Attending graduate school is an enticing option for those who are not yet confident of their career path after undergraduate studies. Of course, some have known exactly what they plan to do professionally and have been on that course since the onset, but many others need to test the waters in order to find the perfect match. We have all had the question in school of what we want to be when we grow up or what type of career would be best for us, but the future is not set in stone and considering graduate school could be a logical next step for students nearing the end of their studies. Exploring graduate programs can be of great assistance when hunting for that path that aligns with your areas of interest.
Applying to graduate programs does require a quite vigorous application process. Almost all programs have a standardized testing score as a necessity, with the GRE being the most widely accepted for a plethora of graduate programs. The scores generally need to be submitted on or before the application deadline with very few exceptions. It is important to keep in mind that it can take up to 3 weeks for official GRE scores to reach the admissions offices and perhaps another week to get in the hands of the correct board. We have taken time to layout well thought-out guidelines to plan both your preparation period and test date in order to avoid any logistical issues that could hinder the process.
Get your application deadline set in stone
Setting a deadline for your preparation process is an effective method of both increasing motivation and ensuring you have the proper times and dates of the application deadlines in mind. It is often recommended to put aside 4 months for GRE preparation, but it is not realistic for everyone, and many students choose to put in 2-3 months, which is perfectly acceptable. To put this into perspective, if your application deadline is in October, it is best to take the GRE in August or at the very latest early September. It is highly recommended to leave yourself enough time to re-take the GRE if your first attempt is unsatisfactory. It is quite common for students to sit for the GRE multiple times to ensure they have their target score and best chance of gaining admission. Setting your test date very near to your deadline will cause unnecessary stress, which could affect performance and anxiety. Plan ahead and give yourself a nice cushion when it comes to both the preparation process and test date. Just a quick note: students have to wait 21 days between GRE attempts.
Allocate your resources in a realistic, efficient manner
The GRE is a demanding admissions test that needs a large amount of preparation and attention. Self-motivation and accountability are a requirement when executing a customized curriculum for the study time you have earmarked. The GRE is a highly weighted factor on graduate school applications, and it is important to properly allocate your attention, schedule and resources in order to attain an elite score, which will push you closer to reaching the next step in your career path. There are always external factors that affect when the right to take the GRE would be such as family obligations or work, but it is critical to know your personal situation and ensuring you have adequate time to prepare is a primary criterion to identifying the right date for your exam. Be sure to take some time to reflect on why you are taking the GRE and if you have the mental and physical capacity for such an undertaking over the next months. It is often mandatory to shuffle around your schedule or temporarily drop other tasks in order to make time in your schedule for GRE prep.
Ensure it is the opportune time for Grad School
There is a wide variety of students who apply to graduate school and not all of them are still involved in their studies or recent graduates. It could be that someone rediscovers their interest in higher education and decides to apply for a spot in a program after gaining work and life experience. Self-reflection is an important step to coming to a decision about further education and taking the GRE. You need to know what your goals are and how a graduate study fits into the grand scheme of things. Those in their last year of undergraduate studies often decide to take part in some kind of GRE prep course, but it is advantageous to wait until you have a clearer outlook on what you wish your future will look like. Instead of rushing to a decision because that is what you are supposed to do after your Bachelor’s, take some time to explore all options and concentrate on finishing strong. It could be advantageous to take a longer trip abroad or pursue a forgotten area of interest before making a final decision. The GRE is not going anywhere and requires full motivation and dedication. So, once you feel that you are ready to start this journey, you will know that it is time to schedule your exam date and begin creating your study plan.
Book your test date early
The GRE General test is done on a computer due to the adaptive difficulty and is readily available, but it needs to be proctored, which can lead to scheduling difficulties. Test centers have hours of operation and may not be open every day of the year. The available time slots also fill up quickly because of the popularity of the exam and amount of graduate school applicants, especially on weekends as many test takers have very full schedules during the week. Of course, it is possible to schedule your exam date a few days in advance, but it is not recommended to rely on this as it can throw off your whole application timeline if there are unforeseen circumstances or simply no more available slots. Booking the date months in advance not only gives you the security of knowing when you will take the test, but also helps structure the preparation time you have. Visit www.gre.org to familiarize yourself with the registration process and find an opportune time to schedule!
Figure out when the opportune time to start would be
Graduate program application deadlines differ depending on the program. Some run on rolling admission allowing students to submit applications on a monthly basis, but most have 4 separate deadlines for the spring, summer, fall or winter terms. It can be comforting to know that there are more chances to apply if you have that kind of wiggle room. This could also allow you to adjust your GRE preparation schedule if things for some reason are not going according to plan. Skipping a deadline is always an option as ensuring you are properly prepared for your exam is a critical factor for your applications. If you give yourself a buffer, then you have the ability to be flexible with your preparation and put in more time to improve before submitting. It is perfectly fine if you are limited to a tighter range, but it is important to start early and allow yourself ample time to get everything ready when it comes to preparing both mentally and physically for the GRE.
Leave yourself time for a second attempt
It is very common for students to attempt the GRE multiple times. Some students use the first sitting as a trial run to see how things go and how they react to the stressful environment. There is no downside to leaving yourself a buffer. If you do not leave yourself with sufficient time to put in the extra practice for the retake could lead to attaining the same result or potentially a lower score. You are allowed to take the GRE every 21 days and 5 times per year (365 days, not calendar year). We do not recommend taking the GRE again after 21 days as the time window is far too short to put in the proper preparation on the areas of weakness. Your official GRE score will not be available until 10-15 days after taking the exam so that would actually leave you with even less that 21 days if you want to retake it as soon as possible. Make the responsible decision and plan your time wisely in order to allow for your schedule to accommodate a retake with sufficient prep time.
A final decision needs to be met as to when you want to schedule your GRE. There are many factors to keep in mind, with application deadlines being the most important, but don’t forget about the other more personal considerations that should have a large impact on your decision. Learn your study habits to check if you need to clear up several months or find a more tightly packed timeline in order to maintain motivation and retention. Put time and effort into critically thinking about the impact the GRE will have on your future endeavors to ensure you are both ready and willing to partake on this rigorous journey.