Last semester I was in a weird place in my life. I had just come back from studying abroad for the year and found myself confused and only a year away from graduation. Thinking about life after graduation was scary, especially after spending so much time in the removed-from-reality situation that is study abroad. Like many graduating seniors, I panicked. While panicking, I applied to graduate school programs.
Before the panic set in, I had decided that what I really wanted to do after finishing my undergraduate degree was take some time off. I wanted a job with a flexible schedule so I could travel and hang out with my grandma.
But then I panicked at the prospect of any sort of instability and applied to graduate programs instead.
I’m not saying that applying was a bad idea. I want to go to grad school and I am academically ready to. That being said, rushing the application process has in many ways made me miserable for the past six months.
Back in December while finishing my applications, the reality of my applying had not caught up with me. I didn’t really consider what I would do if I were rejected from all of the schools that I applied to, and had thought even less about what I would do if I were accepted.
Maybe I just did not have confidence that I would be accepted to any of the programs I had applied to — Linguistics at CU Boulder, Linguistic Anthropology at Northern Arizona and Applied Linguistics at UCLA — but now that I have been accepted to two (with no word from the third), I am even more panicky than before. I still have no idea what I am going to do.
If anything, I feel like I rushed the stress and misery into myself at a time when I really didn’t need to. When I started the application process I was in the middle of a semester of 18 credits, two capstones and a graduate course. In the process of applying I had to write several essays, secure letters of recommendation, pay application and transcript fees, put together some awesome writing samples, take the GRE and keep up my GPA and my job in the process. It wasn’t a completely unmanageable semester: I survived, but it certainly was not ideal.
I thought that once I finished applying to schools and started hearing back I would be a happier and better-functioning person. While my workload is definitely less this semester, I am even more stressed out because I am graduating in three weeks and still very unsure about what I am doing after.
The reason that I am so unsure is because I did not spend enough time researching and weighing the differences between the different programs that I applied to. I did not think about what I would do if I were faced with the option of getting into a top 15 program with no funding, or getting full funding to a program that I am not sure is the best option for me academically. I didn’t get a chance to talk to professors and students at the different universities until very recently because my acceptances came so late. I didn’t even get a chance to think about what state I want to live in next year.
So here is my advice to students wanting to apply to graduate school: if you haven’t had time to do your research, take some time off before applying. Applying to graduate school, as I learned, is a much different process than applying to undergraduate programs. It’s a lot more complicated and demanding; it deserves a lot more attention that you may not be able to give as a first semester senior. The goal in applying to graduate school is to have the best application that you can possibly produce and to be sending that application to the programs that best fit your needs; so you also need to know what those needs are.
Graduate school is once-in-a-lifetime; most people have difficulty taking time out of their established careers and/or families to get a graduate degree if they do not go when they are in their 20s. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have time to think about your options and do some exploring before jumping in. There’s nothing wrong with spending some time doing something completely unrelated to school.
Tyanna Slobe is a senior English Language and Spanish double major. Her column appears every Tuesday in the Collegian. Letters and Feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.