Most schools give more careful attention to early applications. In fact, some schools do most of their admitting from the early deadline pools and have fewer slots left for the later deadline applicants. If a school has two deadlines or rolling admissions, make sure your application is among the earliest. This means you must begin in the summer preceding your senior year and will be overwhelmed with the application process during the Fall semester. Plan your schedule accordingly.
Applications are expensive. Plan to spend $40-$75 per school. Inquire about a possible application fee waiver or reduction. Despite the expense, the prudent student should probably apply to a minimum of eight schools. One or two of these applications should go to the least prestigious schools you would be willing to attend.
Before you spend time and money applying, make sure you talk to faculty about the schools you have selected. Remember that the reputation of a graduate program changes over time as stellar faculty come and go. Faculty will also know how competitive the graduate school admission process has been for recent graduates and can give you information you will not find in writing.
There are three components to most applications besides your transcripts and GRE scores:
- Letters of Recommendation: See "How to Get the Best Possible Letter of Recommendation." These weigh heavily with admissions committees. If, by chance, a professor who knows you well happens to have graduated from a school to which you are applying, this is often an advantage.
- Personal Statement: These usually begin with a statement of goals and reasons for continuing your education. Requirements vary: Some schools ask for much information about your personal life and extracurricular interests. These are hard to write well. Make sure you have several faculty members read your drafts before sending them in.
- Writing Sample or Portfolio: Obviously this should be your best work that shows both mastery of form/technique and a serious grasp of content in your field. Ask your professors for evaluations of your best work and use their comments to guide your revisions. This component is, in many cases, more important than your grades or GRE scores.
Always check with each graduate school to which you applied to make sure that your materials have been received.