Grad School

Grad School. If you’ve read my last few posts, you’ll notice this topic has sneaked its way in in every one of them. This is probably (assuredly) because the issue is in forefront of my mind.

I’m a senior in college, an English major, and I am hoping to pursue my MFA in creative writing. I’ve heard from some sources that I’m ahead of the game and from others that I’m far behind in the application process. Who should I believe? And more importantly, where should I go? And even more importantly, will I even get in?

When applying to graduate school, there are hundreds of possible worries that can bombard you at any time of the day. I’ve spent months looking up schools, looking up ratings, looking up cities and programs and funding and, and, and… worrying. The worrying began to overtake me so I decided to change my approach.

Here are some of the new techniques and mindsets I’ve adopted in the past few months that have helped me cope through the grad school application process:

1. Breathe. First, you should take a deep breath and know that you will be okay. Applying to grad school is daunting, especially with so many horror stories circulating.

Take time to rediscover that hope you had when you first made the decision to go to grad school. Recenter yourself and think about your intentions. Where will grad school lead you? Are you excited to learn more? Will it allow you to enter a better profession? Whatever your original hope was in making the decision to apply, cling to it. It will get you through the mundane paperwork.

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2. Say “why not me?” It is easy to fall into the trap of self-deprecation and self-pity. I’ve found myself, many times, wondering if I have what it takes, if I deserve full funding or a higher stipend, or if I would survive if accepted. This is none other than our old friend, fear.

When applying, try shifting your focus. Remind yourself that someone has to write those novels, become that doctor, be that professor. Why shouldn’t it be you? I’ve found this mindset particularly encouraging as of late. I want to be a novelist and I often begin to wonder if I’m good enough to succeed. But someone is out there writing books right now and making a living. Why can’t I be next?

It is then, when I shift my way of thinking, that I find the encouragement I need to regain the old excitement of applying to grad school. You must be confident enough in yourself to say “it could be me” and humble enough to know you still must work hard to get there.

3. Designate time. I have a hard time doing things spontaneously when I happen to come across some free time. I can’t do it. I will end up reading or sleeping instead… unless I think ahead of time and alott any spare hours in my day to working on applications. If you’re applying to multiple schools (which you probably should) applications will take a long time. Decide on Sunday when you will have time throughout the week to work on applications so the urge to crawl in bed and nap won’t be quite so strong.

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4. Apply now, decide later. I have a list of eight schools I will be applying to. I have spent a lot time worrying about which one to ultimately choose, without even knowing whether or not I will be accepted. Honestly, that’s just a waste of time.

The important thing, here and now, is to get the application sent in, learn as much as possible about each school, contact faculty and students and create an awesome portfolio. Is it okay to have a top school in mind? Sure. But, it’s also okay to have no idea where you want to really, truly end up. You may only get one acceptance so there’s no reason to decide where to go now.

5. Take breaks. Perhaps the most beneficial thing I’ve done for myself is to take breaks from even thinking about grad school. I stressed and stressed about the GRE until I told myself, a week before the test, that I would give myself the rest of September off from grad school applications. As October rolled around, I was refreshed and even more excited to actually enter the nitty-gritty bits of the application. My plan is to spend October knocking out the applications, all while knowing I will have November to relax. Planning break time eases the mind and can help you power through those few intense weeks of applying.

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In the midst of paperwork, personal statements, resumes and phone calls, it’s easy to lose yourself and your purpose in applying to grad school. As in all things, you need balance. Time for leisure and pleasure and time specifically set aside for applying. Confidence enough to apply in the first place, and humility enough to know you’re not the only one out there. Because you aren’t, and that’s scary, but hope in your purpose and your skill, as well as dedication and hard work, will allow you to power through until those long-awaited letters arrive in the spring.