Applying to graduate school requires a lot of organization. Admissions officers want a complete picture of who you are, what your skills are and if you’re the right fit for the program, so most grad program applications require a variety of elements—including a resume, reference letters, transcripts, a portfolio, an academic essay and/or a statement of intent.
The number one rule for applying to grad schools is to monitor the program’s deadlines. It’s important to build a relationship with the program’s admissions officer because they will help you meet deadlines and submit all of the necessary documents.
Before you apply, make sure to research the program fees and ask yourself ‘Can I afford it?’ You don’t want to pay the application fees and go through all the work of applying to realize that the program is unaffordable.
Once you’ve done your research and decided which graduate programs you want to apply to, here is a helpful 1-month grad school application checklist.
One Month From the Application Deadline
1. Book Your English Proficiency Exam (if you haven’t already).
If you graduated from an undergraduate program where the language of instruction was not English, you will likely need to take an English proficiency exam such as the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) or Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). Exam slots fill up really quickly, so you should schedule yours ASAP. Some graduate programs require that you apply when your scores are ready while some will give you a conditional acceptance until they receive your scores that meet the minimum requirements. Make sure you find out what your program requires. Here are the MDM Program's English Language Requirements.
2. Research Your Financial Aid Options.
Look into different loan deadlines and bank requirements. Often it’s not just about the program that you are applying for but your personal credit history. Check to see if someone is willing to co-sign a loan. For international students, if you know a Canadian or permanent resident who’s willing to co-sign, they can help you get a loan by becoming your guarantor.
You can also check for scholarships that will allow you to apply before you’re admitted. For a lot of international scholarships, you may need to apply before you’ve been accepted into your program of choice because it takes time for the paperwork to process.
3. Talk To Your References.
Most programs require to you have two to three references that are a mix of academic and professional. For the MDM program, for example, we prefer two academic references and one professional reference. But if you’ve been in the workforce for +4 years, three professional references are acceptable. If you’re unsure about what your program requires, make sure to talk to the admissions officer and they’ll help you out.
4. Order Your Transcripts.
Make sure to order your transcripts, especially if you're applying from overseas. Sometimes transcripts can take a while to arrive and process.
5. Start On Your Portfolio.
For programs that require samples of work or portfolios, start thinking about what work you want to showcase and how you’ll demonstrate your skills and knowledge. A portfolio is not something that can be done overnight, it needs critical thought and a lot of revisions. It is a reflection of who you are and how you choose to present yourself.
When considering what work to include, it should always be quality over quantity. Don’t include anything unless you are confident that it shows your best work. If you’re submitting work that you’ve done with an employer, check and see if you can use it. Read our tips for a killer graduate school portfolio.
6. Research Housing Options.
If the program is out of town, start thinking about your housing options. Does the program have on-campus housing? What housing options are close to campus, transit-accessible, etc.?
Two Weeks Away From the Application Deadline
7. Start Your Online Application.
Start filling out your online application. All programs’ application systems are different. For MDM, for example, you have until the deadline to submit all accompanying documentation such as your sample of work, short formal essay, references, etc. Note: for MDM, you must start your application by Feb 1st in order to meet the Feb 15 application deadline.
8. Apply For Housing.
If you decide that you want to live on campus, apply for housing. Some programs (like MDM) will let you apply for housing at any time. For programs with less room, you have to apply in conjunction with your application.
9. Send a Reminder Note To Your References.
Send a reminder note to your references, letting them know that you're applying and to expect a notice from the school. Communicate when you need the reference letters and how they should be sent in.
10. Start Statement of Intent.
If a statement of intent is required, start a draft. Similar to your portfolio, you need time to write a good letter to outline your focus, how the program will help you and the skills that you’ll bring into the program. The letter of intent needs to show your passion for the field you are entering. For the admissions committee it often answers why you are applying.
11. Start On Your Essay.
Many programs require a short formal essay to demonstrate your writing skills. Start thinking about how you're going to showcase your written critical thinking. Be sure to use formal academic language to develop a strong, sophisticated argument. A great candidate is one that can think in multiple perspectives.
12. Order Your TOEFL Or IELTS Score To Be Sent To The School.
If you haven't already, order your TOEFL or IELTS score to be sent to the school. Scores can be sent online to the schools, which is faster than having hard copies sent.
One Week Away From the Application Deadline
13. Confirm That Your References Have Their Letters Ready.
Follow up with your references one last time to make sure that they have their letters written.
14. Polish Your Resume.
Polish your resume and have someone look it over for suggestions or edits.
15. Ensure That All Your Fees Are Paid.
Ensure that you’ve paid all of your fees such as the program application fee, IELTS or TOEFL request, housing application, etc.
16. Proofread All Of Your Documents.
Polish your statement of intent and your formal essay. Proofread all of your application pieces. Ask someone else to proofread, too.
On the Application Deadline
17. Make Sure You’ve Submitted Everything.
Go through the application list and make sure all the required documents are uploaded and that nothing further is required. If you have any problems, contact the program’s admissions officer.
Helpful Info for MDM
Note: This post was originally published in February 2016 and has been updated for accuracy.