjoy, or you’ll burn out before you reach the finish line! Grad school applications are just the beginning; it’s going to be an intense few years, so make sure you keep your spirits up and your mind clear.

This article is based on a blog originally published by Golden Key partner Gradschoolmatch.

Gradschoolmatch provides students with matches to help find exactly what they are looking for. Gradschoolmatch also brings representatives from the top universities to recruit and communicate with students that fit their programs best. Search, be discovered, and connect with the top graduate programs on Gradschoolmatch. Golden Key membership provides unique access on Gradschoolmatch.

About Golden Key

Golden Key is the world's largest collegiate honor society. Membership into the Society is by invitation only and applies to the top 15% of college and university sophomores, juniors and seniors, as well as top-performing graduate students in all fields of study, based solely on their academic achievements. As an international honor society with more than 400 chapters at colleges and universities around the world, Golden Key is committed to a high standard of scholastic achievement, and an ethos of integrity, innovation, respect, collaboration and diversity.