Now that graduate school applications are (thankfully!) complete, I figured I would offer some advice. Although it can seem impossible at the beginning, you can do it!
1. Create a status spreadsheet. Write down each school you are applying to, deadlines, recommendations needed, a link to the application, login for each application (you will forget otherwise), decision notification date, status (applied yes/no).
Sometimes, I know it's easy to try to put this step off as it seems like it is only the first step to a long process. Instead, try to think of it like a fact finding mission. You're just looking through the programs and giving yourself the option of applying to these schools. You can always apply to different schools, more schools, or none at all.
2. Create a checklist of all parts of each application. Be as specific as possible, as this will help create "easy wins" later on. For example, don't just say, "Get recommendations" as one line item. Instead, split it up into the 5-6 tasks it really is: "Deciding who to ask", "Asking for recommendations", "Sending recommendation forms" (Don't laugh-this can take a few hours to do!), "Checking that recommendations are done", "Thanking recommendation writers".
This checklist can be anywhere that makes sense for you. I personally am pretty comfortable in Microsoft Word, so I created a page for each school with a line for each item. I then used the strikethrough for any item that was done. For some of my friends with more project management experience, they might use Trello or another software to keep track of the details.
3. Start backtracking from your deadlines and mark it on your calendar. Leave some buffer time for any parts of the application not under your direct control. Think about all parts of the application that need to be done: don't get too caught up in just the essays and recommendations. Maybe you need to have your transcripts mailed...that alone may take 2 weeks! Even getting official test scores to a school can take a long time (definitely not instant if that's what you're expecting). Or you might want to talk to someone at a school before writing your essay...again budget some extra time.
When you have a good idea, mark down all these dates in your calendar at once. At least for me, seeing all the steps that needed to be done after the 1st motivated me to get going. I knew that I had to work now to even apply this year.
4. Do at least one admissions related item a day. Even if you are super tired or sick of the process, try to at least research or edit something. You may not feel in the mood to write a 750 word personal statement after work, but you could take some time to edit your resume or to fill out your name and educational history on the official application. Those little tasks are great for those "no motivation" days. (In fact, I would probably recommend not doing them at all when you are really in the mood to get things done if you can avoid it).
5. Don't get stuck. As a college admissions tutor, I have talked to more people than I can count who are "stuck" one part of a process. It can easy to feel like you need to get your essays 100% done before moving onto another step, but it can just make things worse. Take a break, talk to a tutor, and move on to another part of the application.
Overall, keep in mind that people apply to graduate school all the time! You can do it! Even if you aren't successful, it is better to have tried your best. Good luck!
Labels: grad school