Did you read the blog on “What’s next after deciding to school abroad?” I recommend you read that before reading this.
Let’s dwell on the Requirements for grad school because this is where most potential students make a mistake. It is very important you find out what the requirements for that course in that school are (if possible before the application window opens). This will help you decide if you need to get an English proficiency test such as TOEFL or IELTS. Some schools are rigid and won’t ask for an alternative to TOEFL or IELTS. Some schools may say either TOEFL or IELTS. Some may say you don’t require any if your undergraduate study was in an English-speaking country. Some will ask you to provide Medium of Instruction in English Language from your school. You just need to find out what the requirements are. The information you get from the Requirements will help you to better strategize.
Let us say you have been tracking the admissions page of your school before the next application window opens, you already have an idea of what is required. If the application portal opens in November, for example, and will close in July of the following year, you have ample time to get your Degree Certificate from your undergraduate school, process your Academic Transcript, plan, prepare and write your English proficiency exam and put your best into your essays. You can create another Google Sheet to track your progress with meeting the requirements.
Don’t be deceived that you must have had all those things before the application window opens; just make sure you have most of those things before you submit your application. By most of those things, I mean everything except in some instances such as your Degree Certificate is not ready. You should still go ahead with your application because most schools will send you an email after you’ve submitted your application, to ask for some documents that were missing.
When you plan, your preparation is more guided. I paid for my TOEFL exam in early October and I chose December to write the exam. My TOEFL result came out about 9 days after. I had a good TOEFL score (104/120) because I prepared well and I was attending TOEFL Prep classes. I already had a TOEFL certificate before I commenced most of my applications and this gave me an edge over those that applied to different schools without submitting an English proficiency test score. Planning and preparation show that you are deliberate about what you want.
You also need to be deliberate about your Referees. What I did with my applications was to have multiple Academic CVs with the same content, but different Referees depending on the course and the rank of the referee or their qualification. I contacted the referees I had in mind through email or calls to ask if they’ll be willing to be my referee for xyz application. Most of them will say yes, but they’ll most likely ask you to come up with a draft. Make sure you select a referee that knows you, either on a personal, professional or academic (some applications will request for all 3). When reaching out to a potential referee, you should send them your Academic CV.
Some schools require you to have Supervisors before you apply to the school for your course. You need to check the profiles of virtually all the lecturers or professors in that school or department to get what you want. After checking their profiles, you may want to connect with them on LinkedIn and send them an email (their email addresses are most times on the school/departmental/faculty website). You need to reach out to as many as possible. The more they are, the higher your chances of finding at least 1 person who will be willing to have you as their research student. It is also important to attach your Academic CV to every email you send to the potential supervisors.