Here’s to keeping my fingers crossed.

Because you never realize just how stressful graduate applications can be. With three months of my life spent studying and revising essays, and about $295 later, I officially hit send on my graduate application. My process wasn’t perfect, but I can say the experience gave me a moment to examine what I really wanted out of my life, professionally, and who I was as a person. It was also filled me with dizzy anxiety.

The most important thing for me to keep in mind during the process was the answer to, why go to grad school? This was the best motivator. Below, I will tell you what helped me alleviate some of the stress, and offer some of my pitfalls that you can learn from.

Why so much money? Besides the regular application fee, some colleges also require you to take the GRE. It is the standard test for any grad school and costs $160. I bought and borrowed a bunch of test prep books, but what helped me prepare the most was downloading the computer tutorial from the ETS testing site. The tutorial functions exactly like the real GRE test, so when it came to testing day, I did not need to familiarize myself with the format. Unfortunately, I psyched myself out and decided to extend my testing day another two weeks. You can extend your testing date as long as you’re not doing it within three days of your actual test date. And the fee is $50. Also, give yourself at least a couple of months before your application due date, that way you have plenty of time to retake the test if you’re unhappy with your score.

Check with your school on their requirements. I was fortunate enough to have a guide on what exactly my school needed for their application process, right down to what I needed to address on the personal statement. Remember, you want to turn in everything that is required, so inquire with admissions about a checklist or guide of what you need, including where to send transcripts and most important: deadlines!

Letters of Recommendation: Be kind to your professors and bosses. They lead busy lives. Make sure to tell them in advance about writing you a letter of recommendation. My application process involved a method of sending letters electronically, so when I sent my inquiry I let the addressee know what to expect in their inboxes. Because it has been almost two years since I graduated, I sent my professors an e-mail inquiry introducing myself, what classes I took and anything special that stood out, like my grade on a project. I thanked them for their time and set a deadline, reminding them I would send a follow-up e-mail a week before the due date. Some professors I didn’t hear from, so I sent follow-up e-mails until I heard from them. This was a really scary time, since I did not want my application to depend on whether or not my professors sent in a letter of recommendation. My advice is to start this part as early as you can. The sooner you get this process over with, the more at peace you will be for the hardest part of your application.

The Personal Statement: This is the most important part of your application because this is where you directly speak to admissions on why you are the perfect candidate for their program. So revise, revise, revise. This is all I did throughout the application process. Perfection is hard to achieve, but you sure can try. Be honest and personal but don’t be too overly dogmatic. Be moderate and politically correct is what I learned. Have friends and colleagues read your essay and give their input. Most important, explain the “how.” I learned that you can’t just tell them you’re motivated: What have you done to show them that you’re motivated?

These four items are just the basic necessities. You may have other supplemental materials that you need to submit, but these four were the main meat to all the craziness that surrounded my application process. Now that I’ve finished, all I can do is wait. For those of you starting, I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you too.