organization during application season

Here’s a brief post about keeping your things in order during the process.

Everyone has different styles of organization or disorganization. Personally, my whole life is a crude melange of books and papers floating every which way. Every time I go looking for a bit of research material I’ve lost (because I haven’t digitized it yet), I inevitably come across a gas bill and something from the student loan folks and a birthday card from several months ago. Point being, I don’t organize supremely well.

But grad school applications require that you keep track of many different things at once. For each school, you need to make sure you complete their online application, your statement of purpose and (in some cases) diversity/personal statement, GRE scores, transcripts, writing samples, letters of recommendation, and application fees–all before the deadlines.

The easiest way to keep track of all this information is in a table. This can mean different things for different people, depending on how you prefer to do things. Some people are very handy with Excel (I’m not) and others like to do things with Word, but wherever you end up making your table, be sure it is secure. That is, make sure you won’t lose it. So a sheet of notebook paper is likely not sufficient unless it’s pinned to your wall (nothing wrong with that). While paperless is generally the way to go when it comes to organization, strategic use of really existing materials can be very useful.

But Myself, I happened to have a small whiteboard in my possession and I was applying to six schools, so they all fit snugly. Here’s how my organization chart looked at the beginning of the process.

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You’ll notice all of the essential information on the board. The schools are arranged chronologically by deadline, and there are boxes and sub-boxes for each part of the application. A week or two after I took this first image, I added the page limits for each of the writing samples (more on this in a separate post). But all of the essential information was right there on my wall so I could keep track of what I had started, what I had finished, and what I had yet to do.

And here is my whiteboard at the end of the process (you’ll notice that I really resent having to pay exorbitant application fees–which is part of the reason NYU never got to consider my application):

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It’s also a good idea to have separate folders in your email account for mail relating to your grad apps. You can further subdivide those folders into folders for each specific program, or just divided between application-related emails and outcome related emails.

Make a conscious effort to keep your application season organized and you can avoid any number of catastrophes. Like the time in 2010 when I thought the deadline for Northwestern was December 31 rather than December 15 and had a panic attack for the ages.


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