Thanks to Melanie Pagan, Assistant Dean for Student Affairs and Wellness at the Office of Student Affairs (OSA) at SIPA, for this post in response to Patricia H. Dean Pagan earned her MSEd in Higher Education Administration at Baruch College’s School of Public and International Affairs and has more than 10 years of experience in higher education supporting undergraduate and graduate students at various institutions including Yale University, Connecticut College and Columbia University. Her pronouns are she/her/hers.
Applying to graduate school can be as stressful as much as it is exciting. It’s normal for one to experience anxiety at some point of the process but there are ways to manage that stress while (and after) you apply. Here are my ten tips on how to stay relaxed, productive, and positive during the application process.
Tip #1: Start Early!
Graduate school applications can be quite involved. At SIPA, application requirements include a personal statement, letters of recommendation, official transcripts, the GRE/GMAT or TOEFL, and a video essay. Each of these requirements can take some time to complete so starting early can not only help you feel less stressed, but it will allow for any potential bumps in the road that could derail the process.
Tip #2: Get organized.
In addition to starting early, getting organized is key to managing anxiety while applying. Regardless of how many programs you are applying to, there is a lot of information to keep track of. Whether you use pen and paper or digital organization system, my suggestion is to create a grid with each school, their requirements and deadlines. When I applied to master’s programs, I used a notebook where I created a grid with each school’s application components and checked off things as I completed them. I also added deadlines to my calendar on my phone and set reminders for a week and a day before a deadline.
Tip #3: Take Breaks.
Although it may be tempting to spend all your time on your application or power through it due to time restraints, it’s important to take breaks for yourself (and for your application). Rest your eyes of the blue light from your computer screen. Step away from your writing for a bit. This allows you to come back with a fresh perspective. Your best work comes from your best self and taking a break helps. Take a walk, listen to music, dance at home, have dinner with a friend, watch an episode (not the entire series) of your favorite show.
Tip #4: Sleep, Eat, and Stay Active!
When we are stressed, we sometimes neglect the things that our body and mind need like drinking water, sleeping well, eating well, and staying active. In addition to taking breaks, it is important that you participate and maintain healthy habits. Unhealthy behaviors like sleep deprivation, remaining inactive for days at a time and drinking a lot of coffee can lead to burnout, forgetfulness, and loss of creativity.
Tip #5: Seek Support from Friends and Family.
Talk to your support system. Whether is it a friend, a coworker or a family member. Let them know if you feel overwhelmed or stressed. They’ve supported you through other stressful times and they will do so again.
Tip #6: Talk to a Counselor, Advisor or Mentor.
Talking to a professional counselor, trusted advisor or mentor can also be helpful, especially if you do not have someone in your support system who has gone through the graduate school application process. Talk to your therapist, reach out to mentor at work or a college advisor from your undergraduate studies. They can help you with any anxiety that you are experiencing and can share with you any advice they might have.
Tip #7: Limit the Amount of People You Have Look at Your Application.
It’s important to reach out to people you trust to look over your application. They can help you with writing edits, studying for the GRE/GMAT and/or TOEFL/IELTS/PTE or give you feedback on your video essay. However, try to limit how many people you have look over your essays, especially as you are making final edits. It can cause unnecessary stress and lead you to feel overwhelmed right as you are getting ready to hit submit. Additionally, if you have found a GRE or TOEFL study course/books that work well for you, do not look into new programs or testing techniques right before you take the exam. Stick to what you know works and go into the exam room with confidence.
Tip #8: Keep Yourself Occupied While You Wait.
Once you have submitted your application, find ways to keep your mind occupied as you wait for a decision. This was especially important for me when I submitted my graduate school applications. I reached out to friends I hadn’t seen in a while and attended events I had to skip while studying for the GRE. I also started going to the gym more which helped tremendously as endorphins help you feel happy and stay positive.
Tip #9: Resist the Temptation to Constantly Check Your Email (or call the Admission Office)
It is so easy to constantly check your email, especially now that our inbox is literally at out fingertips. One way to help with the temptation of constantly checking your email is to disable email notifications on your phone. This is a general tip I give to anyone trying to have a better work-life balance, but it is also helpful during the waiting period. Admissions offices will mostly likely not email you after business hours, so limit checking your email to that time frame and turn off the notifications that make you run to your phone with every “ping” you hear. This also goes for constantly checking graduate school forums or calling the admissions office repeatedly. Be patient. The admissions office will reach out in due time.
Tip #10: Most Importantly, Remain Positive!
You are smart, capable, and have so much to offer. You will find the right graduate school match and you will go on to be successful in whichever program you pursue. If you shift your thoughts towards gratitude, you will be in a better mood through out the day and sleep better. Stay positive. You got this.