First, congratulations! You’ve decided to apply to a gradaute program. You have decided to take the first step in an incredible journey. But, as many folks discover, this process is not as clear as one would expect. Rankings, areas of study, thesis or no-thesis, professors, interviews. Where do you even being?
Do the Research
Selecting programs to apply to is important for several reasons: 1) Its where you’ll be spending a significant amount of your time and energy and going to the right program is crucial, and 2) applying to schools, and interviewing when necessary, is EXPENSIVE. To avoid attending an institution that you may not connect with or may not have the opportunities you were looking for, and to save on the various fees that come with graduate applications, do the research. Find out what the school is known for and how they do it: what are their strengths, what are their weaknesses, how do they teach it to you, etc. Look into what the instructors do in their work: what research do they complete, how many of them complete research, what are their focus areas. And finally, talk to current students! This one may seem like the most obvious, but it is crucial for your own preparedness. Sending emails, going to campuses if they are close by, discuss the student experience with a current student is one of the most important factors in helping you decide on a program.
Get Started Early
This is a two step process: find out what is needed to apply to the program, and keep yourself organized and on track to apply. While many programs may have similar requirements for application, they are not always exactly the same. Thus, it is important that you look into the requirements of each program early. Starting early means that you can revise essays, can contact references well in advance of deadlines, and cut the “pressure stress” that comes with looming deadlines. But, in order to get started early and stay organized throughout the process, make a checklist! Whether you do this as a word document, or in an excel sheet, or in a notebook, writing down what you need to do is important. Not only does this show you what you’ve done and what you haven’t done, it keeps you on task as well: over the weeks it can take to complete the applications you have it can be easy to forget what you need to do, and to be lax on deadlines. But, having a list can help motivate you to continue on even when it may seem tough.
Talk to Someone
Applications are tough. And there will be moments where you doubt yourself. Where you doubt what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it. And while you might think that you can do it on your own, having someone there for you can make all the difference. Whether that is a significant other, your friends, parents, siblings, whomever that may be, establish that relationship and share with them your experience!
While these are just several simple steps, they can be quite helpful when it comes right down to it! In sum, good luck to you on the beginning of this grand journey! There is a phrase in Higher Ed that we often use during interviews: Trust the Process. It will all work out for you, and it will all be ok, and you will make it through.