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The Complete Checklist for Applying to Graduate School as an Undergraduate

March 11, 2022

Earning a graduate degree is a great way to continue your education, open new employment opportunities, and increase your earning potential. Whatever your career goals are, having a graduate degree to your name will get you one step closer.

However, if you’re asking yourself questions like, “What do I need to apply for grad school?” and, “How early can you apply to grad school?,” you’re not alone.

It can be tricky to navigate the application process and know where to start. That’s why we put together this applying to grad school checklist with everything you need to know.

Keep in mind that the specifics may vary depending on your schools of interest and field of study, but this will give you a good sense of where to start and what to expect along the way.

Junior Year

Ideally, your preparation for grad school should start during your junior year. You don’t want to create a situation where you’re scrambling with grad school deadlines and requirements while balancing your senior year workload, so start this process in the spring.


  • Start research & make a list of preferred programs

Pro tip: There’s more that goes into building your list of preferred schools than making sure they have your program. You should also consider things like costs, modality (virtual/in-person/hybrid), job placement rate, and how they’ll help prepare you for taking the next step in your career.

  • Register for appropriate entrance exams
  • Review your unofficial transcript for errors
  • Start looking into national scholarships and deadlines

Pro tip: Each school will likely have its own financial aid options, but it’s also a good idea to apply for as many state and national scholarships as you can. Here’s an article that will help you find the right graduate scholarships for you.

  • Start thinking about letters of recommendation


  • Take graduate entrance exams
  • Schedule campus visits
  • Gather applications for your top schools
  • Start crafting personal statements

Pro tip: Check with your school’s career center for editing help and other guidance. You can also check out this blog post, How To Write a Statement of Purpose For Grad School: 7 Tips From The Professionals

  • Double-check application deadlines and requirements

Senior Year

If you follow the steps above in your junior year, the work you’ll have to do in your senior year to apply for graduate school will be much easier. Senior year is when you’ll start your applications, look at financial aid options, and start communicating with schools directly.


  • Request and send official transcripts
  • Ask for letters of recommendation

Pro tip: Be very intentional about who you ask and what it is you’d like them to bring to light about you. You can’t write the letter for them, but it’s okay to give them some specific guidance — such as asking them to talk about your project management skills or to recall the story of a specific project that you executed well.

  • Complete and submit applications and essays
  • Apply for national scholarships and grants


  • File the FAFSA
  • Take a breather & wait for decision letters


  • Visit any schools that accept you

Pro tip: Have a game plan when you visit these schools. What are you looking for on campus? What buildings do you want to tour? To whom do you want to speak? What questions will you ask? Will you sit in on any classes? How will you know this is the right school for you?

  • Send a deposit to the school you choose
  • Notify other schools of your choice
  • Send thank-you notes
  • Celebrate!

Start Your Journey to Graduate School 

Remember, this process may vary depending on your specific field of study and to which schools you apply. Still, this checklist gives you an idea of what to expect. We recommend keeping it handy so you can refer back to it and check items off along the way!

You can also access the Prospective Student Toolkit for insights on how to:

  • Know if graduate study is the right next step for you,
  • Research graduate schools, broken down into easy steps,
  • Qualify and apply for financial aid to help pay for grad school.

Download the Guide

SHU Graduate Admissions Team

About the Author

We are the graduate admissions team at Sacred Heart University. We aspire to create a welcoming and supportive environment for students looking to continue their education while empowering them in mind, body and spirit. We hope you find our resources helpful and informative as you explore and pursue a graduate degree at Sacred Heart!

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