Applying to graduate school is ridiculously stressful. The sneaking, the waiting, and the indecisiveness build in your mind until anxiety, paranoia, and blind hope replace any semblance of the confident young professional that once existed.
Comparatively, college applications were easy. You take the SATs alongside 95% of your high school classmates, apply to many of the same schools, go on a couple weekend trips with your parents, and throw a few Hail Marys to colleges you either can’t get into or your parents laugh and refuse to pay tuition for. Inevitably every single person gets, at the very least, one acceptance letter, and the lot of you march off to college the next fall in lockstep.
Grad school, however, is a lonely path. You apply in secret, alone, and in silence with no guarantee of acceptance and even less certainty about what the next few years of your life may bring. Your hair will turn grey, your heart rate will increase, and you’ll be prone to being overdramatic when describing the process.
1. The Secrecy
Unless you work for an organization that supports your endeavors, or at least sees them as inevitable, applying to graduate school will be a mostly clandestine endeavor. You’ll call off for a half a day doctor’s appointment while you take an admissions exam. You’ll call up old coworkers to write you letters of recommendation, hoping that their opinion of you hasn’t changed in the last year. You’ll lie through your teeth to your superiors about your future plans in the company. When you get in, you’ll go about your job as if nothing has happened for the next few months. Your soul contracts, as you were raised to be upfront about these things and go about your business the so-called “right way,” but the risk of being let go before you want to hangs over your bank account like a dark cloud. Dishonesty becomes the best policy.
2. The Waiting Game
If you’re applying to graduate school, chances are you’re a bit of a go-getter. As a reward for this, graduate programs make you wait, only driving up the anxiety. A lot of colleges operate on rolling admissions, or at least provide options for early decisions. If you’re anal, you apply early and get your decisions early. Graduate schools, however, are all over the place. Some want your applications in nearly a year in advance. Others may make you wait until March or April for a decision even though you submitted in November. In high school, you were living at your parents’ and living up your senior year. Now, you’re trying to plan your apartment lease, current job, plane rides to friends’ weddings, and even your relationships around an event that may or may not happen a few months from now.
3. The Indecision
Graduate school applications bring an entirely new level to application indecision. When you applied to colleges, if you didn’t get into Dream School U or Ivy League Of Choice, you still had Big State School or Overpriced Liberal Arts College to fall back on. Even if you didn’t get into Big State School or Overpriced Liberal Arts College, you still had Small Liberal Arts School or Local College State School that didn’t even check SAT scores. There are so many colleges these days that the process was far more “which one am I going to?” than “am I going?” and often came down to sticker price at a better school versus a nice scholarship at a smaller university. For graduate school, if you don’t get into your first or second choice, there’s a strong chance it’s probably not a smart economic move to even go at all. So, instead of picking between different levels of schools, your options are instead “I may be in school next year” or “I may be at this job I’ve been planning on leaving for six months now.”
4. The Cost
Graduate school is not cheap. College isn’t either, but these days some form of post-highschool education is a necessity. When you’re in a decent job, making a paycheck that allows you to live a decent life, and you’re already pissed off about paying back your college loans, taking on another five or six figures of debt can be sickening. Of course, after you graduate, you should be making enough to make up the difference, but the “should” in that gamble makes all the difference. Not to mention that for a couple years now, you’ve built your life around having an income. You know what you can afford and you know what you can’t. You know what you can splurge on and you know what you need to save up for. In graduate school, your internet bill isn’t going to get any cheaper. Your cell phone doesn’t revert back to your parents. You don’t suddenly stop needing food or clothes. Almost all of your expenses are still there, except now, you’re paying via a loan with some absurd interest rate.
5. The Collateral Damage
Even though you’re putting your life on hold for a couple years to hopefully improve it, the impact of this decision extends far beyond just you. That girlfriend you live with who talks about marriage every other day? Not only is she going to be dragged to a new job, in a new city, and have a lot more financial responsibility, but she’s also not going to be getting a ring anytime soon. Your friends who take that annual trip to Vegas or the beach? Hopefully they don’t forget about you while you take a two-year vacation from taking vacations. Your family? Let’s just hope they liked their Christmas gifts this year, because for the next few they’ll be getting heavily discounted university junk from the campus gift store. Sure, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel for you, but everyone else doesn’t stop in the meantime.
6. The Unknown
Graduate school truly is a gamble, a hedge that your post-Masters’ life will be better than your current postgrad existence, wiping the problems clean with newly-minted potential. Don’t expect everyone to understand or agree with your decision, though. Unless you’re getting a MBA, a JD, or a Dr., don’t expect everyone to even understand what you’re going to school for either. Your parents, in eternal fear of you moving home a disgrace, will question your ability to pay for the program. Your grandparents, raised in an era where people worked for the same company their entire lives, will talk about you leaving your awful job as if you’re doing something morally wrong..