Next Steps Forward: Taking the Stress Out of Applying for College and Graduate School

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If you’re thinking about higher education, you may already know that applying to college or graduate school can be a stressful, complicated process. Fortunately, there are plenty of strategies that can help you to get organized, improve your chances, and take the sting out of this transitory period. Here are some to consider, courtesy of STEMVoodoo.

SATs and GREs

For courses of any type, entrance exams are an inevitable first obstacle. These typically take the form of Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) or Standardized Aptitude Tests (SAT), with the latter used primarily for undergraduate admissions. One of the best ways to reduce feelings of stress around these tests is to attack the source by studying early and giving yourself plenty of time to study. Remember, you will have the ability to retake them in time for your first applications. For a complete guide to the GRE test for international students be sure to check out

Admission Essays

For many college applicants, admission essays are a source of stress and deliberation. You may be feeling that your future rests upon these 500 words. This is a common and understandable concern. The first step is to master your emotions about the process. To provide the best reflection of yourself, it’s important to remain calm and focused. Take the time to read the instructions carefully, as every institute has different criteria. Take inspiration from examples or templates (but don’t borrow directly from these). Avoid clichés and overused language, instead, try to provide an honest and authentic account of yourself. Proofread and ask others to help with this. Finally, remember that life is unpredictable and that one admission essay, whilst important, is unlikely to decide the entire trajectory of your career.


One of the keys to a successful college application is referral letters. This is an endorsement of a college applicant in written form to help bolster your chances. Typically, these will be brief, formal statements that highlight your positive qualities. Although parents can write these, the best letters are usually provided by employers or teachers. Make sure to request these early in advance.


Whether you’re applying to colleges online or through the mail, it’s important to be prepared and stay ahead of schedule. Set your own deadlines, maintain consistency, and be sure to double-check all spelling and grammar mistakes. Alert your school officials, so they know where to send transcripts, and notify the people who are writing recommendation letters if they are sending them directly. Bear in mind mailing time and processing, only submit once, and keep copies of submissions in case of any errors. Many students find it useful to track their applications using spreadsheets and folders.

Naturally, you also have to put some careful thought into which schools you’re going to apply to. Talk to people who attended the school and ask them about their experiences. Determine your area of interest and search online for school rankings in your chosen field. Also, decide what kind of program suits your needs. If you’re open to online programs, this is a good direction for business-minded individuals who prefer to work independently, as well as those who require a great deal of flexibility because of family obligations.


This is an important time in your life and career, but it’s important not to neglect your own basic needs, especially as they relate to mental health. If in doubt, remind yourself of the unpredictability of life. You never know what will be for the best, and when one door shuts, often another one opens. If you can apply just a grain of detachment from the process, it may even help your case.

You should also look to keep on top of your health and diet. If you can stay well-rested and hydrated, you’ll write with more clarity and focus more intently. In this period of high stress, it can also help to exercise some of the pent-up anxiety out of your system with team sports, pad work, or simply a good jog.

The period before college can often feel fraught with uncertainty, but you can work through much of the stress, anxiety, and confusion simply by focusing on the application process itself. Once you know you’ve tried your hardest, there’s nothing left to deplore or regret.

The goal of STEMVoodoo is to bridge all of that together for you on this platform in a convenient way. If you have any questions, please email us at [email protected].

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