Archive for self care

Ten Tips on Managing Stress During the Application Process

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.

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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.

Do you even lift?

Hi everyone, I’m Diane – a member of the Admissions team here at SIPA (and the in-house certified personal trainer 💪) . I’d like to introduce a few resources about adopting and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, wellness and self-care as a Columbia University student. With the academic rigor of the MIA/MPA programs, internships, extracurricular events, or even family obligations, it can be overwhelming at times to try to balance these various commitments. What students may not realize or tend to forget is that a healthy lifestyle is valuable in managing your stress, boosting productivity, and setting you up for success in your academic goals.

A great resource to start with is Columbia Health – here you’ll find information about the benefits of physical activity and tips/advice on how to incorporate this into your everyday life. This can range from walking, cycling, yoga, weightlifting, etc. My advice is to start with a measured, attainable goal in a specific timeframe. For instance, establishing a goal of walking 10,000 steps per day within two weeks is attainable; you can start out with taking 1,000 steps the first day and gradually increasing this number day-by-day. If you want to implement resistance training – you can begin with two full-body workouts in the first week, then increase to 3 workouts the next. These small steps will allow you adhere to an active lifestyle much easier.

Within Columbia Health, there are a couple of programs that explore wellness and self-care from a holistic approach. The Alice! Health Promotion program houses health promotion initiatives and services like women’s health, stress coping, sleep assessments, men’s health, alcohol awareness, etc. The Gay Health Advocacy Project is another program that is committed to LGBT students and provides services and resources to students from all identities and orientations such as STI testing, peer counseling, birth control education, hormone therapy, and much more.

The main gym on campus is Dodge Fitness Center, which is a tri-level center that boasts two weightlifting areas, two cardio areas, an indoor track, aerobic rooms, basketball court, squash courts, and swimming pool. In order to access the gym, you’ll need to purchase a membership which isn’t included in your tuition and fees. Note: It’s better to purchase a package for the entire academic year because it’s more cost-effective. As a CU employee, my membership came out to be approximately $30 per month for the fall and spring semesters; it’s less expensive as a student. The prices for the academic year will be made available later this summer.

For those who enjoy lifting, the strength training areas, primarily found on the second floor and make up a portion of the ground floor next to the basketball court, are decked out. There’s your standard dumbbell equipment, cable machines, bench press, squat racks, as well as Olympic lifting platforms with bumper plates. It can get crowded, starting from 5 PM onwards, but if you have time in the mornings or during the day, you’ll find what you need to get your lift on.

The cardio areas are robust and can be found on the top level and part of the ground floor. There’s plenty of treadmills, elliptical machines, spin bikes in addition to a couple of Stairmasters and rowing machines. Cardio machines are readily more available but during evening peak times (5 PM and later), you can reserve your spot for a machine 30 minutes in advance. Guests are limited to 30 minutes of usage. The basketball court is usually open except for university events and intramural sports.

I highly encourage you to visit the Health office and website to explore your options. Establishing and maintaining a healthy lifestyle as a full-time, graduate student will really make a difference in how you handle different situations, balance competing priorities, and take care of your body physically, mentally, and emotionally.

"The most global public policy school, where an international community of students and faculty address world challenges."

—Merit E. Janow, Dean, SIPA, Professor of Practice, International and Economic Law and International Affairs

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