Getting in gear for grad school
As soon as the law school application process was finished, I slept better than I ever had before. I had spent the past four days compiling, editing, proofreading and paying for my résumé to be submitted to every law school on my list.
Even though I was completely unprepared for class that week, I had completed a process that many were just beginning.
I had a month to catch up in my classes, and had received some acceptances before other students had even started their applications or finished their personal statements.
Students often complain about the time and money associated with applying to graduate school — the GRE and GMAT are infamously expensive, and the lack of a common application between them is inefficient.
However, graduate and professional programs are not only reserved for the best and the brightest, but also those who can manage time, money and diverse commitments independently.
The same saving skills required to pay for a $350 standardized test or $600 in application fees are necessary for professionals scraping up a $700 loan payment every month after graduation.
Time management applies too — will the American Political Science Association extend an article submission deadline so that you can have a social life? Probably not.
It might sting, but students who fall behind or are entirely off track should take a realistic look at their excuses. At one point I put down my personal statement for more than three weeks because I resented criticism and had writer’s block.
To stay on track, I gave up parties with my coworkers and goaded my best friend into “catching up” at Starbucks when she came home for winter break so I wouldn’t lose time in preparing for the LSAT.
That said, here are a few guidelines that helped me get through it.
Go by the book
The assistant dean of the UH Law Center said that this is the single most important step. Schools post instructions months before their applications open.
If you are a sophomore set on medical school, nothing is stopping you from researching programs and application requirements online for an hour or two every weekend. Disregard for instructions can lead to incomplete applications and rejections from programs.
Early birds get the worm
Start thinking about your application a year or two before you plan to apply.
The longer you stretch out the process, the fewer hours you need to work per week — and the less sick and tired the process will make you.
This also allows you to take huge breaks between milestones, like taking the LSAT and crossing other things off your application checklist. It also gives you time to recover after setbacks and time you’ve taken off.
Use deadlines and be systematic
Set yourself an early deadline for all or each of your applications.
Instead of letting a school’s requirements intrude upon your schedule, plan to complete tasks according to your obligations. Some people do one application at a time, others set milestones, like completing your résumé, then statement of intent, and so on. Others do whatever they feel at a given moment — just know your style.
Organizing schools into a spreadsheet, with deadlines, requirements and pros and cons for schools can help you manage the information.
Don’t carry the burden alone
If you need help, ask for it. Talk to your professors — it’s is a great way to build a personal relationship for letters of recommendation. Counselors, department heads, college deans and undergraduate and graduate students are also useful resources.
Contact people working in the schools to which you are applying — it shows that you are responsible and meticulous.
Build a network in undergraduate programs. The American Medical Student Association for aspiring medical students, Phi Alpha Delta Pre-Law, Psi Chi for psychology students, American Society of Mechanical Engineers for mechanical engineering students, and probably hundreds of others at UH. If you cannot find the help you need, you are probably not looking hard enough.
Students should take responsibility for the process by treating it like a part-time job. Grad school is a test — treat the application process as a preview of the independent work required. For me, it took more than a year. For others, it could take several — compiling a portfolio for a Masters of Fine Arts application is no easy task — and for some, it only takes a month.
Like a job, the more time you spend, the more you will reap. Once you get that fat envelope in the mail, the sacrifices you made to get it won’t matter so much anymore.