Tips on Graduate/Professional School Application Deadlines
The importance of timing!
Posted March 16, 2019
I like to tell students that figuring out a career path takes a lot of planning. It would be great if this planning began on Day 1 of college, but it rarely works out this way. Nonetheless, I would argue very strongly that this planning cannot happen at the end of one’s Junior Year! I want to emphasize the importance of planning by discussing a topic that I feel is often put in the background—application deadlines to graduate school or professional school (e.g., law school or medical school).
One might think that the issue of application deadlines is pretty straightforward. If you want to attend a specific school you send in your application by a certain deadline or calendar date. However, application deadlines can vary a great deal. Moreover, certain application deadlines can impact the information you are able to include in your application.
Let's talk first about the deadlines themselves. Here are two critical points to keep in mind:
1) Professional programs that are open to Psychology majors (e.g., medical school and law school) often use “rolling admissions”. The basic idea behind rolling admissions is that instead of a single application deadline when all applications are reviewed by an Admissions Committee, candidates can submit their application within a large window of time and each application is reviewed as soon as it is received. For example, medical schools typically begin to accept applications in mid-June, and law schools typically begin accepting applications in August. Keep in mind that for a typical undergraduate who plans to attend graduate/professional school immediately after earning their Bachelor’s degree, these deadlines are BEFORE their senior year begins.
2) Deadlines for various programs in Psychology differ a great deal, and generally, do not involve rolling admissions. For example, many Psychology Ph.D. programs have deadlines before the end of the Fall semester, some as early as December 1; other schools usually have January 1 deadlines. The vast majority of other Psychology-related degrees (e.g., Master’s, PsyD, and Master of Social Work) have deadlines past January 1, some much later. Again, note that for a typical undergraduate who plans to attend graduate/professional school immediately after earning their Bachelor’s degree, some of these deadlines are BEFORE the first semester of their senior year is over, and all are before the end of the second semester of their senior year.
The implications of the deadlines described above can be enormous. Let’s first discuss applying to a school that uses rolling admission. Each graduate/professional school will have a certain number of slots. For example, a law school may want 100 students for their first-year class. As applications come in starting in August, the admissions committee from that school will accept students who meet the admissions criteria. This means that slots are constantly being filled, and as soon as all 100 slots are filled the application process will end. It will not matter how good a student’s applications look if they apply after all the slots are filled. Thus, a student may think, “I’ll just wait until January to apply”, and not realize that this may simply be too late for their application to be considered—no slots may be left.
Second, for those students NOT taking a gap year (i.e., going straight from undergraduate school to graduate/professional school) all of the application deadlines will result in your not being able to include certain grades and activities in your application. For example, you are free to tell schools what courses you are currently taking or plan to take, but it is unclear what an admissions committee will do with this incomplete information. This is a real problem for those hoping to increase their GPA in their senior year because the grades will not be included in a transcript.
Third, again for students NOT taking a gap year, these early application deadlines mean that one must prepare for and actually take the entrance exam your graduate/professional school requires (e.g., MCAT, LSAT, GRE). For many, these exams are taken at the end of one’s junior year, during the summer, or at the start of the Fall semester.
Given what I have discussed about deadlines you likely will have of thinking to do. For some of you, it might be time to think about a gap year so that you are not “penalized” by the early application deadlines. For others, committed to having no delay before attending graduate/professional school, you may need to be even more strategic during your undergraduate years to be sure you have everything in order by the start of your senior year.
Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.