After you’ve “set the foundation” for which you will use to get into graduate school, next is time for “building momentum” toward this application process.
Here is what Phase 2 entails:
• Continue to set your foundation. Even though you have moved into the next phase, you still should be doing anything you can to continue to set the foundation. So continue to work on those previous tasks as you see fit!
• Plan for how you will pay for the application process. One thing that frequently gets missed is the conversation around how much money it costs to apply to graduate school. In general, you can expect to need money for the following:
Each graduate school application (approx. $20-50 per application)
Entrance exam (i.e. GRE- $195, GMAT- $250, MCAT- $310)
Entrance exam study materials (varies; approx. $25-250)
Travel expenses for if the program requires an interview prior to acceptance.
All of that can add up very quickly, which is why this is a good time to start thinking of how you will pay for all of these expenses. This may require you getting a second job, saving a little extra, or enlisting family and friends for help. One helpful hint: application fees are sometimes waived by the graduate program. Remember to check with the admissions department in that program about if there are ways to waive your application fees.
• Begin studying for your exam AND decide when you will take your exam. Most graduate programs will require that you take some sort of entrance exam as part of your application. This is now the time to begin studying for the exam, as well as plan when exactly you will take the exam. I have found that deciding when you plan to take the exam as you begin to study will help with keeping you motivated and focused while you study. Additionally, I strongly encourage the purchase of quality and up-to-date study materials! Think of this as an investment in your education, as it will save you money (because you will be less likely to need to retake the exam, which costs more money) and you will be more likely to do well (which makes your application look even better). The right study materials often significantly improve one’s performance on the exam. Furthermore, most study materials come with structured study guide plans that are simple and easy to follow. This is a great way to keep your study focused and on track.
• Narrow down your list of identified graduate programs. Remember that list of graduate programs you started to build in Phase 1? Now is the time to bring that list back, and start to narrow down your focus to exactly which programs you want to apply. I recommend narrowing down to 8-10 schools, with the intention of applying between 5-8 schools. With this process, it may be helpful to develop a “pros and cons” list for each school. You also might want to consider developing an excel sheet with all the important information about each school (i.e. location, cost, what type of scholarships or financial aid is available, key advisors, degree, core mission or focus, application materials needed, application deadline, why you personally like this program, etc.), so that you can easily compare them all in one document.
• Connect with your identified programs. Once you have narrowed down your list of graduate programs, I suggest getting in touch with these programs to seek more information. It is totally appropriate for you to make contact with the programs prior to submitting your application. Depending on your comfort level (and ability to travel), you might email or call the admissions office, reach out to faculty in the program, or even schedule a visit. Either way, graduate programs are typically more than happy to hear from prospective students. This is useful because you are able to receive more information about the program and how to become a competitive applicant. It’s also beneficial because with this contact, you begin to build rapport with the program and display your passion and interest in attending. This has a huge potential to enhance your application (because unique first impressions are everything!).