This past August I decided to go to grad school. Or rather, I decided to apply to grad school and I’m hoping I’ll be accepted into a program.
Even though the term wouldn’t start until next fall, a full year from when I first made my decision to apply, I felt as though all of the deadlines were fast approaching. I had no idea where to start. I knew I wanted a specific type of program and I was pretty certain I wanted to have a specific concentration, but I had no clue which program would be right for me or how to find it.
I started researching. I used Google to find programs and discovered there were so many options all across the country. I couldn’t tell what made one program better than another or why some programs were astronomically expensive while others seemed to be more manageable. How would I ever make the right choice?
Overwhelmed, I finally emailed a professor of mine from college and asked for her advice.
She told me to first think about my budget and my location. Who’s paying for it? Would I be looking at fully funded programs? Would I need to take out loans? How would I be funding this venture as well as paying for the usual living expenses? Would I work full time and want to go to classes at night? Or study full time and work part time?
Then, I had to ask myself, where am I going? Would I want to stay in the city I currently lived in or try a new location? Did I want to switch coasts? The cost of living in a city or urban area tends to be more expensive, so would I consider moving to a more rural location or small town?
Once I answered these questions for myself, my professor was able to give me some more recommendations on top of the schools I had found doing my own research. I narrowed my selection down to about five schools.
Then, I started signing up to receive more information from each college. I began prepping for my application and compiling a list of materials I’d need. I also made a deadline calendar. I made sure to write the everything was due, and made note a month before each deadline so I wouldn’t have any surprises when I looked at the months ahead. I signed up for an online writing class to help me prep my writing sample because I’m applying to a graduate writing program. Fortunately, I do not need to take the GREs, but I do need about 30 pages of good fiction samples which I have all of zero pages.
If you’re thinking about applying to a graduate program but are overwhelmed at the task ahead of you, don’t stress. There can be a lot of moving parts to focus on, but being proactive and staying organized will lead you down a stress-free road. Ask yourself, “why do I want to go to grad school?” and “how will this help me with my future and long-term goals?” It’s important that we figure out the “why” about grad school just as much as the “how” to pay for it and “where” will we go. Once we have those answers, we can begin the journey of applying.
Organization really is the key here.
I made a calendar for myself to help me keep track of deadlines and due dates. Most schools will require letters of recommendation, so I made deadlines for myself to make sure I asked my professors in time so that they’d be able to write letters for me.
I also made a master list of materials each school required. For example, some schools required a hard copy of my transcript to be mailed directly to them, while others allowed for an electronic transcript to be sent along with the online application. For programs that require the GREs or other standardized test scores, being proactive and planning ahead counts. Making a master plan of attack that is broken down into smaller parts helps to make the application process a little bit more manageable!
It takes a village of supporters such as loved ones, professors, or mentors, a whole lot of planning and organizing, and belief in yourself that you can do this. And yes, you CAN do this. And so can I.
Other grad school posts you’ll find incredibly helpful:
- What I Learned When Applying to Grad School
- Applying to Graduate School: What to Expect (and Tips & Tricks)
- Time Management Tips for the Busy Grad Student
- Surviving Your First Week of Graduate School