As a general rule, consider applying to 5-7 programs; this will vary with competitiveness of the field and costs of applications.
Prior to beginning an online application, try to get a complete copy so you can gather all necessary information to make the application process most efficient. Follow instructions!
You will most likely have to write a statement of purpose or essay(s). Have others review them and provide feedback. Answer the questions each school provides; do not use one generic essay for all applications.
Ask professors in advance if they can provide recommendation letters. Provide ample time in advance of deadlines (1-2 months) for professors to write letters. Give them clear instructions regarding where and when to submit the letters; most faculty will also like a copy of your application essay and/or resume to help them as they tailor their letter for you and your goals.
Request official transcripts from all universities, colleges, or community colleges where you completed coursework.
Standardized test scores (e.g., GRE) will be submitted to each school you designate on your score report. You may have to arrange and pay for additional score reports should you apply to a larger number of programs.
Other items you may need include: resume, portfolio, co-curricular portfolio, and a writing sample such as a graded academic paper.
When you register for a standardized test, you may be offered or provided test preparation materials.
You may choose to enroll in a test preparation course such as those provided by Kaplan, Princeton Review, and other vendors.
Many preparatory programs are fee-based services and we encourage you to investigate and research your options carefully.
Financing Graduate School
There are many sources of funding for graduate school, such as fellowships or traineeships, assistantships (teaching, research, and administrative), scholarships, grants and loans, and veteran benefits.
Always complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), and apply early before funding gets fully allocated.
Do not assume funding sources are centralized on campus. Check with the Graduate School, the department to which you are applying, and the Financial Aid office to be aware of all options.
Research grants in advance, particularly in the science, technology, and mathematics fields, as they might strengthen your admissions chances for certain programs (e.g., NSF in the sciences).
Always research special scholarship programs.
A visit to a good library and a conversation with a Reference Librarian should yield you some good strategies for researching scholarships and grants.