young student working on a laptop in library
Filling Out and Submitting Your Applications

Previously: Contacting your Letter Writers

By Dr. William Wittels, Program Manager, The Leadership Alliance

You can do yourself a huge favor while simultaneously increasing your chances of getting into graduate school just by having a practical plan for filling out and submitting your graduate school applications. You will be doing yourself a favor by avoiding the terrible panic of filling out an application last minute. Moreover, you will be increasing your chances of being accepted by ensuring that your application has minimal errors – from typos to using the name of the wrong university in your application. This article describes approaches for keeping yourself on track.

Start with an inventory of all the individual application elements for each of your applications, the due dates for each of the applications, and whether they are rolling. Knowing what you have to do and dates by when you have to complete tasks will allow you to “work backward” to plan when to start them. To complete this inventory for each application, read the application instructions, the FAQs, and click through the online application as a “dry run” without submitting anything. Be sure to keep an eye on tasks that are required, but are not part of the application system, such as reaching out to letter writers and filling out your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Next, assess the time that each element will take. Remember that most applications take several hours to fill out aside from the time it takes to write your statement of purpose, secure your letters of recommendation, and request transcripts. Include time for editing, checking, and rechecking each element of your application. Typos and other errors can contribute to a perception among members of the admissions committee that you don’t follow through on projects with diligence and care.

Then organize the tasks into a Gantt Chart by start date and end date. The end date for every element of the application should be at least two weeks before the deadline. If the application is rolling, prioritize it and try to finish it early. To determine the start date, block out double the amount of time you think each task will take you if all goes well. Unexpected delays always crop up. For items that require multiple drafts, such as a statement of purpose, include each draft as well as reviews by other people as separate tasks.

To keep yourself on schedule, enter these dates and track your progress toward them with an app like TrelloGoogle Keep, or even an old-fashioned desk calendar. Hold yourself accountable to your application calendar. Pick rewards for reaching goals.

Finally, keep the faith. Filling out applications is arduous but will pay off in the end.

Action Items

  1. Inventory everything you have to do.
  2. Manage these tasks with a Gantt chart.
  3. Reward yourself for finishing tasks and meeting goals.

Up next: The Admissions Committee Process in the Humanities and Social Sciences or The Admissions Committee Process in STEM