Your Winning PhD Application Timeline — The Admit Lab

Philippe Barr, PhD
10 min readMar 10, 2023

The road to a successful PhD application can seem simply overwhelming, but with the right PhD application timeline in place, you have a much higher chance of having your hard work rewarded.

Whether you’re an undergraduate student looking for postgraduate advice or just starting out on the journey to graduate school success, this blog post will walk you through the steps needed to create and stick to an effective timeline that increases your chances of being admitted into the program of your dreams. With detailed instructions and time-tested advice, let’s embark on this exciting journey!

It Is Never Early Enough To Start

If you want to boost your chances of getting admitted into a graduate school program, the best course is to get started early. Based on our experience, the earlier your start working on your PhD application, the better chances you get of getting admitted. Period.

Before you start considering any PhD application timeline, it is important to make sure you have all the relevant deadlines in hand. In the US and Europe, PhD application deadlines can vary substantially from one institution to another, so it’s necessary to do your research beforehand. It is also important to note that some PhD programs may have rolling admissions processes while others may require applications to be submitted by a specific date.

Keep in mind that if you are planning to study abroad, you may need additional time to obtain a visa or provide proof of sufficient funds, so it is important to factor these additional considerations into your timeline. And finally, there can also be additional fees and deadlines associated with the application process such as payment of fees or submission of additional materials. For this reason, it is vital to confirm all pertinent deadlines and criteria ahead of time so that you can plan your time over the next few months accordingly.

(Would you like to know what PhD admissions committees are looking for? Watch this quick video to find out key elements to highlight in an application)

Based on our experience working with multiple PhD applicants, we’ve crafted the perfect PhD application timeline to help you apply for programs without having a nervous breakdown. This tried-and-true action plan gives you enough time to create an outstanding application, take care of any surprise problems (such as lost transcripts or missing letters of recommendation), and even adds extra cushioning for unforeseen issues before sending everything off.

March- June

We believe four important steps need to be taken around springtime.

Soul-Searching:

Before beginning to research doctoral programs, it is important to ask yourself some key questions. What are your career goals? What type of program do you need to get there? How much time and money can you commit to pursuing a PhD? Do you have any special circumstances such as health conditions or family responsibilities that will affect your ability to pursue a degree? It is also important to consider the location of potential programs, as well as what kind of support systems you may need to make the program successful. Taking time to consider these questions will help ensure that the doctoral programs you research are a good fit for you, your goals, and your life.

GRE

Views on the GRE and its aptitude to accurately judge one’s research skills for a PhD program differ greatly. However, following the recent global pandemic, many universities have begun waiving this requirement. To ensure you don’t miss out or fall short in the application process, make sure you double-check which (if any) of your prospective programs require Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) scores.

If you are required to provide GRE scores, we encourage you to take a practice GRE test immediately. Your results will help you determine the time you need to prepare for the official exam. You can begin prepping as soon as possible, allowing yourself ample time to achieve your desired score.

Research topic/research interests

Whether you have a clear idea of the research you would like to do during your PhD program or not, it is important to prepare for the writing of the research portion of your statement of purpose. Spring is the time for you to identify your research interests, objectives, and goals. Now that you’ve taken the first step, dive deeper into your chosen field of study or topic through comprehensive background research. To stay up-to-date on your research topic, make sure to consult literature reviews to understand current trends and theories. Don’t be afraid to dig into the material if need be. Taking this step will give you a leg up when beginning your investigation of programs and when crafting your statement of purpose. Additionally, consider reaching out to faculty members in the field who can provide you with more insight and valuable feedback.

School Research

Start researching potential programs thoroughly and investigate various programs to determine which is the right fit for you. You should aim to have a list of roughly 10 programs by the end of June.

July — August

Having gained a better understanding of your research interests, the next step is to develop an outline for your statement of purpose and come up with a first draft/template.

If a writing sample is necessary, now is the time to review your past work and arrange an appropriate copy for submission. Presenting this piece of writing in its best light will demonstrate your skills to prospective schools.

Finally, the end of the summer is a good time for you to start working on your CV or resume.

As soon as Labor Day Weekend comes to a close, the PhD application process is in full swing. Now it’s time to take your PhD application timeline up a notch and give it an extra push! September is here and that means faculty members and students are transitioning back into school mode- what better time for you to begin the networking journey so essential to your PhD application? Beginning to build relationships in September will give you a leg up on the competition and put you ahead of the game.

Contact Your Recommenders

To ensure the best possible letters of recommendation, contact professors who can talk about your unique skills. Get in touch with professors who can confirm the qualities that you possess. Doing so will help to build your credibility, allowing more opportunities for success.

Reach out to students/alumni at your target programs

Connect with current students to find out more about the programs, and plan an informal visit if possible. Getting in touch with current students and alumni of a PhD program can be extremely beneficial when considering an application. Current students are often the best source of information about a program and can provide honest insight into their experiences. As they are already in the program, they can answer specific questions related to course offerings and learning opportunities, as well as the professors and teaching styles. Alumni of the program can provide information about job placement prospects or other post-graduation options. Additionally, both current students and alumni can offer advice on what it takes to excel in the program.

Reach out to the admissions team

Attending information sessions and interacting with the admissions team before applying to PhD programs can be incredibly beneficial and should definitely included in your PhD application timeline. Not only will you have the chance to get a better understanding of the program and its requirements, but you’ll also have the opportunity to ask questions and learn more about the research opportunities available at the institution. Additionally, it can offer valuable insights into what admissions committees look for in a strong applicant and how to improve your application.

The graduate admissions team often keeps track of the interactions a student has

had with their school, from attending events to writing emails and more. This is often taken into account when considering a student’s application and can play a major role in admissions decisions, especially at competitive schools. So, make your presence known.

Seek out input on your SOP

Having an extra set of eyes to take a look at your statement of purpose for the PhD program is extremely important as it can help you find any mistakes you may have overlooked and ensure your statement is of the highest quality. By having someone else review your work, you can get feedback on areas you may have missed, such as grammar and/or clarity of your writing. This can help you make sure that the statement is well-written and organized and that it effectively conveys the message you are trying to send. Additionally, having someone else look at your statement can provide a different perspective on the content and help you ensure that your statement is concise, well-crafted, and tailored to the specific program.

October

Polish your final school list

By this time, you should have a great understanding of the universities and programs that best suit your needs. It’s time to finalize everything and cross some of the schools that have not passed the sniff test or add others that may have come up through your research. Make sure that your list is final.

Create an account in the application portal

Now that you have a final list. Let’s make things official by creating an account in the application portal of each school. This allows you to save and keep track of important documents and receive updates about the application process. But most importantly, it is a great way for you to find out if there are any additional documents needed that are not mentioned on the school’s website. Unfortunately, this happens quite often and many applicants find themselves in the situation of having to write an extra essay at the last minute. Start your online application ahead of time and begin inputting the required information to avoid a flurry of last-minute tasks. This can be a boring and time-consuming process, so give yourself plenty of time!

Start tailoring your statement of purpose

The importance of tailoring your statement of purpose for each PhD program you apply to cannot be overstated. A well-crafted statement of purpose conveys your knowledge, understanding, and enthusiasm for your target programs. It is an opportunity to showcase who you are as a scholar and to demonstrate that your research interests align with the program’s mission and goals. It also allows you to present yourself in the best light and make a strong case for why your skills and experience make you an ideal candidate. It is important to keep in mind that admissions committees review hundreds of applications and will be looking for evidence that you have not only researched the program but also taken the time to write a statement of purpose that is tailored to the particular program. Investing the time necessary in your PhD application timeline to customize your statement of purpose for each PhD program can guarantee that your application is recognized among a sea of competition.

Reconnect with your recommenders

Mid-October is the best time to reconnect with your recommenders and provide them with a copy of your CV and any additional information you deem worthy of consideration for them to write you an outstanding letter.

GRE

If you haven’t taken the GRE yet, or need to retake it for a higher score, then plan accordingly and make sure the universities receive your score on time.

Transcripts

Requesting transcripts early will allow you, the opportunity to ensure all courses are properly accounted for and that the most recent information is being presented. Make sure to read the instructions of each school carefully to ensure that all required documents are included and that transcripts are requested early enough for them to be received in time. It is also important to keep track of when the transcripts have been requested and when they are due so that there is sufficient time for any adjustments that may be needed.

November — December

This is the final sprint before the finish line. By this time you should have all the materials ready. It is time for one last review.

Ensure that your letter writers are aware of the impending deadlines, as they will likely be due sometime in late November to early December.

Review your statement of purpose. Make sure that the content is free from errors, grammatical mistakes, and typos. Also, provide sufficient evidence to support your claims in the essay. It is recommended to get another person to read and review your statement before submitting it. This will help you spot mistakes that you may have missed and get an objective opinion on the overall essay. Moreover, be sure to highlight your strengths and experiences that make you a great candidate for the program in an honest yet confident manner. Taking the time to make sure your statement of purpose is perfect can be the difference between getting admitted or rejected!

Submit your applications

Send your recommenders a thank you note.

Congratulate yourself: you made it!

So, now you have the tools to craft an effective PhD application timeline that will maximize your chances of getting admitted into your dream program. The to-do list can be intimidating but it doesn’t have to be! By breaking down the application process into manageable tasks and using all of these tips, getting the life-changing experience of enrolling in your desired doctoral program is within reach.

If you’re still feeling overwhelmed by this process, don’t hesitate to contact us and check out our PhD application services. We offer comprehensive support throughout the entire school admission process and we’ve helped hundreds of students successfully complete their applications and get admitted into the programs of their dreams!

With a Master’s from McGill University and a PhD from New York University,Philippe Barr is the founder of The Admit Lab. As a tenure-track professor, Philippe spent a decade teaching and serving on several graduate admission committees at UNC-Chapel Hill before turning to full-time consulting. With more than seven years of experience as a graduate school admissions consultant, Philippe has stewarded the candidate journey across multiple master’s and PhD programs and helped hundreds of students get admitted to top-tier graduate programs all over the world.

Originally published at https://admit-lab.com on March 10, 2023.

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Philippe Barr, PhD

I am Philippe Barr, founder of The Admit Lab, a graduate school admissions consultancy that helps students get admitted into grad school: https://admit-lab.com/