STEP ONE: MARCH-APRIL: Are You Sure? Make Final Decisions
This is the pre-application stage. Research your options. By the time you get through these two months, you should have a clear plan for your course of study at graduate school.
There are two things you need to figure out:
First, what are the programs and possibilities available to you given your interests?
Second, where are the best places for you?
To find the answers to the first question, look at the curricula of various schools and departments. Explore your options for research areas. Can you get into a Master's program without committing to a PhD degree or does your favorite school and department prefer to invest in those students who apply for an integrated Master's-PhD program? Gain as much knowledge as you can from various sources so that when you begin the application process, you know exactly what you're aiming for.
To answer the second question, you should spend some time on the internet in student forums and sites as well as the official websites of universities and departments that offer the programs you are interested in. Also, talk to friends and friends of friends or relatives who are currently in grad school and get their opinions. See the rankings of the universities and departments. Ask about what possibilities exist for financial aid and assistantships, fee discounts and waivers.