Staying Sane During the Graduate School Admissions Process




By Alayna Johnson, 2019-2020 SCS Student Advising Leader:

If you’re thinking about applying to graduate school in the chemical sciences, you probably have a lot going through your head. There are many articles online on the ins and outs of applying to graduate school, including this one about keeping costs low during application season by our very own SCS blog writers. However, a less-discussed but equally important aspect is how to keep your cool during the graduate admissions process. I just finished applying to graduate programs and have now started hearing back, so I’m eager to share my advice!

  1. Stay organized. This is by far my biggest tip when applying to graduate school. Since most schools have an application deadline of early December, it’s a good idea to start seriously considering programs in the summer. After you know where you want to apply, take the time to comb through each school’s website and note their application deadline, application fee, essay requirements, and any other important information. Put all of this information into a spreadsheet and keep track of when you complete each item. Having a clear idea of each school’s deadlines will help limit your stress levels and your letter writers will appreciate knowing this information well in advance.
  2. Don’t compare yourself to others. It’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing yourself with your friends while applying to graduate school. I found myself wondering how my GRE scores and research experiences stacked up. With the rising popularity of The Grad Cafe and Reddit graduate school forums, it’s also easy to spend hours online agonizing over what other students say. It’s okay to talk to your friends about the process and check these forums occasionally, but anything more than that is likely to weigh on your mental health. 
  3. Accept rejection. The reality is that even students with high test scores, excellent grades, and numerous research experiences don’t gain admission because there simply isn’t enough space in the program. Expect a few rejections and don’t get down on yourself about them. 
  4. Keep up with the rest of your life. Since you’ll likely be applying while also keeping up with your coursework and research, it’s important to maintain a balance. Keeping up with both school and applications was difficult for me, but I eventually decided to focus on school during the week and block off every Sunday for application preparation. I also drafted my written statements during the summer, which helped immensely during the school year. Don’t forget to also make time for the people and activities you enjoy. Working on your application materials constantly will surely lead to burn out. 
  5. Reward yourself. Obviously, when you get admitted to a program, celebrate! However, it’s also important to reward yourself for your progress along the way. Deciding which programs to apply to, drafting your statement of purpose, and finally hitting submit are all meaningful accomplishments. Your celebrations don’t have to be big: movie night with a friend, a fancy latté, or an extra slice of dessert are all good ways to recognize your hard work. Since the graduate admissions progress is long and sometimes difficult, rewards along the way will keep you motivated to keep working.