The Standard Timeline
Some programs offer multiple start terms in the academic year, and rolling admissions, but the “standard” timeline is traditionally geared towards a Fall Term start scenario:
Apply to take the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) in October
Begin preparing, take practice exams and focus on areas for improvement
List the programs you want to apply to and schedule campus visits to your top choices
Begin dialogue with the admissions counselors and targeted faculty
Call the department to see if any faculty can meet with you while you're there for a campus visit
Begin drafting your essays
Request that your undergraduate transcripts be mailed to the institutions to which you're applying
Contact your favorite former professors and ask for letters of recommendation
Send an information packet to the people who write your letters, including your CV, undergraduate transcript, and a list of accomplishments
Revise your essays
Finish your essays
Finalize and mail applications and financial aid forms
Make a backup copy of your application packet
Consider sending it through registered mail
File your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
Confirm that your professors sent their recommendation letters
Accept and decline offers
Recommended: as soon as you have two offers in hand, pick the one that you prefer and immediately decline the other
Some programs offer multiple start terms in the academic year, and accept and examine applications as they are sent in, instead of waiting to review all applications concurrently. Schools with rolling admissions offer flexibility and can work in your favor for late admissions, or for finding out sooner than later whether you are accepted, so you can change your plan accordingly. Their application window is open until all spots have been filled. Typically, you'll hear back four to eight weeks after applying, and in some cases you could hear in just two weeks.
Both small private schools and larger state universities offer rolling admission, but it is not typically found at Ivy League schools. Whether a school does or does not offer rolling admission is no reflection of the institution’s competitiveness or acceptance rates. The application elements and testing requirements are typically the same.
The sites below provide more information on the process and lists of schools offering rolling admissions:
If you take a “gap year,” remember to maintain these relationships so they are available when you decide the time for school is right. If you have worked a number of years and are pursuing a graduate degree after a “gap,” your work supervisor may also act as a reference for you.