Timeline to Prepare for Graduate School

Preparing for graduate school

We’ve broken down the steps to take to make the process of applying to graduate school manageable. Follow this timeline and use it as a checklist to ensure that the path to grad school is as smooth as possible.

Sophomore year

  • Decide to participate in the departmental honors program.
  • Identify and apply to a lab in which you would like to work or volunteer now or during your junior year. Let the academic advisor know that you are interested in the honors thesis and graduate school. You will receive the thesis guidelines to aid you in that process.

Junior year

  • Begin to prepare for the GRE. (https://www.ets.org/gre/)
  • Become aware of the variety of graduate programs that are available. There are stand alone cognitive science programs, and some that require you to do a joint degree in more than one department. You can look for programs through a general web search (start at cognet.mit.edu for a growing list of graduate programs either in, or related to cognitive science). If a particular researcher’s work at another university interests you, investigate whether that school has a graduate program.
  • Consult the following professional organizations to find more information about graduate study related to cognitive science:

    American Association for Artificial Intelligence
    American Philosophical Association
    American Psychological Association
    American Society for Information Science
    Association for Computing Machinery
    The Cognitive Science Society
    Linguistic Society of America
    Society for Mathematical Psychology
    Society for Neuroscience
  • Consult professors and graduate students at IU. Professors and graduate students can tell you about the various Ph.D. or Master’s programs that they regard highly. On the basis of their suggestions, begin exploring graduate programs in more detail. This includes looking for a potential advisor and beginning to communicate with this individual, if you can. Speak with some of the IU faculty about how to go about contacting a potential advisor. Identify faculty who would be willing to write you a letter of recommendation.

Summer before senior year

  • Continue taking GRE practice tests.
  • Decide which schools you will be applying to and obtain those applications. Read each application carefully and create a master checklist of materials you need to send in and deadlines for each. Verify your official transcript—correct any errors you identify, and make sure that it is complete. Write a generalized statement of purpose and prepare your resume. Save approximately $300 for application fees ($50 per school).

Early in the fall of your senior year

  • Visit potential schools. Meet with your selected advisor and their graduate students (see How to Choose Your Advisor section below).
  • Obtain and file financial aid applications. Research details of institutions like the National Science Foundation (due by early November).
  • Take the GRE.
  • Begin to fill out your applications. Begin at least 2 months prior to their due dates. Ask for recommendation letters at least this far in advance as well. When handing your recommendation forms to faculty, provide them with a postage paid envelope to send to each school, an unofficial transcript (you can print this off through OneStart), your resume, and a memo to the person giving examples and specifics they may be able to use. This may entail simply highlighting something on your resume or reminding them of a particular example of when you shined in the lab.

Late in the fall of your senior year

  • Photocopy your completed applications and mail them. Mail them at least one month prior to their due date. Call and confirm that your application (letters of recommendation, GRE score and transcripts) has been received at least one week prior to the due date.

Spring of your senior year

  • Consider your options. You will be notified by mail and occasionally also by phone of your acceptance to a particular school as early as February or as late as May. If you have more than one offer, weigh the pros and cons of each, taking into consideration your advisor, any financial offers, the school’s reputation, and the location of the school. If your top choice offers you less than another choice, call the director of graduate studies and ask if they can match it. Sometimes it will be possible and other times it won’t. You must accept in written form (email doesn’t count). If you decide to back out on an offer after you’ve accepted, let the school know as soon as possible. They may be able to offer your fellowship to another student.
  • Accept an offer. Once you’ve accepted, again talk to the advisor’s current graduate students and ask them for help in finding a place to live. They will have recommendations and probably several warnings about various landlords in town. Most students try to secure a place to live by mid-July and move in at least one week before classes begin. Remember that you will most likely not be the only new student to the department—you should be able to get in contact with others before classes start. Make new friends. Good luck and have fun!