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Need Major Help! Long post



Hello, first time posting in this forum. If this post is in the wrong place, I hope it gets moved to where it needs to be. 

Okay, I have a pretty stressful situation in my life at the moment. I need some major insight and advice.

I am 23 years old. I graduated with a degree in psychology two years ago, with a GPA of about 3.6. I loved every class, coursework was easy to me - however I was not very active on campus because of my severe social anxiety. I knew from the beginning I wanted to get a Master's in counseling, and I knew I could understand the material given to me if I were to ever attend graduate school. 

However, I am absolutely PETRIFIED of the application process. I have tried to study for the GRE on my own time, even paying over $100 for a swing at a Magoosh online program, but I cannot make myself study. I just can't. I have a terrible issue with motivation and I honestly believe I have some form of undiagnosed ADD, because motivation and mental endurance has always been a very serious issue with me. I have come to the conclusion that the only effective way to prepare for the GRE is to pay for and attend a class, since there is some kind of pressure and responsibility I have to adhere to.

And because of my lack of confidence and social grace, I never caught on with any of my old (and dearly beloved) psychology professors in undergrad. I had several meetings with them discussing my anxieties and concerns about graduate school, and they all reassured me I was a good candidate for it. However I was just too afraid to keep in contact with them and I feel my time slipping, since I will need recommendation letters in the future. 

I plan on contacting them again very soon and scheduling meetings in person. I wanted to discuss letters of recommendation, but I would like to have a solid GRE score to show first along with some writing samples. I also would like to give my old professors a chance to know me and my motives for pursuing a graduate degree. 

Right here I would also like to emphasize just that - I have really come out of my shell these two years and I am more sure than ever this is really my calling. I have an autistic older brother who I plan to take care of, and his autism has really made me delve into some topics that I don't think have much literature on. My closest friend has bipolar disorder and some other conditions, and she has woke me up somewhere inside. I just have this huge passion to understand how to help and appreciate people like her. I have had encounters with other people with mental challenges and it just makes me realize more and more what I need to be doing. 

I am a very serious introvert, but one-on-one sessions with people do not bother me much if I have confidence in what I am doing. My favorite professor commented in the very first lecture I attended with him that he knew I was a very good listener without me having ever said a single word, and we talked a while about the Myers-Briggs personality test after that...

I guess my biggest woe though is my lack of self confidence. I just feel so hopeless and depressed seeing all my peers graduate, get jobs and become accomplished. Meanwhile I struggle to keep a minimum wage job at a sewing factory working ten hours a day and bringing home less than $240 a week. 

And I've spent two years doing this. I just feel like I can't even BEGIN this process of graduate school. I have this feeling like I am not smart enough to do this, and even if I were, maybe I don't have the motivation to go through it. It is very literally a mountain in front of me. Worrying and avoiding this is eating me alive. 

Academic life was very challenging for me as well in undergrad. The competion to be the best was ruthless inside me, and even though I made good grades, I still felt like I was only doing one percent of my potential. This feeling drives me insane. I can't imagine how badly I would feel doing this at a graduate level, unless I had some kind of reassurance I was doing decently. 

Life was pretty dull in college - I went to class, went back to my private dorm, juggled a double major in art and psychology for four years. But I made no contacts, I have a completely blank resume other than working an office job and this factory position. Neither of which help much right now.

The graduate school I wish to attend is UARK in Fayetteville, north Arkansas. I live in southeast Arkansas in a town of 2,000 people. 

Guess my question is, how should I go about this? I am saving as much as I can for a big move closer to Fayettevile for other reasons anyway. I just need someone to put a light on how difficult the process of getting into such a program.

Help me y'all.

Thank you.

Edited by Wolven
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Did you establish a relationship with your professors? I had some friends in undergrad; but the best thing I did was to establish myself within my department and make friends with the professors in my department. The more familiar you are with them, the better your recommendation letters will be. If you didn't establish those, try working on your resume- get jobs and do some volunteer work. Research what the program is looking for and ultimately just be yourself. Stand out by being you and if the program is right for you, you'll find a way to get in. OH also in your application, kiss up to the school. Flattery works.

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As far as the GRE goes, I don't think you're alone in putting off studying. I bought the books and stuff, but had a really hard time making myself actually use them, and for a while I was concerned that I wouldn't actually apply to graduate school, because I just wouldn't ever get the GRE done. Finally, I just picked an arbitrary date--July 14th, because Bastille Day is easy for me to remember--and registered to take the exam. Having that tangible deadline helped give me the push I needed to actually study. I also highly recommend the Princeton Review book of practice exams. In addition to the book, it gives you access to online practice tests where someone will actually read and score your writing section. I know a lot of people find the ETS PowerPrep exams on the computer helpful, too, but I can't personally vouch for those since I was never able to get the software to run. But long story short, I'd definitely advise biting the bullet and registering. First, it gives you a real, tangible deadline. Second, at that point you've spent the money on the exam, and I can tell you it's painful enough dropping $200 on the GRE once that I was pretty motivated by not wanting to have to do it again.

However, I also recommend taking the GRE early. Like I said, I took mine in July. That way in the event that I hadn't prepared as well as I thought and didn't do well, I would have plenty of time to go back through the prep materials, figure out what weaknesses I needed to fix, and take it again. I think knowing that I had time to do it again if I absolutely had to also helped relieve some of the anxiety.

Personally, I found the application process incredibly daunting and kind of terrifying. Knowing full well that I'm the kind of person who tends to avoid things that scare me and that I'm very good at justifying it, there were times when I felt like I was telling people my plan was to apply to grad school, but I would never actually get it done. I was pretty sure I'd get cold feet and come up with dozens of reasons that I couldn't possibly get the applications done. It's really easy to do, and I ended up applying to fewer schools than I'd originally intended, partially because I did drag my feet a bit. But, I did manage to get applications in. If I managed it, I'm sure you can, too.

First, I'd recommend taking it one step at a time. Take the GRE first. There's a sense of satisfaction in clearing that first hurdle, and once you take the test you'll also have invested some money into the process. I found that helpful--the idea that if I didn't apply all the hours and hundreds of dollars I'd spent on the exam and prep materials would go to waste gave me a bit of a push. Second, reach out to your professors. If you do that early, you can work to reestablish relationships that might have become a bit distant. See if they're open to giving your writing sample a read through. That way, you get feedback, which is great, and they're reacquainted with your work and will be able to write a better letter of recommendation for you. Maybe also try to meet with them to talk about specific programs you want to attend/professors you want to work with. If they're willing to be involved and help you out, their advice will be invaluable. Further, this gives you more accountability. Once you start having these conversations with professors, you have a group of people you respect expecting you to apply. From there, I found it kind of just started snowballing, and by the end of the season, I'd actually applied. I think you'll be surprised how much motivation you can draw from having taken the first step of investing time and money into the process by taking the GRE and then from the accountability that comes from talking to professors and subsequently having people who expect you to apply.

Several years ago, I heard someone say "How do you eat a whole elephant? One bite at a time." The process as a whole seems massive and daunting, but if you can try not to focus so much on the finish line and everything you need to do to get there just yet. Try taking it piece by piece, and I think you'll be surprised at how the momentum starts to build.

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Hi Wolven, I can sympathize! I'm also an anxious, scatter-brained introvert and the whole grad school application process was out of my comfort zone.

The GRE is very much like the SAT or ACT, and wasn't as scary once I was sitting down taking it. I had to bribe myself through two chapters a weekend of the study manual with chocolates, but I made it.

It looks like you're in a tough place with finances and self-doubt, but I hope you know you are far from alone. Don't compare your worst moments to other people's best ones. I know it sounds cliche, but it's never too late to start a new path.  Even if you've fallen out of contact with your professors, I'm sure they'll be glad to hear from you again. They may or may not be comfortable writing you letters of recommendation, so I agree with the other two posters that you should look into volunteer work.  I volunteered at the US Geological Survey, and got a great recommendation out of it. You could try reaching out to local clinics, autism support groups, and shelters to see if you can work alongside professionals there. This might sound like useless advice if you're working long days, though. Is there any way to change jobs? I have a friend who was in a situation like yours who applied for receptionist positions at clinics now that she's looking in to medicine, just to get into that "world", and has gotten rewarding contacts from working there.

When I was applying to schools I initially set a goal of 2 people contacted per week, via email or telephone. In the fall when I was applying 9and once I had some practice prying myself out of my shell), I amped it up to 4 people per week. These could be recommendation writers, people working in my field, professors doing work I was interested in, or grad schools at my target schools. I would encourage you to apply to more than one school - putting all your eggs in one basket is risky. There are reason completely unrelated to your merit that could cause you to not be accepted, like a program losing funding or your professor-of-interest having a life crisis. If you are in stressed financial circumstances it's possible to ask schools for a waiver for the application fee.

Best luck, and PM me if you need help! :)

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