The most important part of the graduate school application process is probably the amount of introspection and research you have to put into it.

The graduate admission process is complicated and time-consuming, but you can get through it.

The most important part of the graduate school application process is probably the amount of introspection and research you have to put into it. Identify your goals and what you hope to achieve by going to graduate school, and then find the school that you think can help you achieve those goals -- and that you think you can get into.

Once you’ve done that, start applying by taking an organized approach to the process; this should help ease you through it with a little less stress.

Graduate school admissions: Deciding where to apply

The decision to go to grad school is an important one and you should realistically define where it makes sense to apply. Take the same approach that’s recommended for applying to college by choosing one or two “safety” schools, a few in the middle range, and a couple of “if you’re lucky” schools.

Being realistic about your qualifications doesn’t mean you need to immediately dismiss programs you think you can’t get into -- you can never be too sure of who they may accept from year to year…it could be you. So fulfill the graduate school requirements, and take a shot!

Graduate school admissions: Taking standardized tests

Early on in the graduate admission process, determine if you need to take any standardized exams (such as the GRE) as part of your application. Completing these and getting your scores back will help you rule out -- or in -- any schools you may have on your academic wish list.

Grad schools are more competitive than college when it comes to admission, so it’s good to know early on what your test scores are so you can weigh them along with all your other qualifications. If your scores are higher than the average student accepted at the school, then your chances are good, so long as the rest of your graduate application is in line.

Graduate school admissions: Completing the graduate school application

If you know where you want to apply, start getting ready at least a year and a half before enrolling -- two years if you’re applying for national fellowships or going after a professional degree in law or med school. Wherever you’re applying to graduate school, you’ll need time to meet all the deadlines.

Completing your applications requires test scores, transcripts, letters of recommendation, lists of achievements and activities, and your all-important personal statement -- the basic graduate school requirements. If you’re going straight through from college, spend time rubbing elbows with your professors and leaving them with a positive impression -- it may help you get accepted.

Graduate school admission: Meeting deadlines

Graduate application deadlines for fall admission may range from August -- one full year prior to your planned enrollment -- to late spring or summer for programs with rolling admissions. Some schools may even accept applications up to the time that school starts, particularly if not enough students applied or were accepted.

If you’re under the gun or missed the printed deadline altogether, contact the particular school you’re interested in (as in College of Engineering, College of Public Affairs, etc.) to find out if they make exceptions to what they have in print.

However, most programs will probably require you to submit your application between January and March of the year you wish to enroll. Check your deadlines carefully. Different aspects of your application or different programs within the same school may have different deadlines.

Graduate school admission: Seeking financial aid

If you’re applying for financial aid, give yourself extra time to assemble all of the financial information you’ll need to support your request for assistance. You may have to submit your entire application earlier than students who are not applying for financial aid, so make sure you check the deadlines and are clear on which one applies to your situation.

While applying to graduate school can be rather complex, these basic guidelines should help keep you on track.