I talked a little bit about the application timeline in my last post, but I think it is helpful to have a full post dedicated to managing all the components of grad school applications. Ideally you want to have the GRE done and out of the way as early as you can. The GRE is good for ~5 years so take it when it works well for you. Maybe you have a light class load if you’re in college or you are working a 9-5 that means you have extra time in the evenings–take advantage of that time and study or take a prep class for the GRE. I love the Magoosh app for vocabulary (it’s free)! The GRE can feel like a major time suck at times, so I suggest you try and knock it out early.
Next, I would reach out to potential recommenders to see who has time and get a shortlist together. If you are applying to programs with a Fall deadline (November/December), then try reaching out to your potential recommenders in July or August. Don’t be offended if your favorite professor doesn’t have time to write you a letter–it’s easy to forget professors have lives too! This is is why it is nice to have 5-6 people feel comfortable asking and who know you well enough to write a thorough recommendation letter.
As you are reaching out to recommenders, I suggest also working on your personal statement. Your recommenders will likely need this document to tailor their letters, so it’s important to have a solid draft ready for them. Hopefully you are applying to similar faculty and similar programs so you won’t have to change everything about your personal statement for each school. Get a draft of your basic essay ready as early as possible. Send it to trusted friends and family for editing! If your college has a helpful writing center or career center that works with alumni, it could also be useful to use that resource. Personal statements are hard–give yourself time! I would recommend having a solid draft of your bare bones personal statement by the end of September so you have time to change it up for each program and faculty member you are applying to work with.
Unfortunately every school has a different application process. For example, some schools have an online portal and some require you to email all materials to an admin. I would recommend making a big spreadsheet to keep track of what needs to be submitted where and when. The whole application process requires a ton of juggling so starting early makes it just a little bit easier!
After submitting your applications in November/December, you can expect to hear back about interviews or a decision starting at the end of December through the beginning of April. If you get an interview, you will likely find out between late December and early February (at the latest).