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Mental Health

Let’s Talk About Social Comparison In Graduate And Professional School Admissions

The last year of my life has been dominated by law school admissions. I began by studying for the LSAT, then I asked my professors for letters of recommendation, updated my resume and wrote a lot of essays. So when I recently got accepted to a highly-ranked law school, I should have been over the moon, right? But I wasn’t quite as happy as I had expected to be. Don’t get me wrong, I was very excited. But beneath my joy was a hint of disappointment. I had just read online that a small group of people had gotten accepted to a different law school and I wondered why I hadn’t been one of them.

When I began thinking about applying to law school, I joined several online communities for law school applicants. Neither of my parents went to graduate or professional school, so I had no idea how the admissions process worked, and these forums proved to be incredible sources of information and support. I learned so much about how to decide which schools to apply to, which materials I would need to prepare and how law school admissions committees view different components of the application. I laughed at memes and commiserated with fellow applicants about all the work we had to do. Eventually, I found myself visiting these forums multiple times a day, just to make sure that I never missed anything. And after all of my applications were submitted, I didn’t stop going on them. I had developed an addiction, and I began seeing a dramatic decline in my mental health as a result. 

Because law schools release decisions on a rolling basis, applicants can theoretically receive an admission decision at any time. Around the end of September, people began posting about receiving interview invitations and getting accepted to schools that I had applied to as well. Of course, I was happy for them, and I appreciated the update, but I also couldn’t help but compare myself to them. I applied earlier than they did, so why haven’t I heard back yet? Their essays were probably much better than mine. They have more work experience than me, so admissions officers must think that my resume isn’t strong enough. This dialogue has been playing on a constant loop in my head for the past few months, and it only gets louder every time I log onto the online communities and see more people posting about their results.

About two weeks ago, I made the decision to stop visiting these websites for at least one full week. I had just spent an entire afternoon feeling sad that, unlike several other people, I had not gotten accepted to one of my top choice law schools that day. I kept wondering why I hadn’t received a decision yet and I couldn’t focus on anything else. So I decided to step away from it all, at least for a little while. And almost immediately, my life improved. As soon as I stopped constantly subjecting myself to online environments that encouraged social comparison, I began feeling more optimistic about the future. I was no longer seeing updates about others’ statuses multiple times a day, so I was able to focus on my other goals and stop thinking about law school admissions as much. I no longer felt like it was taking over my life.

I also felt out of the loop. It wasn’t easy to stay away, but I managed to meet my goal and resist checking the sites for a week. At the end of that week, I logged on just to see if there was any big news that I had missed (there wasn’t). Then I didn’t check in again until three days later when I scrolled through new posts for a few minutes. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to completely stay away from these communities in the long term, but I promised myself that I wouldn’t get sucked back into an obsession and that I would make a greater conscious effort to feel happy for others’ successes without comparing myself to them. Now that I know the problem, I am setting boundaries for myself so that I can protect my mental health.

Another thing that has helped me is finding alternative sources of information about law school admissions. If you’re applying to law school now or in the future, here are some valuable resources that will communicate important info without making you compare yourself to others:

Social comparison in graduate and professional school admissions is incredibly common, but it ultimately doesn’t do anybody any good. If you’re like me and you find yourself getting stuck in harmful thought patterns, try taking a step back and removing yourself from environments that foster comparison. And remember that others’ admission results have no bearing on your own. Good luck—I believe in you!

Nicolette is a senior sociology major and professional writing minor at UCLA. In her free time, she loves reading fantasy novels and baking desserts for her friends and family.
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