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Making Your Final Decision

At the initial stages of your application process, it may seem difficult to plan ahead and consider how you will make your final decision of which graduate program to attend. But thinking about your decision-making process will help you throughout the whole application process, because you will be more committed and focused. This commitment and focus will help sharpen your questions and priorities, and faculty will often admire applicants who have clear directions in their lives.

  1. Go back to the self-assessment exercises and reflect on your answers and responses. Have any of your answers or decisions changed? Have you learned anything new about yourself and about grad school? Have there been any surprises?
  2. For those programs that have admitted you, prepare a table of characteristics, pros and cons, and your list of priorities. Determine what is important for you.
    1. If you get admitted, you may wish to consider deferring your start date for a year if you need to address other priorities in your life (e.g., taking care of family, marriage, children, other professional opportunities, etc.).
  3. If you did not get admitted into your desired or favorite programs, consider your options. Can you find further research, professional, or academic experiences that can help strengthen your application for next year? Can you obtain other training or education  (certificate, master’s degree, post-baccalaureate program, internship, etc.)? (Those in bioscience have NIH PREP and Bridges to the Doctorate programs.) Consider your alternatives  for other career directions.
  4. During your whole application process, you probably increased and deepened your network. Reach out to some of your new network to seek their counsel and advice. Reaching out to them can build your network and even prepare you for your next steps. Identify specific people whom you want to contact.
  5. Even if you are admitted into your favorite programs, it will help to go back and consider some of your basic questions. Attending grad school is often challenging for most students, and most graduate programs will be more challenging than undergraduate programs. This isn’t a light decision to make quickly, and strengthening your commitment will help equip you with persistence when you face obstacles. Be aware of confirmation biases, where we often focus on information that confirms our beliefs and ignore other information that might provide a more balanced view.
    1. What are some potential pitfalls as you consider starting grad school? How will you address them? Who might help you? What are some possible resources?
    2. What are some possible challenges for each graduate program that you’re considering? How will you address them? Who might help you?
    3. What are you looking forward to? Remembering the positive aspects often helps through depressing periods.

As you complete your decision-making and application process for graduate school, remember to go back and personally thank your many friends, mentors, and contacts who helped you through the process. This important exercise will help to increase your gratitude and strengthen your network for future opportunities. These relationships will likely continue as you advance in your scholarly field, and so it’ll be important to maintain your network.

We hope that these resources, suggestions, and tools are valuable as you plan your academic career and approach forks along your path. We realize that the path can often be unclear and challenging.  However, these challenges can help you learn more about yourself, deepen relationships with helpful friends, and prepare you for your next steps. We hope that this guide has shed some light along your path and wish you the best for your future.