My Grad School Game Plan

Fall is pretty much here and it’s time to start applying to grad school.

Honestly, what a nightmare.

I’m dreading this process. I can’t lie. Completely dreading it.

I was planning on taking the GRE in September, but I’ve really put studying for it on hold and I am just not prepared at all to take it so soon. Regardless, I have to take it within the next couple of months.

Not to mention I haven’t even thought about drafting my personal statement yet, or who I’m asking for recommendations, etc.


But, I have to come to terms with it: this is the semester that I need to apply, that I need to take the GRE, and get all of my recommendation letters in order. I HAVE to start getting this all in order and figuring out how I’m going to make it all happen!

So, here is my plan.

It is the end of August and I need to apply by January.


I had one that fell through the cracks weeks ago. Ha.

But I need to take the GRE very soon. Preferably in about 6 weeks. 6 weeks from right now is the beginning of October. So I need a study plan that lasts from now until the beginning of October.

  • Learn 50 new words per week. = 300 new words total, .5 hour per day, 3 hours per week

The GRE is vocabulary heavy, so it’s time to crack out the GRE podcasts and online flashcards. 50 words per week is 10 per day, if I take weekends off. I can handle that.

  • Spend 2.5 hours per week learning the math section. = 15 math hours total

Guys… I haven’t taken a math test in 3 years. And it didn’t go so well then, either.

I am dreading this. Horribly dreading it.

2.5 hours a week divided by 5 days a week is a half hour per day for 5 days. That is hopefully doable. God I hate math.

  • Have 1.5 hours or so every week put aside for review. = 9 review hours total

This time will be for making sure that I am actually retaining the things I learn in the previously mentioned points. This will also be for areas that I end up needing extra time to learn fully.

  • Take 2 practice exams. = 8 hours total

I probably won’t take two full exams in one sitting. I understand how this could be great practice but I don’t want to put myself through this torture a total of 3 times including the actual run-through, haha.

I will likely end up taking these in sections and seeing how they go, so that I get a feel for the timing and types of questions.


This way, I have a handy list ready when it comes time to actually ask for the letters.

I plan to make a list of anyone and everyone who may be able to write me a nice letter and then prioritize the list based on what I think that they will be able to include in their letter and how much credential they have.


Aah, I another part that I am dreading. There’s just a lot of pressure on this one.

I want to read examples of successful personal statements to evaluate the style and voice they use, mostly. Then I’ll read the exact questions my program wants me to answer, and draft something up based on that.

I think drafting the personal statement instead of jumping right into writing it will help me not feel so overwhelmed whenever I think about it OR when I actually sit down to write it. My thoughts will all be in one place and will hopefully make the process a little less painful.


Now that I’ve been studying for the GRE based on the model above, it’s time to schedule a date.

I am so stressed thinking about this one because the test is SO expensive and I want to make sure I give myself enough time to be prepared, but not so much time that I am cutting it close to the application date.

My goal is for the beginning of October or no later than mid-October.


I’m not sure if this is required for all grad admissions, but for my program the application requires a research proposal based on the area of study.

I think that a good plan of action for this will be researching professors in the program I am applying for and seeing what type of research they do – both for some inspiration and also for a better chance that they will be interested in my research proposal!

As they always say, “Apply to the professor, not the program”.


I’d like to ask for my letters of recommendation early, of course, but not too early. This way they will have time to write a great letter for me, but not enough time for it to fall way down their to-do lists so that they end of forgetting.


Now, with my finished draft, I can write the thing. I plan on writing it all in one sitting, revising in another, and then hopefully meeting with someone to get feedback and revise again.

*Get another pair of eyes on your statement!*

Another pair of eyes can help detect mistakes you may not be able to see in your own writing, and, if you can find the right person, you may be able to get some pointers to improve your statement for the admissions board.


I am not quite sure which would be better to submit – a resume or a CV. I have an updated resume, but I have no CV. I suppose I should write a CV anyway just to have it on hand.

I may end up asking for help writing the CV, as that is something I’ve never written before. Either way, I’d like to meet with someone about this finished product as well to see if it is up to par with the admissions board.


I don’t imagine this part will take as long and I think will be the final step in the application process. This will be saved for last.

Submitting that online app will be the light at the end of the tunnel!

And wa-la! I’ve applied to grad school. Hopefully.

I don’t know about you but this list has already calmed me down so much. It’s given me a nice clear visual of the steps I need to take this semester to finish applying to grad school, and a flexible order I can follow to getting it done.

I hope this helped you out, too!

If you are having trouble getting your grad school or any other application process organized, I highly recommend making a sort of timeline like this and breaking it down into small parts. For me, I really think breaking down how I want to study for the GRE has helped to motivate me to ACTUALLY DO IT and will stop me from being totally overwhelmed by what all I need to study in a relatively short amount of time.

I hope that you all are looking forward to fall and are having a great semester and/or season depending on what you’re up to!

Talk to you on Thursday.

1 Comment

  1. October 27, 2017 / 2:58 pm

    List making is so therapeutic. I really enjoyed reading yours. Grad school has been on my mind a lot lately, but feels so overwhelming to start the process of researching schools, application processes, GRE prep etc. Once I’m ready to take the plunge I’m going to use your list as inspo. Thanks for sharing and good luck!

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