When I was in college, I had high hopes for my organizational skills. Each year I’d buy new calendars and organizers—and each year they would end up unused, waiting on some corner of my desk to be mined for scratch paper. Invariably, instead, I resorted to what I termed my “little scrap of paper organizational system.”
Purses, backpacks, and books from that time brim with little bits of paper covered in scribbled notes– receipts, post-its, torn scraps from those unused calendars. And they record an only semi-knowable record of my schedule and concerns: phone numbers without names attached, lists of library call numbers with no titles, the time of a meeting without the attendant date. Not much of a system.
I learned how to organize myself before I applied to graduate school.
When you’re applying to grad or professional school, you need to stay organized. Juggling multiple deadlines, essays, letters of rec, and other supporting documents can be daunting. Creating a system that works for you will not only ease the process by ensuring you’re on track and have all your information in one place—it can also help you organize your thoughts as you start to work on your essays, saving time and effort later.
Here are some tips:
- Create a central document to track all of your applications—when they are due, what they require, what steps you’ve completed and what you still need to complete. Some people find Excel most useful for this; some create a calendar using another application; some prefer a paper calendar or chart. Whichever format works best for you, use it. Just make sure you record all deadlines and requirements, and check them off as you go along.
- Similarly, for your letters of recommendation: record the name and contact info of the recommender, the date you contacted him/her, the date of each conversation or meeting, the date the letter must be submitted, and the date that you followed up.
- It is very helpful to create a master list of your essay questions (including length specifications) at the beginning of the process, so that you can determine points of similarity and overlap among the topics.
I still occasionally find scraps of paper tucked into books or folded into the inner compartments of bags. But for applications, I relied on a more organized organizational system. We urge you to find one that works for you.
Dr. Rebecca Blustein, Accepted.com editor and former Student Affairs Officer at UCLA’s Scholarship Resource Center, is the author of Financing Your Future: Winning Fellowships, Scholarships and Awards for Grad School, an ebook, and Get Your Game On: Prepping for Your Grad School Application, a free ecourse.