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You should start thinking about the admissions process earlier than you probably think. Ideally, if you are an undergraduate, you should begin the application process the summer before your senior year. This means that you've done all your school search homework and collected all the needed forms beforehand. If you've already graduated from college, you should begin applying a year before you plan to enter school, preferably in summer.
Check admissions deadlines with each school - they're often quite different from program to program. Some grad schools admit new students only for fall term, but others allow students to enroll at several times in the year.
To further complicate things, financial aid deadlines are often earlier than the last admissions deadline. Schools that admit students at several points in the year will often have financial aid available only for those entering in the fall. So planning is critical if you want to ensure that you'll have all the pieces of your application ready in time.
One year before graduate school begins.
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