Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Learning from your application -- whether or not you get in

Applying to graduate school should be an act of self-discovery.

Yes, there's the small matter of eventually learning whether or not you are admitted. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

The very act of compiling an application should bring you rewards, whether or not you win admission. Those who put the most thought into their candidacies submit the strongest dossiers. Not because they labor longer and harder, but because they reflect on the challenges and the opportunities.

If you are applying to graduate school for 2013-14, how are you feeling about the process? Are you anxious, stressed out, racked by uncertainty? Do you feel on top of the procedure, excited, confident?

Your feelings might be beyond your control because of circumstances. Perhaps you're feeling harried because you learned about your number one program -- hopefully SAIS -- only recently and are in a tizzy to complete the application.

Let me make a suggestion. Before you dive into that next task relating to your application, sit back and ask yourself an important question: Why am I doing this?

Graduate study is a big commitment -- of time, energy and invariably money. Even students who attend programs without tuition take themselves out of the job market while they are studying. This foregone income is part of the opportunity cost of attending school; it can be sizable, and all students bear it.

Those who think carefully about why they would like to attend graduate school understand the value of the investment and are at ease with the application process itself. They submit a more powerful dossier and eventually get more out of their studies, too.

Meanwhile, are you learning from the process?

How have you approached your decision about graduate school? Did you research your options carefully before plunging into the application process? Did you start the process early or procrastinate? Did you reach out to students or professors to learn more about the programs?

Your attitude towards the application process is a kind of mirror in front of you. Barring changes in character, it's likely you'll adopt a similar approach at other crucial junctures in life.


I'm not suggesting everyone should take the same conscientious, deliberate and thorough approach to every decision in life. How boring. But it might be worth reflecting on how you've gone about deciding whether graduate school would suit you and, if so, which schools are your top choices. The assumptions, values and behavior you've brought to the process are likely very deeply embedded in you.

As you go about compiling the components that make up your application, it's worth keeping a bead on your feelings and your methods. Would you prefer to avoid taking a standardized test because you fear failure -- even if the result could be an important signal for you of your preparedness for the graduate school challenge?

Have you had trouble finding referees to write letters on your behalf because you never got to know your professors?

Are you struggling with your statement of purpose because you're not entirely sure why you want to go to graduate school or how it would help you meet your goals?

Again, I'm not advocating a homogenized approach to applications -- goodness knows how much we appreciate diversity at SAIS. I'm also not saying the best candidates never have problems with their applications or never grapple with self-doubt.

What I hope is that regardless of the outcome of your application, you will learn from the process itself. Your candidacy is a major endeavor, perhaps your biggest ever.

The rewards should be as great.

Comments or questions? Please feel free to get back to me.

Nelson Graves

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well, glad to read this article. If the student still doesn't know the reason why he does application then I don't think he will be satisfied with his application results. Do what you really want to do!