Your final year of your undergraduate studies is probably the most exciting and important year of a student’s life. This is the year where students plan and decide what path they’ll take after graduation, whether it be taking a year off for travel, plunging head-first into the workforce or transitioning to graduate school.

If you’re one of the few students to choose the latter, be aware that applying for graduate school requires a lot more timeliness and preparation than looking for a job or even back-packing across a continent. However, if planned effectively throughout your senior year, the experience could be relatively straightforward.

It’s best to have an agenda on how and when to apply for grad school, loans and other services you may need on your post-baccalaureate journey. Here’s a good, step-by-step process to consider.

August

August, the month where most colleges and universities begin their Fall semester (quarter). It’s during this time that potential grad students need to explore their areas of interest in applying to graduate school and add them to a list.

Toward the end of August, it’s recommended to add all things required by the graduate programs of their choice and add them to the list. By the end of the month, students should also have a clear understanding of which degree is best suited for their career goals (M.A., M.B.A., M.F.A., etc.), this way, you’ll be able to determine which schools require standardized tests like the GMAT or the GRE.

September

This is the month where students need to start making relationships with professors or professionals within their fields of interest. During this time, most students already have a few favorite professors that can give them great letters of recommendation.

Once you have your letters of recommendation, it’s time to get started on your graduate school packets, this means having all or most of you graduate school materials completed. Remember to study hard for your GMAT or GRE — take them seriously! The scores will weigh heavy on the program committee’s decision to consider your application or not. Also, make sure to make an appointment to take your test well in advance of any school deadlines.

October-November

There are two things to you need to work on in October: submitting your finalized graduate school materials and taking your standardized test. The first thing you’ll want to do is take your GMAT or GRE. It takes about 2-3 weeks for results to be sent to your schools of your choice, and most graduate programs require the scores to be sent prior to the application deadline.

For timing purposes, it’s best to take the test you need on the first or second week of October since application deadlines range from October 31-November 30, which should give you enough time to submit or send your scores. The final step is to apply. Take your time and don’t rush the application!

December

If you missed anything in your application, or need to make corrections, most schools allow potential grad students to make changes during this time. Also, use this time to make a financial plan for grad school. There’s no such thing as being too prepared.

January-March

As of January 1st, students may apply to financial aid for the following school year. By filling out an online FAFSA, you’ll be able to have access to many more graduate school funding options. Although the federal government doesn’t give grants for graduate school (unless by extraordinary circumstance), it does provide a variety of low-interest, unsubsidized loans.

For those who don’t qualify for these loans, many private banks and financial assistance companies offer graduate student loans that will pay for all or most of your tuition. While scholarships and private school grants are also available for those who qualify, it is important to realize that everything you need to obtain your degree will not be served on a platter. All that’s left after understanding your financial need/plan is to wait until May to receive your acceptance letter.

Sure, there are many steps in applying for graduate school, but it can be done. By following a step-by-step monthly agenda, applying to graduate school could be a lot more manageable.

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