The biomedical grad school application timeline

It can seem like the application timeline for graduate school is very long; many applications open in the summer and don’t close until the middle of winter! When exactly should you be focusing on each part of your application and when should you expect to hear from graduate programs about your application? Get some suggested timelines from our admissions committee and our first year students who just finished this process.

When did you start considering grad school and what did you do long-term to prepare?

I started considering grad school while I was studying for the MCAT during my junior year in college. I was not happy with the subjects I needed to know for med school, and it did not make me happy to think about patient interactions. I was essentially on a pre-med track because I really loved science. I worked in research labs throughout my undergraduate career, and that, coupled with my interest in the research aspects of my classes (from reading the literature, not the lab components), convinced me that grad school was the path for me. Considering that I decided on grad school relatively late (compared to how people decide they’re pre-med their first year), I didn’t do anything special to prepare, except to make sure that I kept my grades up.
-Lorena Infante

I first considered going to graduate school when I was a junior in high school. I participated in a summer research program for high school students where I was paired with a graduate student mentor. He inspired me to go to graduate school.
-Cara Schornak

I did not know about the available options for graduate school until I participated in a summer undergraduate research program. This was my first lab experience because I went to a small Liberal Arts school. In order to ensure that I could get into the graduate school that I wanted to I pursued other research opportunities and developed good personal relationships with my summer mentors.
-Christian Marks

Why did you decide to go to grad school? Did you consider other types of programs?

I decided to go to grad school because I realized that I much more enjoyed the research I did in undergrad than the thought of figuring out what can be wrong with humans (in the case of doctors, my previous career choice). I only considered two types of grad school programs: umbrella programs in the biomedical sciences, and direct admissions programs in the biomedical sciences. I briefly considered getting a Masters, though. Before I started researching grad school options, I believed that getting a Masters was a necessity for getting a Ph.D., but when I learned that I could go to grad school for a Ph.D. without one, I dropped the Masters idea. Note: actually, I also considered 2-year post-bac/research programs such as those offered at the NIH, but eventually decided against them.
-Lorena Infante

I wanted to go to grad school because intellectually I was as well as my career development because of my degree. I aspired to have my own projects that explored my ideas. I had also explored the possibility of medical school but I didn’t want a career where I wasn’t driving the generation of new knowledge.
-Chris Hofmann

I considered going to med school while I was in college, but not once I was a technician. I decided I enjoyed working in a lab and wanted to be able to move ahead in my field, and I realized I needed to get my PhD.
-Leslie Roteta

Please provide your grad school application timeline. 

  • Start looking into graduate programs- second semester of junior year of undergrad
  • Finalize list of schools to apply to- late summer/early fall of senior year
  • Take GRE- summer after junior year of undergrad
  • Ask for letters of recommendation- fall of senior year
  • Write personal statement- fall of senior year
  • Submit applications- fall of senior year
  • Hear from graduate programs- December-March of my senior year
  • Interview- January and February
  • Receive admissions decision- March
  • Make final decision- March

-Jacob Ruden

  • Start looking into graduate programs- started casually looking at the beginning of junior year, more seriously by the end
  • Finalize list of schools to apply to- summer before senior year
  • Take GRE- summer before senior year
  • Ask for letters of recommendation- later than I should have! about a month before applications were due
  • Write personal statement- sorta started in the summer before, but didn’t REALLY write it until right before apps were due
  • Submit applications- day before the deadline
  • Hear from graduate programs- anywhere from days after submission to 6 months after
  • Interview- January-March
  • Receive admissions decision- February-March
  • Make final decision- March

-Sarah Poliquin

  • Start looking into graduate programs- June/July
  • Finalize list of schools to apply to- August
  • Take GRE- September
  • Ask for letters of recommendation- September
  • Write personal statement- October
  • Submit applications- November-December
  • Hear from graduate programs- December-March
  • Interview- January-March
  • Receive admissions decision- January-March
  • Make final decision- March

-Claire Strothman

Student-run PhD Application Workshop

Check out a workshop for students interested in applying to biological or biomedical PhD programs, developed by our graduate students. The series is called “UNDERGRADS: A PhD Application Workshop” and we are starting it on August 11th 7:30 PM CST with a workshop on the basics of the application. Interested students can register here ( I have included a flyer that describes this session in more detail as well as the future sessions we plan to provide, including a personal statement session and an interview session.

The top 3 things you need to get into grad school

Admittance into graduate school is a whole different ball game from getting into an undergraduate institution. These days, students have to have years of experience and preparation before being competitive for the best graduate programs. With this in mind, how should you focus your preparation for graduate school once you’ve decided you would like to pursue further education? Hear from real admissions committee members on what they consider are the most important factors in graduate school applications.

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PhD, MD, or MD/PhD…what’s right for me?

Are you trying to decide between these different post-graduate training paths? We are here to help! Last summer, our undergraduate research program, the Vanderbilt Summer Science Academy (VSSA), went virtual and provided a program with talks from individuals on these paths, describing their experiences and journeys. We’re doing it again this year and it is open to everyone, no application needed. Register for the 2021 Virtual VSSA here!

Lunch Choices Near Vanderbilt

I don’t know about you, but one of my favorite ways to take a break with friends and lab mates is to grab a bite to eat near work. Luckily, there are almost too many options for lunch or happy hour around campus! Check out this awesome post with food options just off of Vandy’s campus. As the writer says, “The Nashville food scene is too big a topic to cover in a single blog post, so we’re serving up just a slice today:  lunch choices near Vanderbilt.”

Tips for Personal Statement Writing

I am thrilled that at Vandy, our graduate students led an initiative to host virtual workshops on applying to grad school! As part of this workshop, they developed some tips and tricks for thinking about your personal statement, and are happy to share them with you! Read more for how to get started thinking about this statement, and tips for what to include:

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Get data-driven advice for grad school

“Do you have any advice for future graduate students?” I asked. The student had recently defended his Ph.D., and I was conducting an exit interview—something I do with every graduating biomedical Ph.D. student at my university, where I am in charge of evaluating our medical school’s Ph.D. training programs. He sat back in his chair and thought for a minute before responding: He wished he had started to plan for his post-Ph.D. career earlier. My shoulders dropped and I let out a sigh. “Program directors recommend this to incoming students every year, but some don’t seem to hear it,” I said. “How do you think we can get them to listen?” This time, he didn’t hesitate. “They are graduate students in science,” he exclaimed. “Show them the data!”

Read more in this Science Careers article, by Dr. Abigail M. Brown is the director of outcomes research for biomedical Ph.D. programs at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tennessee.

Succeeding in a Virtual Interview

As most, if not all, Biomedical graduate programs move toward holding virtual interviews for the Fall 2021 recruiting season, our faculty and students wanted to share their tips with you! For our 2020 interview season, we had to hold our last two IGP interviews remotely, so we have incoming students and faculty who have already been through the virtual recruiting process. Let their experience help you have a successful virtual interview season!
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