Grad School: From Application to Decision Deadlines

Applying to graduate school has been a life-consuming process ever since I started doing research in September. Step one seemed pretty overwhelming: Choosing programs to apply to. Of course, that was only the first part of the process and it only got more challenging from there.


Writing personal statements--and statements of purpose, which are NOT the same thing--was agonizing. Self-analyzing your own interests, accomplishments, and ambitions is exhausting, especially if, like me, you’re not committed to a straight and narrow career path. It makes you question everything you’ve ever done. Why do I deserve a spot in that school’s program? What exactly do I hope to study? Am I really qualified for graduate school? It’s a perfect storm for imposter syndrome.


At the same time, I was working on my writing sample. The biggest research project I had undertaken, I spent hours reading and scanning sources, translating original texts, and trying to piece together all the evidence. Incorporating scholarly footnotes, meticulously citing articles, and flipping through piles of books late at night by the light of my desk-lamp. It was rewarding in the end, and good practice for graduate school. But it was incredibly stressful too!

                                                                                           ​Courtesy: Oxbridge Academy

And of course, I was also requesting recommendation letters and submitting transcripts, course lists, and GRE scores. Plus I had my regular classwork to keep up with. But I worked away, and in December and January submitted my applications and breathed a sigh of relief. The hard part was over, right?


Well, yes and no. It was enormously relieving and exciting and scary to send off those applications before Christmas break and just breathe. Then, starting a month or so later, I started getting responses.


It was a mixed bag, with some no’s, a yes, a couple invitations to interview and ultimately, a lot of waiting lists. Which was better than all no’s for sure, but here’s the thing about waiting lists:


They make the timeline really hard, for students and schools alike. Everyone has the same date by which they need to make their decision, but we're all in this cycle where everybody is waiting on everybody else to make decisions so that they know all their options. Which results in things like admission offers suddenly coming through the week before the decision date.


On one hand, it’s great to have options! It’s really exciting and validating and wonderful to know that you have choices when it comes to choosing a program. On the downside, a week isn’t a lot of time to make a decision that will impact not only the next five to seven years of my life, but also the trajectory of my career.

                                                                               Courtesy: Brainwave Power Music 

It also doesn’t leave me a lot of time to get my feet on campus, and that’s a really important part of the decision-making process for me. Seeing the classrooms, libraries, and spaces where I would be spending my time and meeting the faculty and students I would be working with is a huge part of understanding which program is the best fit for me. I was lucky enough to be able to take a couple of days off school and work and financially afford to visit most of the schools that made me offers, but not everyone can do that, especially when the news comes through later in the semester.


As I’m running right up to the decision deadline, trying to weigh my options carefully and understand the pros and cons of each program is challenging. It’s great to have those choices, but it definitely makes my decision harder too. There’s a lot to consider, and limited time to think things over.


Still, no matter what I’ll get another five to seven years to study something I love, and I’m beyond excited to be doing that, no matter where I end up!