PhD Application Timeline: Timeline For Applying For Grad School

If you are looking to apply to start your Ph.D program, the journey can be daunting. However, with the right roadmap, it becomes manageable.

In this post, we guide you through each crucial step of the application process. From drafting your statement of purpose to securing letters of recommendation, we offer insights and tips to help you stay on track and maximise your chances of success.

PhD Application Timeline

Time PeriodThings To Do
March to June– Choose your preferred programs.
– Write your statements.
– Take the GRE if needed.
– Arrange recommendation letters.
– Look into financial aid and fellowships.
July to August– Do a final check of your application.
– Update your CV.
– Look for fellowships and prep for interviews.
– Research living arrangements and university support.
September– Contact recommenders.
– Connect with students, alumni, and admissions.
– Go to info sessions.
October– Set up application accounts.
– Customise your statements.
– Order your transcripts.
November to December– Finalise recommendation letters.
– Apply for financial aid and fellowships.

March To June

In March, it’s crucial to start preparing your application components. This includes finalizing your list of target programs and universities, ensuring they align with your research interests and career goals.

Begin drafting your statement of purpose and personal statement, emphasizing how your experiences and aspirations fit with each program’s offerings.

Simultaneously, focus on getting your GRE test done if your chosen programs require it. If you’re not satisfied with your GRE score, consider retaking the exam.

April is all about refining and finalizing your documents. Review these documents, and ensure they do not have any grammatical mistakes of typos: 

  • Statement of purpose
  • Personal statement, and
  • Curriculum Vitae (CV)

This is also the time to finalize your letters of recommendation. Choose recommenders who are aware of your academic potential and can vouch for your suitability for graduate research.

By May, you should be ready to submit your application. Ensure all components, including your transcript and writing sample, are tailored to each program’s requirements.

This is also a good month to start exploring financial aid options, such as the FAFSA and any available fellowships or scholarships.

June is often when you’ll hear back from programs with rolling admissions. This can give you an early indication of where you stand and may require you to adjust your strategy for other applications.

Throughout these months, it’s important to stay organized, keep track of application deadlines, and allow ample time for each step of the application process. 

July To August

July and August are typically quieter months in the PhD application timeline, but they are by no means less critical.

This period provides an invaluable opportunity to enhance your application and position yourself as a strong candidate for fall admissions. Let’s delve into some key activities you should engage in during these months.

In July, if you haven’t already submitted your application, now is the time to do a final review. Check for any grammatical mistakes or typos in your

  • Statement of purpose
  • Personal statement, and
  • Writing samples.

It’s also crucial to ensure your CV is up-to-date and reflects your most recent achievements and experiences. For those who have already submitted their applications, use this time to research potential fellowship opportunities and prepare for any upcoming interviews.

August is an excellent time to reach out to the graduate programs you’ve applied to and confirm that your application is complete. This shows your continued interest and ensures that nothing is missing from your application file.

If you’re waiting to hear back from programs with rolling admissions, you might start receiving admissions decisions.

During this period, it’s also wise to start preparing for your next steps. Research the graduate schools and the areas where you might live for the next few years. Look into:

  • Housing options
  • Support systems available at the university, and
  • Job placement statistics for graduates. 

This will not only help you make an informed decision if you receive multiple offers but also allow you to plan accordingly for your move and transition to graduate school life.


September marks a critical juncture in your PhD application timeline. This month, you’re not just a prospective student; you’re a strategist, networking to enhance your application. Here’s what you should be focusing on:

First, reach out to potential recommenders. These should be faculty members who can attest to your unique skills and academic prowess. A strong letter of recommendation from someone who knows you well can significantly bolster your application.

Ensure they are aware of your grad school application deadlines and provide them with key insights about the programs you are applying to.

Networking with current students and alumni from your target programs is also crucial. They can offer invaluable insights into the graduate program’s:

  • Culture
  • Teaching styles, and
  • Research opportunities.

If possible, plan informal visits or attend virtual sessions to get a sense of the community you’re hoping to join.

Don’t forget to make contact with the admissions team. Attending information sessions and engaging with them can provide a deeper understanding of the program’s requirements and research opportunities.

This interaction is often noted by graduate admissions teams and can influence admissions decisions.

Finally, seek input on your Statement of Purpose (SOP). Have mentors or peers review it for grammatical accuracy, clarity, and effectiveness.

Remember, a well-crafted SOP can make a significant difference in showcasing your suitability for the program.


First, finalize your list of prospective schools. It’s a strategic decision – weighing program strengths against your research interests. This is more than just ticking boxes; it’s about envisioning where you’ll live and thrive for the next few years.

By now, you should have a solid sense of the universities and programs that align with your aspirations.

Creating accounts on each graduate program’s application portal is your next step. This isn’t just a formality; it’s where you’ll:

  • Submit your application
  • Track documents, and sometimes
  • Find out about those pesky additional requirements – like that surprise essay due in early December.

Start preparing now to avoid a last-minute scramble.

Tailoring your statement of purpose for each application can make the difference between getting noticed or overlooked. It’s not just a personal statement; it’s your narrative, tying your past achievements to future potential.

Admission committees seek candidates who not only fit their program’s ethos but also bring a fresh perspective.

Finally, transcripts are more than a formality; they’re a testament to your academic journey. Request them early to ensure accuracy and timeliness.

November To December

As November and December roll in, the timeline for applying to PhD programs becomes critical. Whether you’re eyeing the upcoming fall admission or strategizing for later, focus on these steps:

Finalize Your GRE Prep and Test Dates: Many programs still consider GRE scores pivotal. If you’re retaking the GRE to improve your score, now’s the time. Remember, it’s not just about the score but how it complements your overall application.

Secure Letters of Recommendation: Ensure your recommenders are aware of your timeline. A well-thought-out letter from a faculty member who knows your capabilities and research interests can make a significant difference.

Submit Applications: Graduate school applications are often due in early December. This includes your personal statement, CV, transcripts, GRE scores, and sometimes a writing sample. Remember, a typo or grammatical mistake can be costly—proofread meticulously.

Financial Aid and Fellowship Applications Don’t overlook financial aid and fellowship opportunities, like the Graduate Research Fellowship or school-specific scholarships. The FAFSA and other financial documents are crucial and often have different deadlines.

Make contact with graduate students in these programs to provide a different perspective and understand the support systems available. You can also reach out to the professors directly.

Preparation Is Key When Applying To Graduate School 

Embarking on your PhD journey is an exciting yet intricate process that requires meticulous planning and dedication. This comprehensive timeline serves as your beacon, guiding you through the labyrinth of grad school applications.

By adhering to these timelines and embracing each step with thorough preparation and strategic thinking, you position yourself as a strong candidate.

The journey to a PhD is not just about academic rigor but also about personal growth and aligning your aspirations with the right opportunities. Stay focused, stay inspired, and your path to graduate school will lead to rewarding destinations.

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton has a Masters and PhD in Chemistry from the UK and Australia. He has many years of research experience and has worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow and Associate at a number of Universities. Although having secured funding for his own research, he left academia to help others with his YouTube channel all about the inner workings of academia and how to make it work for you.