Hey there...I've decided I will apply to PhD programs...help! Am I too late to apply for fall 2018 admission? What should I be doing? What resources do you recommend for getting my life together and applying? In case you can't tell, I'm panicking!
You’re definitely not too late! The majority of PhD apps are due in the winter. But we gotta go! So here’s the battle plan. Let’s see if this works for you ok? (Also, disclaimer, this is highly biased towards life sciences.. I can not speak to the requirements for say, the humanities. If this isn’t helpful, please let me know what field you’re applying to and I can point you in the direction of gradblrs in that program).
What you’ll need:
- The application. This is unique for each university (no commonapp here). You’ll need to create an application/account (with a unique username and password) for every program you’re applying to. You can find out more info about this on the program’s website.
- The GRE. Scores take a while to be sent out (a few weeks), so this should be your Top Priority. Find a testing station near you and sign up for a date. Then get to studying. You don’t need the subject tests unless they’re a) required by the program, or b) will strengthen your application in any way (say you didn’t get stellar Biology grades in college, but you’re applying to a Bio program, so acing the GRE Biology subject test would show the admissions team you know your Bio)
- Letters of recommendation. It’s best to give your recommenders at the very least one month to write the letter (I like to give them 2 months), so contact them asap. It depends on the program, but 3 letters of rec is usually the normal.
- Personal statement. This varies between programs (some require you to talk about your experience in the field you’re applying to, some tell you not to, etc). Find out the requirement as soon as you start an application and start working.
- And, going off of that, your experience. This is key. If you don’t have experience in the field you’re applying to (eg. lab experience if you’re applying to anything research-based), then I would hold off on applying all-together until this requirement is met. Usually 1-3 years is good. Schools invest a lot into PhD students, and they need to know that this is what you want, and the best way to show that is by working in the field already.
- College transcripts. Once you finalize your list of programs you’re applying to and have started the application process, contact your undergraduate colleges to send your official (or unofficial.. depends on the program) transcripts to the correct place (the application will tell you where). This usually takes a while, and may require money. Also be sure if you have transfer credits, that you get the original college to also send those transcripts (eg. I took physics at a local community college over a summer, so I had to get that community college to send the transcript separately).
- Your CV. Ok I have really shit memory so I can not remember for the life of me if this was actually something you needed to attach to your application, but I have a million revised files of it saved in my Grad School Apps folder on my computer, so it must’ve been needed somehow. Some tips on CV’s here.
So, battle plan:
- Finalize a list of schools/programs you want to apply for by the end of this week.
- Create an application on the programs’ websites (if they’re open for cohort of 2018 applications). It’s free to start an application. And then on an excel sheet, record down all the necessary requirements per program (# of letters of rec, due dates, how much the application costs, etc).
- Contact people who you would like to write you letters of rec. Best to do this sooner than later, even if it’s just to ask and give them a head’s up.
- Plan to take the GRE no later than August/September if applications are due in November/December, because this still gives you just enough time to study some more and retake the GRE if necessary (I think it usually takes 2-3 weeks for official scores to be released). However!!! Please double check this with the official GRE website. But yeah, start studying now too if you feel like you need it. Kaplan’s my favorite test-reviewing company, but you can use whatever works for you. The vocab section was probably the trickiest–so I recommend picking up some flashcards and just learning as many words as humanly possible.
- Start writing your personal statements now too. It takes A LOT of revising to get the best one, and since every program may have different requirements, you may need to write like a bunch of them. A good timeline is to have a few first drafts done by August. And plan on having others peer review (especially if they’ve gotten into grad school themselves, myself included if you’re comfortable with me reading your statement (with personal things like names and places taken out of course). Send me a private message if you’d like that!)
- As for the applications themselves, work on a little bit every day. You can always go back and change things until you submit, so things like “describe your extracurricular activities” can be revised over and over.
- As with all applications/submissions, try to submit a few hours or days before the actual deadline. Ya know, just in case things happen like the wifi goes out or whatnot.
Eyyyy! So, how does that all sound? Doable? Let me know! And please let me know how else I can help (again, I’m totally down for reading over your personal statements if you’re comfortable with that; just PM me). As someone who once had to go through the grad school app process, I know it can be suuuuper stressful, but I was lucky enough to have friends and other grad students guide me, so I’m more than happy and humbled to offer the same help to another grad-student-hopeful.
Good luck, and keep me updated!! <3