#GradSchoolStruggles: The Application and Acceptance Gauntlet

I received my graduate school acceptance decision on the first day of my last undergraduate semester. I woke up that morning feeling sad about leaving the campus community that had grown to be my second home. One of my best friends held my hand as I opened the email and I broke down in tears.

“Welcome to the Spring Class of 2019…”

That moment culminated from months of applications, doubts, tears, stress, essay revisions and compulsively checking my email for a letter that would decide my fate and what my life would look like following graduation.

Your professors try to prepare you for graduate school applications from the beginning of your undergraduate career.

“They won’t look at you without research experience.”

“Make meaningful connections with professors so they’ll write your recommendations.”

“Join professional organizations and complete internships to make you well-rounded.”

“Find something you love to work on or you’ll never survive grad school.”

Truly, you can be prepared all you want and you will still be faced with the reality that you are now fighting among the best of the best for extremely limited cohort slots. If I could offer any realistic advice, it would be this:

1. Apply early

It takes so much pressure off a semester filled with graduation festivities, higher level classwork and typing up loose ends with your connections to campus. If you’re applying to a program with rolling admissions, it will probably give your application an edge and you’ll have less competition.

2. Start preparing even earlier

Applying early is important, but preparing even earlier is essential. Start looking into potential schools, assistantship roles, professor research topics, and the school’s notoriety if that’s important in your field. Leaving time early in the process allows you to gather recommendations from your professors. They’re busy and have their own lives. If you don’t like writing a last minute paper you procrastinated on for their class, imagine how they feel cranking out a letter that can make or break your application. Throwing it at them last minute is unprofessional and will likely provide you with a poor quality recommendation.

3. Use the resources around you

Is your best friend a comm major who loves writing? Have them help you develop an essay outline and edit your final draft. Realistically, multiple people should be reviewing and editing it for you. If you have friends who have already graduated and gone through the process, invite them out for coffee to discuss what you can expect about the process and see if they have any of their own advice. If they were accepted into a program, they must have done something right.

4. Keep a spreadsheet and know your deadlines

Organization is key when you’re working on multiple applications that all require different deadlines. Not only will tracking these keep you from missing one, but it will help you plan ahead and allocate time to each one based on how long you have to complete them.

5. Actually thank the people who help you

You know how you’re supposed to send a follow up note thanking an interviewer for their time? The same courtesy applies here. If a professor wrote you a glowing recommendation, take a few minutes to compose a handwritten note expressing your gratitude. When I was accepted, the wonderful people who wrote my recommendations were the first ones to hear the news outside of my family. If you’re close with the person, consider getting them a small gift like a $15 Starbucks card or a token of thankfulness for their desk so they can be reminded of you. More often that not, professors will think of these students when they hear of a job opening or the opportunity to recommend someone.

6. Take a deep breath

I probably came out of this semester with multiple grey hairs, but the moment I received my acceptance letter was worth every moment of stress. Be prepared for rejection, but also remain optimistic. The entire process is daunting, but it is so worth it in the end.

Good luck, graduate collegiettes!