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STEM Graduate School Application Quick Start Guide

If you are thinking about applying to graduate school in STEM, you've come to the right place! Here is a collection of resources to get you started, or to keep you on track as you complete your applications.


If you are applying to programs in the United States as an international student, additionally check out our International Student Guide.

1. Getting started

If you are getting a sense of some details of what a graduate in STEM entails, and whether or not you might be ready to apply, download George Iskander's Grad School Preparation Guide.

2. What to expect?

Check out our timeline (below) to get a sense of when you should be completing different requirements for the graduate school. (PDF version here).

3. Personal statements & CVs

Start crafting these early, and make sure to get feedback from research mentors and current graduate students, if you can! Read as many successful examples as you can, and read our personal statement how-to guide.

4. Keep in touch with Científico Latino

We host several webinars about the graduate school application process, and readily answer questions over email & twitter! Join our email list or follow us on social media so that we can help demystify the graduate school application process for you.

5. Are you an underrepresented student? Join our mentorship program.

Our Graduate Student Mentorship Initiative (GSMI) is an independently-run guided mentorship program for underrepresented students where we will pair you with current grad student or postdoc who can help you by answering questions you have about graduation school and read over your application materials. Sign ups generally begin in June or July!

Suggested Timeline

We suggest starting early to give yourself enough time to make your application materials as good as they can be. But don't stress if you're behind - it is definitely possible to catch up!

Disclaimer: This timeline may vary depending on your field and country of the graduate program!


Prepare for the GREs

  • Study for the GRE, enroll in online GRE workshops, or take a GRE preparation course

  • We recommend Magoosh for a possible GRE course

  • Many programs are dropping the GRE requirement - to see which programs no longer require the GRE, go to

Take the GREs

  • Take the exam as many times as you want - you can select the section scores from multiple tests that you submit on your application, and leave out scores that weren't your best.

  • Your test fee includes the ability to send scores to up to 4 graduate programs on test day. If you decide to send scores to more than 4 schools and/or send scores following test day, you can send your best scores for $27 per school.

  • Latest date to take the GRE is October.

Make a list of the PhD Programs that you are interested in

  • Note deadlines and requirements. (Most program applications are due between December and early February)

  • We encourage you to make a spreadsheet with programs. See an example spreadsheet here.

  • Research labs you are interested in working in.

    • It is strongly advised for some disciplines (e.g., Ecology, Evolutionary Biology) that applicants to contact prospective advisors prior to applying to graduate school.These programs often involve students starting in a lab right away (not doing rotations beforehand). So looking for labs that you are interested in is most important here.

    • Accompanying these searches, take the time to read papers. These could be papers written by prospective advisors or really, papers on topics you generally find interesting. This will help you shape your research interests and prepare you for inquiry emails to prospective advisors.

  • Common Program Requirements: Personal statement, diversity statement, GREs, GRE subject test, course requirements, number of letter of recommendations

  • Optional Program Requirement: GRE subject test. Check to make sure you know how important this is to applying in your discipline.

Ask for Letter of Recommendations

  • Research mentors who have seen you grow as a scientist and a person. It is important that they can speak to your abilities as a scientist

  • Do not ask a professor who barely knows you

Look into Fellowships

Join scientific communities & mailing lists specific to your field

  • Many scientific communities will post updates on your field, or opportunities that you can take advantage of that will make you a better prepared applicant. For example:

    • For Ecology, Evolutionary Biology (EEB) students, for Ecolog is a listserv managed by the Ecological Society of America. Advertisements for PhD positions, research positions, etc. are advertised over this listserv, so it can be helpful to stay up to date as an applicant. Here is a guide for how to join the Ecolog listserv.

  • Científico Latino posts articles and hosts webinars that you may also benefit you! To keep up to date on any new resources, join our mailing list here

Organize your CV

  • A Curriculum Vitae, or CV, is like an academic version of the resume, but it is not a resume. Check out this article to better understand the difference between CV and resume.

  • CVs should include everything relevant about your background: your educational background, work experience, publications, presentations, awards, honors, service.

Aug — OCT

Send inquiry emails to prospective advisors

  • Emails should be individually-tailored; you should not send the same email to all prospective advisors. Take some time to peruse prospective supervisor CVs, and include a few sentences on how their interests align with your own.

  • Some professors will say on their webist specifically what they would like to see in an inquiry email on their (that may be GRE scores, CVs, etc.). Keep an eye out for this, and if that is the case, be sure to include what they ask for.

  • Make sure to be polite. Use appropriate titles, for example beginning an email with "Dear Dr. _____"

  • For a more information on how to write a letter of inquiry, check out these resources:

Attend conferences

  • Conferences can benefit you through a wide variety of ways. If you submit an abstract to present, they can supplement your CV. As an attendee you can gain valuable perspective on different fields and disciplines that are of interest to you. You can also network with professors, graduate program Deans, and a great time to ask for fee waivers from program representatives.

    • Attend SACNAS (a great conference for underrepresented minority students), and talk to recruiting graduating programs for fee waivers. ABRCMS is another conference for underrepresented students in biomedical research.

    • Attend discipline specific conferences, for example ASBMB (biochemistry & molecular biology) , BME (biomedical engineering), etc.

Other items to complete

  • Take the GREs one last time

  • Have professors and colleagues look over your personal statements

  • Reminder your letter writers about the letter of recommendations

    • Send them a list of graduate school programs you are applying with their respective
      deadline. Make a spreadsheet of the programs you are applying to and their deadlines (example spreadsheet for LOR writers).

    • The easier you make it for them, the faster they can write a letter​

Nov — Jan

  • Final reminders to your mentors writing letters of recommendation

  • Final edits to the personal statement and diversity statement

  • Submit application (~a week or two before the deadline)


Interview invitations: December – February

  • For biological and biomedical programs, if you do not hear back by the first week of February, most likely you have not been accepted or you have been waitlisted.

    • A graduate school interview is not an acceptance!

  • Some PhD programs such as Chemistry do not have interview weekends, but will send  acceptance offers instead of interviews

Interviews & recruitment weekends: take place January – March

  • You will learn about the program and have interviews with faculty members (and for some disciplines, also with current students).

  • These are usually 2-3 days long, with meals provided (you will receive reimbursed funds for travel, but often have to pay for travel expenses upfront).

Ph.D. program acceptance offers: 2 weeks – 1 month after recruitment weekend

  • The program makes a limited number of acceptances and the rest will be waitlisted or rejected

Ph.D. program decisions due: ~April 15

  • Accept program of interest

  • Kindly decline the other programs you are not interested in

We would like to thank Kayleigh O'Keefe, PhD for their contributions to this timeline,

specifically on applying to EEB PhD programs.

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