I've reviewed a lot of applications to graduate programs in the past 18+ years. After reviewing application for grad school for many years, I see application fall into two categories
- Assembled quickly or
- Compiled deliberately
If you're just starting the application process for any graduate program, I recommend being deliberate in everything you do. Here are two things you can do to be deliberate:
Work backward from deadlines
Find out what the relevant deadlines are for your program and work backward. Example: Assume your deadline is January 1. And you have to submit official test scores - GRE, GMAT, etc. And you determine it can take up to four weeks for official scores to be graded and released to the university. Using that information, you want to take the test no later than the third week of November. This allows your test to be scored and results sent to your target school(s) by the deadline - and allows an extra week due to holidays, unanticipated delays, etc.
When in doubt, be early
Whenever you rely on somebody (or something) else to do something on your behalf, assume it will take longer for it to get done than you initially think. Example: Applications always require transcripts. If you need to order transcripts, assume it will take long to issue and process. Example: If you need to get a recommendation, assume your reference will forget to do it and will need a reminder halfway until the deadline.
In the famous Aesop's fable of the tortoise and the hare, the tortoise wins the race because it was deliberate. We can learn a lot from this well known fable: "The race is not always to the swift."