PhD application timeline

Unlike conventional wisdom where the timeline for applications begins in summer of your junior year in undergrad (depending on the country, this can be end of the second or third year) or if, for some reason, you put off the PhD application process until well into a masters program, the first year in masters, I recommend beginning the process during the winter. This is a best-case scenario which leaves time to craft a great application and resolve unforeseen issues (lost transcript, a delinquent recommender). Of course, you have to tweak the later part of this schedule to fit the schools’ deadlines. If you wish to earn a PhD from a school that does not require neither the TOEFL/IELTS nor the GRE (general and/or advanced), you may skip the steps pertaining to these tests.

  • February: Take the TOEFL/IELTS (if applicable) and/or the general GRE (preferably the TOEFL/IELTS prior to the general GRE since verbal and writing preparation for the GRE overlaps with TOEFL/IELTS practice if you need take both)
  • April: Take the subject GRE (if applicable; test scores from the April administration are released ~30 days after the administration)
  • May: Begin researching potential programs. Your scores will help you determine whether these programs are worth applying or not. At the same time, begin writing your personal statement.
  • June: If, after checking against the deadlines of your potential schools, you realize that the transcripts with fall grades won’t arrive in time, and that they won’t accept transcripts in your native language, then begin looking for certified translations as soon as the originals are released. Consider contacting professors at your current institution (or former if you’re out of school); they may help you recommend some programs and even make some connections.
  • July: Request information from institutions that interest you. If you’re not happy with your GRE scores (general and/or subject), sign up to take the relevant tests again.
  • August: Finalize your list of prospective programs, and pick a professor or two from each whose research interests mirror your own. Familiarize yourself with their work. Keep polishing your personal statement in accordance with your pick of professors. Make contact with students and professors at your prospective schools (especially the ones closest to your research interests)
  • September: Contact your recommenders; include supplemental materials (unofficial transcript, personal statement, resume) so that they can use them as reference. Have someone in your field review your personal statement.
  • October: Request official transcripts from your institution and send your GRE scores directly to schools. Arrange a campus visit if you can.
  • November: Complete and submit all applications, keeping a copy of all sections for your records. Verify that your recommendations are sent. 
  • December: Focus on financial aid – look into private grants and fellowships (and loans as a last resort).
  • February and March: Try to relax while you wait it out. This is the more relaxing time you will have in years, so enjoy it while it lasts.
  • April: If you’re accepted to multiple schools, this is going to be a stressful period because the implications reach far and wide into the future.
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