As they say, timing is everything. But in the case of applying to graduate school and nationally competitive funding opportunities planning is everything. And, the earlier you begin to do your research on graduate schools of interest, faculty you may want to study with, resources available in support of your research interests, and what and when things need to start to take shape on paper, the better off you will be. And, by way of a reality check, in terms of actual timing, an awful lot of this will come down on you during the fall of your senior year, including, but not limited to:
- Finishing your degree requirements
- Senior thesis work or senior projects
- Applying for graduate schools (deadlines beginning in September—January of the following year)
- Applying for nationally competitive opportunities in support of post-graduate studies (Fulbright, Rhodes, Marshall, Mitchell, Gates-Cambridge, etc.) with national deadlines in October and November
- Preparing for and taking your GREs (MCATs and LSATs will likely have been earlier in the year)
- Searching for post-graduate plans like internships, jobs, and/or gap-year plans.
In other words, pretty much everything. So don’t miss out on chances simply because you haven’t planned well or anticipated deadlines in advance. Not only do you need time to pull together strong applications for graduate school and funding possibilities, you need to give those supporting your efforts, namely letter writers, plenty of time as well.
It is relatively safe to assume you should begin planning to apply to graduate school at least one year in advance, and you certainly should have been thinking about and researching programs during your junior year; or, pretty much from the moment you really begin to crystalize your degree plans and identify those areas of interest you would likely pursue at an advanced level. And, of course, as with preparing for nationally competitive scholarships and fellowships, a lot of the planning has to do with how intentional you have been in crafting your undergraduate experience. So, even before you put pen to paper or begin researching schools, your undergraduate experience should be taking shape in a meaningful way.
Search our (forthcoming) online database for opportunities to help you fund your post-graduate studies and take time to research other resources to assist in your search for funding. Often, graduate programs will provide some form of funding for their students, but that isn’t always the case, so don’t expect that just because you’ve been admitted, that you’ve got the costs covered. And, in fact, you may find some of your funding options don’t present themselves until after your first or second year, and after you have proven your abilities and commitment to your course of study.
Give yourself time to speak with your current faculty for guidance, reach out to graduate students at UT, as well as at the programs of interest for insight into the process and programs that pique your own interest.
As a UT senior, or even as a junior, attend sessions provided by both UT Center for Career Development and the Graduate Studies Office for guidance on developing strong applications for graduate school.
Being a Competitive Graduate School Applicant
In truth, much of what makes you a strong candidate for nationally competitive scholarships, fellowships, and other experiential learning opportunities, makes you a strong graduate school candidate. And, we find that the processes you engage in as an applicant for national scholarships help you to prepare for what will be expected of your by graduate admissions committees. You certainly will submit some kind of research proposal, a personal statement or variant, transcripts, a writing sample, and letters of recommendation. Much of the work you will do for a national scholarship, like writing a personal statement, developing your CV, and soliciting strong letters of support, will only aid you in preparing for graduate school and hopefully compel you to do some of the preparation well in advance of any application deadlines for graduate school.
A note to those of you writing senior theses as UT students: consider revising your thesis process independent of any particular structure that pushes those efforts out until your senior year. If you wait to work on and write your senior thesis until the fall of your senior year, you will not be able to use your senior thesis, or parts of it, as writing samples for graduate schools. Do you best to at least get a few chapters tucked away in advance of your fall deadlines so as to use them as strong samples of your senior level research work.
Funding Types for Graduate School
You likely will encounter a variety of sources offering financial support for your graduate studies and they may all be called something different. You may see some opportunities called fellowships, others scholarships, still others simply as awards and if you head overseas you may even find some scholarship-type funding referred to as a prize or scheme. Regardless of the titles used, they are all worth considering and require attention to detail and careful planning. You may find you are automatically considered for some simply by applying to a graduate program, but often you will need to submit a separate application to your institution and/or the external funding source. Treat all applications as you would any national opportunity—with seriousness, careful thought, and attention to detail.
You also may encounter funding options that resemble an actual job. They are becoming more prevalent across disciplines and even in non-academic university programs where you may benefit from gaining experience assisting in running a program. For example, an honors program may hire graduate students on stipends to assist with undergraduate programming or advising. These opportunities are usually referred to as graduate assistantships (GAs), teaching assistantships (GTAs), and research assistantships (GRAs). For these kinds of opportunities you will likely submit a resume/CV and cover letter as opposed to being automatically placed in a position.
As is the case for undergraduate and graduate students, remember to complete your annual FAFSA by February 28 each year to ensure other funding options such as federal and state grants, work-study, and loans. Often, your graduate programs will require a FAFSA in order to determine your financial aid package regardless.