Below is a sample timeline for applying to an M.S. or Ph.D. program. Note that every program has a different application deadline, and some programs admit students to start in the fall, spring, or summer semesters. Also, many healthcare and professional programs have earlier application deadlines, so it's important to be aware of the timeline and process.
- April/May: Research schools to find programs of interest. Take a GRE practice test to determine the amount of preparation you'll need.
- June: Study for the GRE over the summer. There are many books and classes available depending on your learning style.
- July: Narrow your list of potential schools. Talk with your advisor or mentors about your options.
- August: Take the GRE general test. If you aren't happy with your scores, register to take it again.
- September: Talk to your contacts and ask them to write you a reference letter. Contact faculty in the programs you're applying to who have similar research interests to your own. Write your personal statement.
- October: Request official transcripts from your undergraduate institution(s), send your recommenders any supplemental materials (e.g. resume and personal statement), and contact current students at your prospective school(s). If feasible, schedule visits to get a feel for the campus(es).
- November: Finish your personal statement and confirm that your GRE scores were sent to the school(s). Consider your backup plans if you aren't accepted or need to take time off from school for other reasons.
- December: Submit your applications (deadlines may be earlier or later). Pay attention to each school's requirements. If you are applying for an assistantship, your application may be due before those who are not seeking financial assistance.
- February/March: Relax and focus on completing your senior year. Admissions decisions will be made soon! Focus on your backup plans, and make sure you don't wait too long to start applying for jobs just in case.
- April: Celebrate your acceptance notifications and make a plan for your transition to graduate school such as moving, housing, etc. If you aren't accepted, kick your backup plan in gear!
- Graduate Record Exam (GRE) – Required by many academic programs. There is a general test as well as subject tests that also may be required.
- Graduate Management Admission Tests (GMAT) – Required by MBA and other management programs.
- Law School Admission Test (LSAT)
- Medical Admission Test (MCAT)
- Dental Admission Test (DAT)
- Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) – English proficiency test for international students.
- Miller Analogies Test (MAT) – Accepted by a variety of graduate programs in place of tests such as GRE or other exams.
- Optometry Admission Test (OAT)
For a complete list of entrance exams for health-related programs go to the Health PAC website.
Tips for Preparing and Taking Standardized Tests
- Prepare and take tests early!
- Take several practice exams ahead of the actual tests. Some programs take an average of all your scores rather than just your highest. Be as prepared as possible each time you take the actual exams.
- Register for your test date in advance.
- Plan to arrive at the testing center early so you aren't rushed, have a few minutes to relax before you start the test and don't have to wait in a long line before the exam.
Other Components of Your Application
- Resume or Curriculum Vitae (CV) – Some programs will request either a resume or curriculum vitae. For most undergraduate students, a CV will differ only slightly from their resume. You can include more details than in a resume (no need to stick to one page). If you have research experience, emphasize your work and any publications or presentations. Be sure to target your resume to your audience and include the most pertinent information. For more help writing your resume, see the section on resumes.
- Personal Statement – This is your chance to tell your story and explain why you want to pursue a career path and attend a graduate program. We call this a personal statement because it should be just that – personal. The best essays are well organized and articulate the writer's goals and motivations. For help writing your personal statement, check out the NCSU Writing & Speaking Tutorial Services.
- Interviews – If you are invited for an interview, you have made it through the first round of screening. If you were worried about your GPA or GRE score being too low, then it probably isn't that big of an issue. Be prepared to talk about your experience and strengths and what you hope to gain by earning this degree. For more information on interviewing, see the section on interviewing, or schedule a mock interview. Students applying to health-related programs should seek assistance through Health PAC.
- Letters of Recommendation – All graduate programs will request recommendation letters. Programs may require a combination of academic references (professors or advisors that can attest to your academic capabilities) and other professional references (work/internship supervisors). Pay attention to each school's requirements.