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Why NOT getting in can be a good thing


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Not getting into grad school seems like the end of the world. But it can truly be a blessing in disguise, as I've learned. It took me three rounds to get in but now I am in a program that's a great fit, and am glad about how things worked out. Here are some reasons why not getting in was a good thing for me:

1. I got to work in my field and gain professional experience. I got exposure to how the field actually works - grants, publications, department politics - which is a huge advantage going into a graduate program.

2. I came in with hands on skills. Because it had been my job to analyze data, I already knew the basic methods, and was able to jump right into a project in my new lab. If I had come straight from undergrad it would have set me back 1, maybe 2 semesters in terms of productivity because I would have had to learn from the ground up.

3. Working gave me confidence in myself as a professional in the field. Because my job required self motivation and self management, I know I can successfully work independently. I can set my own goals and be confident in my level of productivity. Some students seem to be constantly questioning whether they're doing too much/not enough, but I know from my experience what the expected pace of my work is in the field and am able to follow that.

4. This is a big one - because I worked instead of doing an MA, I don't have student loans from prior graduate work AND I was able to save money. This means that I am in a much less financially precarious place than my peers. I have enough savings that as long as I live moderately I don't have to worry about having money for food or bills. I won't graduate with any debt. I can't emphasize how huge this is, considering one of the main stresses my classmates complain about is money.

5. Having experience with raises and promotions gave me the confidence to negotiate my financial package. I was able to get a slightly higher stipend than is usually offered, which allowed me to afford a decent apartment in a good area. Unlike students who are living in on campus graduate housing, I don't have the stress of having limits on the number of visitors I can have or RAs giving me a hard time. This also helps with my stress level.

6. My experience also helps me feel more comfortable navigating the relationship with my adviser. I know that I wouldn't have been accepted into the lab if they didn't like me or think I was capable. Other students seem to second guess themselves a lot and get paranoid about their advisers not liking them. Having worked for professors in the field before, I know not to read into things like short emails (they're busy!).

I really feel that had I been accepted straight from undergrad I would not have had these numerous advantages. Now, going straight to grad school is certainly do-able, it just means a sharper learning curve and being pretty broke. Plenty of people take that route and are successful, but there are many paths to success, and I am happy with mine.

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This is some great advice, you bring up some really solid points. Just curious, I noticed you're in Psychology. What did you do between undergrad and grad school? Did you work in a research lab?

Yep, worked in a lab in my sub-field (neuroimaging).

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