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The Emotional Process Of Planning and Completing Graduate School

Updated on October 19, 2014


Deciding to return to or continue a college education is full of choices. Graduate or medical school is one way to optimize your educational career. Two entirely different paths, one must choose what is appropriate for them and in the field of choice. No matter the choice, high levels of anxiety that is likely to continue throughout your educational goals commonly accompany higher education. I have a few tips that have worked for me as I began my own graduate school journey.


Anxiety begins the minute you decide to pursue graduate school and I am not sure when that dissipates but word of advice, get used to high stress levels. If you are a person that does not respond well to stress then you might want to find a support system throughput this journey but most of all find what works for you.

Now that your decision is final the next step is turning this dream into reality. Making lists and becoming organized is vital at this point as your life will now consist of tight schedules and deadlines moving forward. If you are an organized person then work at perfecting your schedule, however, you are a step ahead of the game. Do not rely on your memory as a graduate program is very demanding and even the best memories fail when under stress.

What It Takes to Get Into Graduate School

Making a Thought List

The first list will include the specifics about your desires and the need of a potential program. Knowing these ahead of time will certainly help distinguish both schools you would like to apply to and those that you do not. An example of a desire/need list would look like:

1. What level of graduate degree are you seeking- Masters or PhD

2. What type of program and does it fit to your exact needs. Start by Googling the desired degree and see what schools populate and go from there.

3. How far are you willing to drive if the school is not local and will you commute or move

5. What is the programs Accreditation (extremely important) especially if you desire to become licensed in your field check your states requirements when it comes to accepted accreditations

6. Will that accreditation be an obstacle or asset

7. How long is the program including classes, internships, post-docs or residencies

8. What is the expertise level of the professors and find a mentor that matches your goals

9. Do they accept Financial Aid

10. Do you qualify for Financial Aid

11. How expensive is the program

12. How will you pay for any additional expenses

13. Can you or will you work while in the program

14. Do you need to take the GRE’s – find the specific requirements needed to enter specific graduate programs

Anxiety – Part Two

The Application process brings on is own worries and the ambiguity that accompanies the acceptance method can intensify emotions. If desired applying to multiple schools could increase your chances of being accepted, although it can be costly since many of them charge an application fee. About a year or so before you begin to apply think of either instructors in your undergraduate program or through your employment history who would be good references (you will need 2-3).

Putting Thoughts Into Action

After answering all the possibilities begin searching for potential programs that fit your need and direction of your career. Finding a good fit is essential as graduate programs are lengthy and require a lot of dedication, so you must like the environment around you.

How to Apply to Grad School


Be prepared for a face-to-face interview as any good program will conduct them. Preparing for this meeting is essential and research sample interview questions that you can rehearse in an attempt to reduce anxiety. Don’t forget to prepare some questions for the interviewer – maybe their website was not particularly clear about some of your interests that you may want answered. Interviewers usually like you to be engaged with your own questions. This could consist of the skill of the instructors, can the school assist in your particular focus or emphasis and any other concerns.

Anxiety Part Three – Day One

Following the interview and acceptance comes day one of school where anxiety returns. To keep in mind graduate school is definitely a notch up from undergrad school, therefore, you are expected to act as and up and coming “fill in the blank.” You are now required to be a self-starter and proactive in your educational desires and needs. This is not because the school does not care but you are training to be a step above most other people and therefore responsibilities subsequently rise.

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Balance is a must at this point as you have just become a new student in a prestigious program. Investing in a good pocket sized planner is a great start. Bringing your world into harmony means to incorporate yourself as a whole and expend energy and time in a holistic manner. So the huge question is how to balance family, work, social circle, mental health, and physical health. I recommend tailoring the list to your life and need for harmony.

1. Family: How does family fit into this journey of your. Try to set aside at least one day a week for just family things (especially for those that have children). However, that is a good idea, remember to set boundaries with family for times that homework or self-care is overriding family desires.

2. Work: Working through a demanding graduate program is extremely difficult. Same concept applies her as did with family – do not feel guilty if you cannot attend a social function with co-workers or cannot do overtime due to educational demands.

3. Social Circle: Social circles may change as much of your time will now be consumed by classmates to include class, study groups and celebrations. Classmates will be the go-to people when feeling stressed – why – because they understand. Don’t forget your old friends though they can help alleviate stress when you actually can put the books down and hang out for a while. Remember when hanging out with friends leave school behind.

4. Mental Health: Don’t take this the wrong way, this is not to assume you have a mental health issue, but graduate school puts a lot of stress on an individual and seeing professional help can be that missing link to stability. This is key!! Find techniques that help reduce stress clear your mind from the haunting of assignments and obligations. Watch a relaxing show or comedy, go out to the movies, go to the gym or maybe take a book to the park and have a relaxing read. Refrain from using alcohol or any other substance to alleviate stress as this may work into a heavier problem.

5. Physical health: Very important to treat your body as your temple. Eat healthy. Even when on the go, find healthy choices or prepare your food ahead of time. Despite long hours and grueling study habits, a good nights sleep is essential. Don’t ignore the signs of exhaustion even if it calls for mid-day naps take it. Fatigue is exacerbated by dehydration so the final note is to drink enough water.


Deep thought and consideration when deciding whether or not to pursue higher education will be at the forefront of your mind. The educational process is not an overnight decision that can be made without extensive research and gathered knowledge. Those are some of the pointers I have picked up along the way and have been most helpful to me.

Reach for the sky and never give up, your dreams are achievable if you believe.


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    • Minnetonka Twin profile image

      Linda Rogers 

      8 years ago from Minnesota

      Hi mds and thanks for an informative hub that can help those pursuing a graduate degree. I was real lucky to find a grad school fairly close by and I had a flexible job as a server at a restaurant. Going for a graduate degree was one of the greatest gifts I gave myself. It keeps on giving well after you get the degree. Way to go on going for your dream:)

    • lctodd1947 profile image


      8 years ago from USA

      Nice hub about graduate school. Some jobs are stressful and the stress with graduate school will get you initiated for what might follow. Deadlines, end of month rush, budgets, business plans etc....can give you the end of month...stress.

    • mdscoggins profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Scoggins 

      8 years ago from Fresno, CA

      Thank you for the comment, I think some of my stress relief associated with graduate school was writing this hub. It would be helpful in your welcome packets to have some ideas presented from the previous class.

    • munirahmadmughal profile image


      8 years ago from Lahore, Pakistan.

      "Graduate School Jitters" is a useful and beautiful hub.

      The reasons are that everything stated therein is based on real and hard facts. Nothing has been concealed nor exaggerated. The statements are well considered and balanced and speak of their boldness which also shows truthfulness. Human is crown creation of the Creator and where there is a will there is a way. Conviction coupled with sincere action is always rewarded. The delay is only from our own calculations otherwise all actions are result oriented and time set and the Creator of the worker and the work is fully vigilant. Vision must be clear and there should be no fear. There is always scope at the top. Going high individually is good, taking others with a little room for them is better and having love for all is the best.

      may God bless us all.


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