How to survive the grad school waiting game


It’s that time of year! Grad schools are finally releasing their admissions decisions and prospective students all over the world are obsessively refreshing their internet browsers hoping that today will be the day that they will know their admissions decision (…just as they’ve been doing for the past two months or so). As someone who applied for grad school in the fall, I had also been playing the waiting game alongside my fellow grad school prospects until a few weeks ago when I finally heard back from my top choice school: accepted!

Now that I’ve secured my spot in my dream school, my brain has been able to go back to thinking about other things. Prior to receiving my admission decision I had spent the majority of my time thinking about grad school and playing over all of the possible outcomes in my mind. With that being said, there were a few things that helped me tolerate the excruciatingly long wait. If you’re still waiting this list might help you make it through the next few days/weeks of the unknown.

Stop refreshing your browsers

I know what you’re thinking. Ayla, that is impossible; it’s never going to happen. However, I would just like to point out how irrational this process really is. Most schools will either email you or send you a letter in the mail which means that realistically there is no need for you to spend your days glued to your computer refreshing your application status.

With that being said, I am also guilty of this. Speaking from experience I spent the months of January and February checking my online application status 2-3 times per day (sometimes more) and looking back I realize how pointless this was. Realistically I knew that admissions decisions wouldn’t go out until mid-march at the earliest so refreshing my browser was a waste of time and energy, not to mention the fact that it fueled my anxiety about admissions!

Stay off grad forums such as gradcafe

I know that it can be tempting to seek out the support of people who are in a similar situation of waiting for admissions decisions; however, spending hours reading through pages and pages of people talking about their own self-doubt (or conversely, how strong they believe their application is) can make you doubt your own application even more than you might already.  Staying away from these forums will save you the trouble of having another page to obsessively refresh while also helping you maintain some semblance of sanity over the course of the waiting game.

Start a new hobby

One of the most important things you can do to make the waiting game easier is to find a hobby to help you pass the time and keep your mind busy. This could be anything from learning a new musical instrument, reading a mountain of books, or starting your own blog! It doesn’t really matter which hobby you choose (as long as it is safe and legal), what matters is that you keep yourself busy and occupy your mind with things that are completely unrelated to graduate school.

Set aside designated “grad school worry time”

While it is not healthy to spend all of your time worrying about grad school admissions, it also isn’t realistic to expect yourself to just forget about it altogether. Instead, it is better to strike a balance between the two. For me this meant setting aside specific times during which I allowed myself to research things like the cost of tuition, living arrangements, and other practical things that need to be considered when you could be heading off to grad school.

With this being said, this worry time should not involve refreshing your browser or reading through forums on gradcafe. As noted above, these behaviors will not help you but there is a very likely possibility that they could harm your mental health in the process. Steer clear of these activities during your worry time!

Similarly, you do not want to give yourself too much time to do the worrying. This designated worry time should be kept to no more than one hour at a time and no more than one or two sessions per week. Otherwise you will just be slipping back into constant worrying rather than designated worrying.

Go out and socialize

One of the best ways to distract yourself from the stress and anxiety of the waiting game is to go out and spend time with your friends and family. This could be something as casual as going for a walk or grabbing a coffee with a friend or something more formal such as a dinner date or a weekend away (if you can afford it). Getting away from your house/apartment/room for even a few hours can help you focus on things outside of the world of grad school admissions. Look outside your window! The world is still turning! Go and enjoy the day rather than spending it sitting in front of your computer wallowing in the despair of another day without answers.

Volunteer/get involved in your community

Perhaps one of the most effective distractions for me over the past few months was my volunteer work. I had originally started volunteering in my community in order to improve my chances of getting in to grad school, but it quickly became a helpful distraction for me. Volunteering with a pediatric group gave me a chance to appreciate the small things in every day and also gave me a break from all of my worries. When I was volunteering I was responsible for the safety of the children who attend the support group which means I had a lot of other things to think about aside from grad school…at least for a few hours.

Come up with a plan B, C, D, E…you get the picture

If you’re anything like me, you might be one of those people who hopes for the best but plans for the worst. When it comes to grad school, anything could happen. Depending on your program, the competition can be fierce! Having a backup plan (or five) can help you remind yourself that you will be okay even if you do not get into your top choice school. Maybe you could take a year off to earn some extra money. Maybe you could look into online programs that would prepare you for the same career path. Maybe you could apply to a few extra safety schools to fall back on in case you don’t get in to your dream school. Keep your options open! I know that I felt as though a rejection letter might actually be the end of my existence, but it’s important to recognize that you will be okay whether you get in to grad school or not. Having a plan B, C, or D might help you stay calm during the waiting game because you will have an action plan for even the worst case scenario (even if that scenario is highly unlikely).


These are all of the tips that I have for now. I hope that some of you find it helpful! I know that the waiting game is a painful process and even as I write this now I know that I would have ignored most of these tips if I’d read this post three weeks ago. But hopefully those of you who are still waiting will find comfort or peace of mind from some of these tips!

Good luck to everyone who is still waiting and congratulations to everyone who has already received offers of admission!




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