I've been meaning to write this post (and another that is hopefully coming soon) for a while but life happens.
I was able to go visit my future grad program a few weeks ago and I plan to write about that next but for now, I want to talk about something I think will be a little more universal - the mental side of the grad school process, as far as I've experienced anyway.
For me, and I'm sure many others, grad school was always just a far off thing I knew I'd do eventually but didn't put an incredible amount of thought into until I was about halfway done with college (about a year in for me). Then, the time came to decide what program and school I wanted to apply to and it got exciting. I'm a higher education nerd with a bit of wanderlust so it was exciting to me to be able to check out all of these schools around the country, even if it was just through their websites. Next, it was time to apply and the pressure was on. Did I really have what it would take to get in? Did I develop the right relationships for strong letters of recommendation? Is this even the right time for me to go to grad school? It's been 4 months, will you finally just sit down and write the essay?! So after months of procrastination, I finally admitted my application. I just turned in one so that was it, no more stress, now it was just a waiting game. But then, the Internet threw a wrench in my plan to peacefully await a decision.
I started looking for stats of admitted students to the program. Did I make the right decision to apply to only one. Did I put too much stock in program location. And a bunch of other things it was too late to second guess considering it was already late January and the deadline for most programs had passed. Then I made a decision that probably wasn't the best for me mentally - I joined gradcafe. I never see it mentioned here on the site but being on here, talking to (and comparing myself to) people I'm essentially competing against was nerve-wracking. That guy has way more experience than me. He conveys his passion over writing better than I do. And even when it wasn't people in my field..you applied to 3 schools? 5 schools? 14 schools?! Man, those odds were way better than what I gave myself when I only applied to one. My stress levels skyrocketed but I was still in the same exact position of not being able to do anything but sit around and wait for a decision.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity but was only actually a couple of weeks, a decision came through. I got in! I was accepted to the program of my dreams and I was thrilled. But that feeling of pure elation barely had time to settle before I started doing more stress-provoking Google searches. Now I was comparing other programs to my own. That one offers more funding? That one pays for travel to interviews? That one offers more assistantships? All things I could do nothing to change.
A few weeks later, I was able to visit my new school and meet other newly accepted students. Many of my fears were soothed. I wasn't the only one worrying about those things. I couldn't have been happier with the campus, program, and professors once I was introduced to everything in person. I didn't feel imposter syndrome even when talking with all these other great people were also admitted and the current students who seemed to be on a completely different level. After that weekend, I left completely happy with the results of my progress and have barely been on gradcafe stressing, doubting, worrying since.
Now this isn't to say that I think gradcafe is bad. It's great to connect with others that are in the same situation as you, have the same interests as you, and understand the struggle of putting yourself through this rigorous process. But your own mental wellness should also be taken into account. There's always going to be someone who's application is a little stronger in some area. Maybe their GPA is one point higher or they went to a brand name school in the field or they have more research experience. But you have to trust YOUR process (not the process) and realize you have just as much right to be in the admissions pool as the next guy.
The grad school process is all about selling yourself, trying to get a school to realize you're a good stock to invest in. So at the end of the day, you and the work you've done up to now are all you have to rely on so don't lose faith! You're great. Now you just have to get an adcom to realize that