In case you’ve missed it: it’s officially fall. On my drive here, I was treated to the sight of beautiful gold and red leaves along the banks of the Charles River, I’m wearing one of my favorite sweaters today, and the applications to Heller’s program are beginning to come in. That’s right: it’s admissions season again! Now, don’t panic: you still have plenty of time (the deadline for the PhD application is December 15th, and the first round deadline for most of our master’s programs isn’t until January 15th), but this is certainly the time when most students are starting to narrow down their lists of schools to apply to and begin the application process. I’ve written before in my post The Art of Waiting about the anxiety that comes after you’ve submitted the application, but as a recent conversation with my younger cousin (who is starting the undergraduate application process now) reminded me, the application process itself can also be a major source of anxiety for a lot of students. With that in mind, I want to share a few tips to manage your anxiety during this process and give you one tip to prevent it.
1. Channel your nervous energy. Have you been catching yourself refreshing your email for hours on end? Chewing your nails down to the quick? Tapping your foot so long it wears a hole in your carpet? While some people shut down when they’re anxious, other people find themselves absolutely bursting with energy. Find a way to redirect this energy, like taking a long walk while listening to a podcast or doing a quick work-out in your living room to let off some steam. You can also put that energy to a productive use by writing a thank you email to your recommenders or by engaging in some volunteer work (which will look great on any future graduate school or job applications).
2. Indulge in smart self-care. Self care doesn’t always look like giving yourself permission to eat that entire gallon of ice cream (although sometimes it certainly can!). Take this time to indulge in self-care that actually makes you feel good and energized afterwards, like taking a bath, meditating, calling a loved one, getting coffee or dinner with a close friend, treating yourself to a healthy new recipe (whether you make it yourself or order take-out), or taking yourself out on a movie or museum date.
3. Put things in perspective. Imagine the absolute worst-case scenario: you’re rejected from every single school you’ve applied to. What then? I don’t mean to downplay the feelings of rejection and sadness that receiving a denial can induce, but at the end of the day, it truly isn’t the end of the world, and it doesn’t even mean you won’t ever go to grad school. Sometimes when you think the universe is saying “No”, it’s really only saying “Not yet”. You can spend the next year making sure you’re prepared for the next round of applications, and you’ll have a head-start on everyone applying for the first time.
4. Take break from social media. There’s nothing worse than taking a break from relentlessly refreshing your email only to go onto Instagram and be immediately confronted with someone else’s post about their acceptance. Especially if a lot of people in your immediate circle are going through the same process as you, consider taking a break, or at least setting limitations for yourself when it comes to social media. By the way, this goes double for sites like GradCafe, CollegeConfidential, or Reddit discussion boards. Remember: everyone’s situation is unique, and trying to “hack” the application process by following the tips that worked for a stranger on the internet is unlikely to actually pay off.
5. Put an embargo on app-talk. With the holidays coming up, the chances of the Thanksgiving table conversation turning to graduate schools and applications is at an all time high, and your great-aunt is probably just dying to tell you about how her friend’s sister’s son-in-law got into every single graduate school with a full ride. Get out ahead of it by giving a quick update, setting a boundary, and moving the conversation along (“There are a couple of schools I’m excited to hear back from, but I don’t want to talk about graduate school when I have all this delicious food in front of me. Aunt Betsy, tell me more about how your vacation was?”). The same tip goes for your friends, if they’re in the same boat as you. Set aside ten minutes at the top of the gathering to compare notes, and then change the subject.
BONUS: Give yourself enough time. There’s nothing more anxiety producing than feeling like you don’t have enough time to do everything you need to do. Make a plan early to organize your time, and stick to it. If you break down what you need to do into simple, manageable steps and give yourself a workable timeline to complete it, things will feel a lot less overwhelming.