My PhD application process

How on earth did I get into a PhD program?? It’s honestly a question I have not been able stop asking myself for the past couple of weeks.

Without going into excruciating detail, I have always known I wanted to get a PhD. I am so thankful to have had a family with the ability to support this goal. Even with so many advantages, I still felt like I was flying blind through the whole PhD application process.

SO, I thought I could share my two cents on what the journey looked like for me!

I have compiled a list of what I did in every month of the process. I am SURE I have left things off so please consult lots of resources… Also, my process was for a PhD in oceanography, and I’m sure every field does things a little different. My best resources were graduate students whom I had befriended in undergraduate. If you feel awkward contacting graduate students- dont. They are always more than happy to provide their feedback.

Remember to take good notes of every call you have with programs and advisors!

Here the timeline of events that transpired during my PhD application process:

2002– decide I want to be an oceanographer

2002-2018 Tried my hardest in school, completed two undergraduate degrees, wrote a thesis

Okay, now that we got that out of the way, heres what happened in the year leading up to my admission and selection of a PhD program.

My graduate school planner kit!


  • Started looking into programs and application due dates.
  • Made a calendar with most important dates


  • Made my graduate school planner!! Check it out here!! (it has 5 stars on Etsy!)
  • Assembled a binder and filled it with notes on how to write a letter of intent, fellowship tips, application timelines, etc.
  • Updated calendar of dates and program list.
  • Of the programs I was very interested in, I looked into faculty and began to explore their work.
  • Sent email to some faculty at the end of the month.
  • Began studying for the GRE


  • Had a comprehensive list of programs, due dates, and faculty I liked.
  • I contacted most of the faculty I was interested in by the end of August.
  • Studied for the GRE.
  • Looked into fellowships.
  • Contacted all letter of recommendation writers


  • Tried to schedule Skype calls with any of the faculty I was interested in.
  • Began writing fellowship materials (NSFGRFP)
  • Remained in contact with letter writers via email and phone calls.
  • Stepped up my studying time for the GRE and registered for an October test.


  • Took the GRE!
  • Finished the NSFGRFP and informed letter of recommendation writers of deadlines.
  • Started online applications for all schools I was applying to.
  • Began contacting graduate students of faculty I was interested in.


  • Got application materials together
  • Edits made to statement of purpose.
  • Made a final list of what labs I was applying to.


  • Put the finishing touches on all of my applications and submitted them before Christmas!! (Many deadlines are around new years, I highly recommend you submit them before that so you can relax for the holidays)
  • Sent in my test scores and transcripts
  • Followed up with letter of reference writers

January– Waiting game!


  • Began hearing back from schools for interviews and scheduled visits.
  • Made two interview trips.
  • Kept all schools informed with my progress.
  • Followed up every trip with thank you emails.


  • Made two more interview trips!
  • Started thinking very seriously about my choice.
  • I factored out two schools, and told them as soon as I knew it would not be a good fit.
  • By the end of the month I had made my decision.


  • Decision time!
  • Officially committed to my program, and sent emails to all other programs that I was not going to commit to.
  • Heard back about the NSFGRFP.
Take lots of notes and believe in yourself!

Make sure to use your resources through this process! Lean on those that have offered help. Take lots of deep breaths and do some soul searching. This process takes TIME. If you are deciding whether to go in directly after undergraduate I would seriously reconsider. I barely had time to get all of this done. The emails and networking was what was shockingly time consuming.

Good luck! and in the words of JFK…

“Every accomplishment starts with the decision to try.”

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