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Application Timeline

Each graduate school program has its own requirements and deadlines. The timeline below is a general overview of the application process. Please note the materials and timing required for each application you plan to submit.

Spring of Junior Year

You will need to:


Talk to professors and advisors

Talk to Purdue professors, advisors, and graduate students for advice on programs and schools.

Review the Preparing for Graduate School information.

Prepare for and take standardized entrance exams

Graduate Record Examinations (GRE): Take the exam seriously because your scores will be important to your prospects of getting into graduate school. Very high GRE scores can offset modest grades. However, a poor performance on the GRE may jeopardize your chances if your file is not strong otherwise. Free GRE preparation materials may be found on the official GRE website, at Number 2 Online Education, and also at Varsity Tutors.

Research graduate schools and program websites

Try to determine your interests as best you can, while recognizing that they may change some once you are in graduate school. Go to the library to locate and read papers on the type of research that most interests you; look at the types of questions that are being worked on, and who is working on them. Talk to professors and advisors about science and scientists in your area of interest. Remember that graduate school is generally about finding interesting questions and not just picking topics that are of interest to you.

For example, with biology, being interested in the diving physiology of marine mammals is more appropriate than just being interested in marine mammals. Students should also be careful to be more focused than for example, the ecology of bears, since that encompasses many areas such as feeding ecology, population ecology, etc. In general, you should have a more specific idea of what you want to study if you are planning on doing a PhD compared to a master's degree. If this research sounds time consuming, it is, so give yourself plenty of time.

Although your best resources of information about potential graduate schools and programs are often your professors, advisors, career services staff, professionals in your field of interest, and peers pursuing graduate study, there are several online resources where you can search for schools and programs that may fit your interests and needs. These include:

Draft a general statement of purpose

Many applications will include a personal essay, in which you describe "where you’re coming from" – your interests, why you want to obtain a graduate degree, career goals, and so on. Find out more about the Personal Statement.

Update your Resume / Curriculum Vitae

Take it to the Center for Career Opportunities for help targeting it for submission as part of your graduate school application and polishing your accomplishment statements - qualify and quantify! Contact professionals in the career of interest to you and get their feedback on these documents, too.

Helpful CV resources:

Research Potential Advisors

Because graduate school is such a significant commitment, the process of selecting a graduate mentor (called an advisor) and/or program is very important, and you should plan on spending time researching your options and applying to multiple potential graduate advisors/programs. The process will differ depending on the kind of graduate education you are seeking. Most schools accept students to work with a particular graduate advisor and lab and require you to know whom you want to work with before you apply. Students in this situation should carefully investigate potential advisors before they apply to any school by reading their papers, communicating with them, and arranging a visit if possible. Once you find appropriate potential advisors, investigate their schools and programs to see if they are in a program consistent with your goals and interests. Apply to schools that fit the goals you set for your graduate education and where you feel good about the advisor. The most prestigious school may not have the best program or advisor for you.

Non-thesis master's degrees generally do not require students to find a graduate advisor and students apply directly to programs that fit their interests. Likewise, some programs, particularly those in the molecular biology and biomedical fields, select students and then have them rotate through different laboratories and graduate advisors in their program to find the most appropriate fit. In these cases you would want to make sure that there are people at the program that you would be interested in working with, but you would not necessarily need to contact them initially. Talk to the programs you are interested in and/or professors you've had classes with for guidance on these issues.

Contact Potential Advisors

If you are applying to a thesis program or a program that does not have rotations, you should definitely contact potential advisors. Write them and let them know you are interested in their research (make sure you have read their research). Ask them if they have space available for a new student since it is not worth applying if they are note taking students. Give them a short history of your education and interests, and tell them you would like to visit.

Make a checklist of requirements and deadlines for each school

Create a spreadsheet of the deadlines and materials needed to apply to each program. To reduce stress, create a timeline for yourself and your letter writers that will allow you to submit materials at least one week before the official deadline for each program. Note that schools differ in the way they want materials submitted: Some may want you to collect all of the application materials – letters of recommendation, transcripts, application forms, etcetera – and send them in one packet via snail mail. Many programs want everything submitted online. Your job is to figure out what the programs want and do that. If you are applying to research-oriented graduate programs, write to faculty members who research interests match yours to express interest in their work.

Acquire letters of recommendation from two or three faculty members.

It is critically important to select your references carefully. If possible, have at least one letter from someone who has interacted with you in a laboratory setting, for example, where you did your undergraduate research. More research references will make your application stronger. Solicit a letter from a professor from whom you took a small, upper division class and achieved a high grade. A letter that states "Ms (Mr.) X was one of 535 students in my introductory class and she (he) ranked in the upper third of the students in the class, etc." is not helpful. It is best to use faculty members for all of your letters, although there are exceptions to this rule (for example, if you worked for a government research lab in the summer). "Character reference" letters—"Ms (Mr.) X was one of the fastest working staff members our McDonald's ever hired..." will not help you. Perhaps the most obvious point is this: get to know at least two or three professors well while working towards your undergraduate degree .

Provide each faculty member with:

  • A packet with a copy of your unofficial college transcript on which you indicate class(s) you took with them, your resume and/or curriculum vitae, your GRE scores and your personal statement.

  • Brief, clear instructions listing the schools to which you are applying and the name of the degree program for each school, how the applications are to be submitted, and the deadlines by which the letters must be submitted (if online) or put in the mail in order to arrive on time.

  • A brief letter letting each faculty member know - honestly, without exaggeration -- what you've gotten from working with them as a research assistant or taking their classes. Remind them of any notable papers or projects you completed and let them know what kind of a positive impact the experience had for you.

  • If the letters are to be printed and mailed directly to the school or returned to you: Provide fully addressed envelopes. Include any additional forms that must be completed by the faculty member. Typically, there is one form that includes a waiver statement and rating form that the professor has to complete and submit with their letter. You must complete and sign the waiver form and give that form to your letter writers.

  • If the letters of recommendation are to be submitted online: Email the faculty member the link to the form that needs to be completed.

  • Important - emphasize the first deadline in your communications with your letter writers! If you're going to give the faculty member printed materials, put all of them in a 9" x 11" or larger envelope, put your name and the deadline by which the very first letter must be put in the mail or submitted online on the front of the envelope. If you are submitting all of your materials to the professor via email, then highlight the deadline by which the very first letter must be submitted online in an email to the professor.

Set aside money for the cost of the GRE and application fees

Remember you might also travel to interviews.

Summer before Senior Year

  • SELECT Graduate Schools. Read the information you’ve collected about the schools paying special attention to their admissions requirements, cost, and options for financing grad school. Consider visiting the schools to talk with admissions personnel, faculty or current graduate students.
  • CONTINUE studying for the GRE General Test or, if you think you are ready, take the exam in August so that you'll have time to study more and retake it if you don't like your first score.
  • UPDATE your Resume / Curriculum Vitae. Take it to the Center for Career Opportunities for help targeting it for submission as part of your graduate school application and polishing your accomplishment statements - qualify and quantify! Contact professionals in the career of interest to you and get their feedback on these documents, too. Helpful CV resources:
  • EDIT your Personal Statement.


Fall of Senior Year

  • SELECT your final list of graduate schools. It is expensive and time-consuming to apply to graduate schools, thus it is a good idea to create your short list of graduate programs (6-12) to which you will apply.

  • VERIFY with the Registrar that your official transcript is accurate and up-to-date.

  • COMPLETE applications at least two months before deadlines

  • APPLY for financial assistance.

  • HAVE your personal statement reviewed by Purdue staff, faculty, and peers

  • SUBMIT application documents to schools at least one month before the deadline.

  • REQUEST transcripts, entrance exam scores, and recommendation letters be forwarded to the schools

  • REQUEST letters of Recommendation. About one week before the deadline by which your first letters of recommendation must be mailed/submitted, send your letter writers a pleasant email reminding them of the deadline and asking if there is any additional information you can provide that would be helpful.

  • VERIFY with each school that all of your application materials have been received and are complete

  • PREPARE for interviews and do a mock interview with the Center for Career Opportunities.   


Spring of Senior Year

  • INTERVIEW, if necessary.

  • DEVELOP a parallel plan by brainstorming and discussing alternative options

  • EVALUATE and submit offers of acceptance

  • WRITE thank you note to those who help you along the way.

  • CONGRATULATE yourself and celebrate getting through the process!

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