It’s that time of year fondly referred to as “the waiting game” for high school seniors who have applied to universities, undergraduates who have applied to graduate school, and graduate students who are on the job market. If you are in this category, congratulations on surviving the application process! Extra congratulations for those who submitted applications in the double digits! 

No doubt mistakes were made along the way: you may have forgotten to change the name of the university accordingly in a personal statement or cover letter, but at this point, you should accept these errors and move on. Deadlines have passed. Applications have been received and are being reviewed. Decisions will not be made for at least a few weeks and in some cases, a few months. You are currently in the dead zone.

This can be a very anxiety-provoking time in a young person’s life. The future is uncertain and unknown. What’s worse: the decision-making process is entirely out of your control. Ask anyone involved in admissions and they will tell you the role of chance, luck, and subjectivity in this process. One thing is for certain: decisions are not always based solely on your qualifications. Keep this in mind when decision letters arrive. Also keep in mind that the vast majority of you will not get into every school you applied to. And that’s okay.

Although it is certainly tempting, the dead zone is NOT the time for imagining possibilities and planning your future. Why not? You simply don’t know what your future holds. Thinking too far into the uncertain future wastes valuable cognitive resources and may lead to negative affect if the result is not as hoped. As much as we’d like to think, we cannot reliably predict the future.

An example may be illustrative of what NOT to do:

It’s late. You are lying in bed trying to sleep. Your inner monologue is not tired. You start comparing different colleges you applied to: “College ‘A’ is so close to home, I could still live with my parents. College ‘B’ would mean moving across the country. I wouldn’t know anyone. I should probably dorm to save money. Or share an apartment with a roommate. Should I bring my car? I wonder how cold it gets in the winter?” The next day, you find yourself looking for apartments in college town ‘B’, Yelping cool restaurants, and exploring tips for surviving your first snowy winter. All the while, come to find out, the university was unable to offer you admission. Ouch. 

Thinking about the future might be exciting and might take your mind off worrying if you will get in or not, but it is premature at this point. Do not let the wheels start turning. Do not jump the gun. Yet, that is.

Wait until you receive your acceptances before weighing the pros and cons of each school seriously. And wait even longer, until you have made the decision to attend a certain university, before you start enacting housing and other plans.

This advice holds true for both optimistic and pessimistic possibilities. In the same way you should not dream up elaborate plans for attending any university before officially being admitted, you should not make elaborate back-up plans for if you aren’t admitted. While some degree of back-up planning is beneficial (i.e., you should apply to “reach” schools, “middle of the road” schools, and “safe” schools), do not put energy into back-up plans before you know you need them. 

What to do instead during “the waiting game”:

Most likely you have a million other things going on in your life. Concentrate on those things, whether it’s finishing your senior year with good grades, publishing a manuscript, or finishing a dissertation. Oh, and try to have some fun along the way. Chances are you will have more work to do in your new location than you currently do now.

About the Author

Brandilynn Villarreal

Brandilynn Villarreal, M.A., is a graduate student at the University of California, Irvine.

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