Are any of you slugs thinking about applying to graduate school? Maybe it’s way off in the distant future for you, or maybe you need to start applying in a couple of months! Either way, it’s never too early to start planning out your route to graduate school. Read on to hear Peer Educator, Camara’s excellent tips about how to decrease your stress when it comes to applying to grad school!
by Camara Chea
Do you want to apply to graduate school one day? Whether it’s something you’ve dreamt about for years or something that just recently crossed your mind, it is a good idea to start planning as soon as you can! As someone who is going through the process myself, I can definitely speak to the various stressors that can emerge throughout the process. Now, without further ado, here are some tips on having a less stressful application experience!
Graduate school isn’t something that you can necessarily decide to do at the last minute. There are a lot of steps involved, from making sure you fulfill the admissions criteria to taking the GRE, to obtaining letters of recommendation to writing a statement of purpose. (Of course, this can all vary depending on what kind of programs you apply to.) What I found particularly helpful was to first start exploring the field that I was interested in and then seeing what was out there. For example, simply conducting a basic Google search can cue up a host of valuable information—what programs are available, what the admissions process is like, how to be a competitive applicant, etc. Other valuable resources to consult include the UCSC Career Center; academic departments and college advising; peers, faculty, and colleagues; articles, videos, and books; and more! One of the most helpful things I ever did was to invest in a detailed guidebook on the particular types of programs I was interested in, and it has helped taken a lot of the guesswork out of the process. I also talked to people who had gone through the process themselves, like my supervisors and classmates. While trying to be more informed does consume quite a bit of time, it will help you feel less lost and less stressed out overall. Remember, no one person is an island–connect with the resources and community around you, and you’ll be glad you did!
As for the process itself, while it would be ideal to allot yourself enough time–spreading out all of the tasks to avoid being overwhelmed—you may find yourself still struggling to balance your normal schedule with the added responsibilities. At that point, it may be a good idea to sit down and analyze how you might reformat your schedule to better optimally manage your time. What things are more inflexible, and what things can be amended? There may be some sacrifices that you might have to make. For me, personally, I have found it very helpful to use things like a planner, Google Calendar, and online spreadsheets to keep track of my busy schedule and organize various details.
Making sure to still practice self-care throughout it all is essential to reducing the amount of stress that you may feel. I believe that applying to graduate school is inherently a stressful process, and not doing self care will likely exacerbate its stressful side-effects. Trust me, I understand how tempting it may be to trade a good night’s sleep for more time spent working on your application, but if you can avoid situations like this by wisely managing your time from the start, please do. Especially when things get very busy, it is important to actively prioritize and practice self-care—schedule it into your planner if you need to! Get enough sleep every night—aim for between 7-10 hours per night, or as much as needed. Make sure to eat regularly and nutritiously as well as have balanced meals. Spend quality time with the people in your support system. Spend quality time with yourself. Give yourself time to do things that you enjoy doing for fun. Take a break from graduate school-related things every now and then to rejuvenate your mind and body (for example, I like to go on off-campus outings and watch reruns of Parks and Recreation!). Be patient with yourself and try not to heavily compare yourself with others. 
At the end of the day, not everything is about graduate school: don’t forget that you are a real-life person outside of the process who still has hopes, needs, and desires no matter the outcome of the admissions process. While a good amount of stress can motivate you to get things done, having too much is detrimental to your overall mental health and wellbeing. If you are looking for support, don’t hesitate to reach out to UCSC Counseling and Psychological Services, which provides the UCSC community with a wealth of great resources, like Stress Less Workshops, drop-in chats (Let’s Talk), individual and group counseling, a massage chair, and more! Applying to graduate school comes with its highs and lows, but by following these tips, you will hopefully come out of the experience with a lot less stress!