Surviving Senior Year: Avoid Application Anxiety

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AHHHHHHHH!

Hi everyone, my name is Jenn. And I’m a grad school application survivor.

The experience was traumatic and tortuous and for a while there I didn’t think I’d make it through.  But now that I’ve seen the other side I thought it was time I shared some of my lessons learned with you. (While editing out the banging my head against my desk, pulling my hair out, staring at a blank computer screen as I read the application essay over and over parts.)

This is not a full proof guide to getting into grad school. In fact, it’s not a guide to getting into grad school at all. (I may have finished the applications but I haven’t gotten into any of the programs yet…) These are just some tips, things I wish I knew before I started the application process. So I thought I’d pass on my infinite wisdom to our lovely readers…

1. Make friends with your professors. And no. I’m telling you to make him your beer bong partner. Or a friend with benefits. But make sure at least one or two of your professors know who you are. Start with your advisor. They’re supposed to have a vested interest in your academic career so sharing your goals and aspirations with them, and asking them for advice about graduate programs is a great way to start talking about the application process. Once you’re comfortable with them, then you could start fishing around for recommendation letters. Some professors might even offer. It’s much easier than awkward e-mails or a post-class request when they have no idea who you are. I promise.  

2. Take the GRE the summer before you senior year. Even if you don’t think you’ll be applying to graduate school, do it anyway. This was my original plan. And then I started to have doubts. Should I put myself through the tortuous process of studying and stressing when I wasn’t even sure I would be applying to graduate schools? I didn’t. But I should have. Because then I ended up prepping for the GRE in the midst of a million other things that needed to be done. Take the GRE. And take it early.  

3. Double and triple-check the application requirements for all of your schools. No two schools have the same application requirements. I can assure you of that. Some require the GRE. Others require the GRE and a GRE subject test. Then there are the ones that don’t even require a GRE at all. But those often require more than one personal statement. Or writing samples. Or an absurd number of recommendations. Make a list of programs you are applying to. Then, underneath each college write down exactly what you need for each application. Take it one school at a time, one step at a time. Anything else gets far too complicated, far too quickly.

4. Go to open houses. It may seem useless to carve time out of your schedule to listen to admissions counselors tell you everything you already knew from reading their brochure, but the feel of the school is something else entirely. Walk around. Talk to some of the students. Check out the housing facilities if you plan on living on campus, or the public transportation facilities if you plan on commuting. You could be taking classes on that campus for upwards of two years, so make sure you like it before taking the time to apply.

5. Ask for help. This is something I hardly ever do. But it’s something I really need to learn to do. And you should too. The graduate application process can get really overwhelming, really quickly. Having someone there to offer you some guidance can only help. Once again, your advisor is the perfect person to talk to. Don’t forget once upon a time they were undergraduate students applying to masters and PhD programs and they made it through okay. They can tell you what to look for and what to avoid and help you make sense of it all. Take advantage of that!

I leave you with a little bit of wisdom, and lots of luck…

Click here to follow Jenn’s other ups and downs of senior year.

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