To apply or not to apply….that is the question

decisions sign board

As the end of each calendar year approaches, we tend to get the panicky calls, emails, and texts (how did you even get my number..?) from applicants who are not sure if now is the right time to apply.  For college applicants, the decision is much easier – if you’ve spent the right amount of time in high school/community college, now is the time to leave.  For graduate school applicants, the question might be more difficult and hence is more of my intended audience here.   My goal is to help you think through your admissions decision-making process and (hopefully) come to a conclusion that makes sense for you with a clear application timing strategy.

Tip #1: Why vs. Why not

One of the first questions you should ask yourself is why are you trying to go to graduate school now.  Often times when I probe a candidate, the response tends to be “why not” – they don’t really know what they want to do with their life, so they see graduate school as an interesting/productive way to spend the next year or two.  That’s not good enough.  You need to have a compelling reason to go to graduate school because it’s a big investment.  You wouldn’t buy a house just because…unless you just have that kind of money (nice to be you).

Tip #2: The 1-year factor – Graduate school application timing

I can’t tell you how many people describe the agony of waiting until the next application cycle as if it were an eternity…it’s not.  First of all, graduate school applications are starting earlier and earlier, so round 1 (which will likely give you a better chance of admission anyway) applications tend to come out in the early summer, so you really have 6-9 months before you start working on your applications, not one year.  That gives you plenty of time to put yourself in the optimal position to succeed (the subject of a one of my blogs in this series).

Tip #3: Don’t trust your gut feeling

My wife always calls me Dr. Spock (I suppose I’m aging myself – Google Star Trek) because I’m very good at being emotionless.  One of the traps in applying to graduate school is to let external events drive your long-term decision making.   Some common emotional traps I’ve heard are:

  • I didn’t get the bonus I wanted – I’m going to graduate school instead
  • My girlfriend/boyfriend and I just broke up and I’m ready for a change (seriously)
  • I’ve been thinking about graduate school for a long time, but now I’m ready (as if the Christmas music sparked your inner scholar)
  • I just found out that my colleague got into Harvard graduate school…if he can get in…
  • My parents said they might pay for me to go back to graduate school
Pros and cons written on a black board

One of the best ways to take the emotion out of the decision is to write down pros/cons on paper.  That
will help you take out the emotion of the admissions decision and focus on the actual long-term rationale for going back to graduate school

Tip #4: Timing

Once you’ve gone through the arational decision-making process and the pros of going to graduate school outweigh the cons, now you need to take an objective look at the application timing factor.  If you have taken all of the pre-requisite courses and standardized tests (big IF), then you likely need a minimum of 3-4 weeks to get a quality application done (for the first school), assuming you’re putting serious time in during the week.  The biggest time constraints will likely be getting your recommendations, transcripts (often don’t need to be submitted, but you need to know your GPA), and your actual application essays/personal statement.

Never apply alone,

Eric Allen

Founder, Admit Advantage