Reading New Year’s Resolutions on social media brings me as much joy as seeing the memes that deride these declarations.
Yes, it can seem non-serious to delay making a positive change immediately, especially when there are no barriers to doing so. However, I have found that at the end of the Gregorian calendar year, there is a widespread upsurge in expressing gratitude, doing self-reflection, and envisioning possibilities — a kind of communal momentum — that makes late December an enticing time for planning; of course, if you receive Christmas vacation days from your job, it is also a convenient time.
So it is understandable that acting on these intentions would start right afterwards: New year, new you!
Are you committed to a “new you” for 2017? And does your renewal plan entail applying to graduate school? If so, here are six things you can do before 2016 ends to increase the chances of making your application successful.
If you wish to pace yourself, do only one each day. Block the time off on your calendar and keep the appointment:
1. Take Yourself On A Date
You will be writing about yourself when you apply to graduate school. Specifically, you will be trying to convince a selection committee that what you have accomplished and experienced makes you desirable, and what you have to add to their campus and the world makes you a unique asset.
You must know yourself well in order to advocate for yourself. Spend two to five focused hours with yourself over the holidays and ask yourself some questions like the ones below:
• Are you ready to commit your time, attention, effort, and finances to graduate studies, or are you applying because others are telling you you’re at that age and stage?
• What do you most value in life? How will going to graduate school help you to have more of what you value?
• Which problem or issue in the world did you think about or research the most in 2016? Is this issue what you will be focusing on in graduate school? If not, why?
• When did you realize that 2017 was definitely the year you would start graduate school? Why was that moment or those moments so definitive?
• Which academic or professional achievement in 2016 are you most proud of?
• How did you grow in 2016, and how do you want to keep growing in 2017?
• Which of all the grad schools that you’ve seen most perfectly fits your needs and wants? Why?
• When you look over your list of schools, are you settling out of fear of rejection?
• What is the one thing you most want to accomplish before you die?
• How will you use graduate school to help you accomplish your one thing?
Write your answers, or record voice notes to yourself. Have follow-up conversations in the days after the date; if it is hard to get alone time, you can do so when you shower. When it’s time to apply to school, read your notes, listen to your answers; you will have plenty of ideas about why this move is important to you and how you can package and present yourself.
2. Review Your Finances, Including Your Plan To Pay For Grad School
It doesn’t matter how excellent the school you are admitted to is or how hard you worked on your application. If you can’t pay your fees, you cannot attend. In my experience, if you can’t pay your fees and living expenses comfortably, think twice before attending.
Enter free time this holiday season: Take a few hours and fill out a pre-made annual budget planner. Google “Free annual budget planner template.” Not a monthly or quarterly one — one for the whole year.
An annual budget will allow you to:
• See how your expenses will change when you are applying, moving to, and attending graduate school
• Verify that your income can indeed cover those fluctuating expenses
• Make any alterations to your grad school application strategy, such as applying for additional scholarships, adjusting your school list, or changing your degree program based on funding available
3. Create An Application Timetable and Strategy
Get organized. In what timeframe will you be applying to graduate school? How many schools are you applying to and when is each school’s deadline? When will you have the most free time to work on your applications? In which ways are you networking to get into your top choice school? In which area and when will you need support from your friends, family members, or professionals, and who can you start recruiting to help you?
Right now you are at Point A. The grad school of your dreams is at Point B. Use the holiday break to map out a step-by-step plan to successfully land on Point B in 2017.
4. Brush up your CV; Locate your transcript
There are two documents that will be required at most of the schools to which you apply: A CV/resume and transcript(s). Your December into January break is a window in which you can take one to three focused hours to improve your CV/resume: Ensure all your latest achievements are reflected, play up the achievements and experiences (eg. leadership, service) most relevant to grad school, and find stronger ways of wording each entry.
In just a few hours, you can also locate and review a copy of your existing transcripts. It is not uncommon for graduate school applicants to have very little recollection about how they performed in college or in other graduate school programs. This becomes problematic when applying to graduate school on a tight deadline. All of a sudden, they are grasping for “the right words” to describe discrepancies and downward patterns on these transcripts.
If you can’t find your transcript, order a copy from your alma mater (and while you are at it, find out how long it takes and how much it costs for them to send official ones).
Once you have a copy of your transcript in hand, study it and decide on if and how you will explain your past pursuits and performance.
5. Connect With Potential Recommenders, Especially People You Haven’t Spoken With All Year
The holiday season is a perfect time to reopen communication doors that have been closed for too long. Hopefully, you genuinely care about the people who will be writing on your behalf, so you do want to know how they are doing and how their year went. Few people will question your motivation for reaching out to them at the end of the year, even if you have been silent all year long.
Once they respond, slowly bring them up to date with how you spent your year. Keep the conversation going into the new year. You will get a feel for if they still remember nuances about you, respect you, and are invested in their success. This will help you determine whether or not you indeed want them to write on your behalf. It will also make it feel less awkward if and when you ask them to help you.
6. List 10 Things You Excelled in During 2016
Application processes can be tedious and expensive. You might need some support —that you can outsource. What you can’t get from someone else, however, but will need plenty of, is self-confidence. You will need to believe in your ability to successfully gain admission to your dream school as well as in your ability to thrive in life whether or not you go to one of your Top Three choices.
Use an hour during the next week to make a list of 10 things you did well this year. Here are some ideas:
• Did you consistently make time to listen to a friend or stranger in need? You have remained kind; the world needs kind professionals.
• Did you walk away from a situation that denied you access to what you most value? You lived by your values.
• Did you attempt anything new? You opened yourself to growth. This indicates maturity, an essential ingredient for graduate school success.
• Did you save a portion of your earnings? Clean up your credit? Or did you rely on previous years’ savings to stay solvent during a crisis? You have financial savvy. That will take you far.
• Did you research a project idea as thoroughly as you could, even if the project did not launch or soar because of things you did not forsee? Congratulations on taking initiative!
• Did you finally make a big decision you had been avoiding? You felt fear but moved forward anyway? Boom. Understand that that took courage.
• Did you work on a project every week (your business, talent, health), even when you did not feel like it? Congratulate yourself on mastering consistency.
• Did you end a relationship (of any sort) that did not make you feel valued, safe, or worthy? Or did you amp up your commitment to a relationship in which you feel respected? You can choose healthful environments for yourself, congrats.
• Did you read a book, research a topic, watch a documentary, attend a seminar, talk with an elder, or expose yourself to any kind of continued education? You remained curious about your world; this is worth celebrating.
• Did you handle responsibilities to others while paying attention to your own needs every day this year? This can be difficult, so be proud that you persisted.
Have you displayed consistency, courage, curiosity, kindness, and maturity in 2016? Have you identified and placed yourself in environments that help you thrive and been willing to try new things? This is how you know that you are indeed ready for graduate school in 2017.