Mastering Applications: What, When and Why?

Hundreds of undergraduates will soon be finishing their degrees and waving goodbye to the stress of finals, with coursework, revision and essay deadlines becoming eclipsed by summer sunshine. But as the pressure of course deadlines evaporates, so too can the sense of security which the structure of a degree provides as the world beyond university looms large.

As a finalist I have been subjected to a constant stream of questions from family and friends. When asked about my future plans I said I was applying for a masters, and also to the civil service in case the masters application was  unsuccessful. And in truth I was applying, or was to be applying – but just hadn’t yet. I was hoping for a lull in the stream of work during Michaelmas, waiting for an opportune moment over the Christmas vacation to start my applications. And so time ticked by.

Eventually I sat down at my laptop one December night and scrolled through pages detailing academic requirements, tuition fees and the number of applicants for each course – of which there were hundreds. In horror I slowly began to register the amount of work applying for a masters would involve. I needed a CV, two exemplar essays, three references and a statement of purpose, when I wasn’t even sure whether I wanted to continue studying English – and the website recommended starting the application process in September. With only two weeks left before the deadline I felt totally overwhelmed and underprepared: against hundreds of others, I felt I didn’t stand a chance. I could be finishing my degree in a matter of weeks with neither a job nor study to look forward to. Suddenly failure was an option – and I panicked.

In the course of the next two weeks I worked concertedly until I hardly knew whether I was sleeping or waking.

But how had I allowed this to happen? I remember feeling pressured by the October UCAS deadline for Oxbridge applications, and determining then not to find myself in a similar situation again. Nonetheless, I had been struck by a creeping paralysis as I watched my friends apply for job after job, passively listened to my peers discussing postgraduate study, and  conversed abstractly about programmes that interested me. And yet I did nothing. “Worry about that later,” I thought. “Your work takes priority – you’re a finalist!” In truth, I was in denial, and intimidated by the progress of others.

Struggling to juggle the pressures of finals revision, job applications and researching postgraduate study, I reached out to my friends and tutors for support. My peers recommended breaking application down into manageable chunks, focusing on one section at a time. A meeting with my Senior Tutor also proved useful. She helped convince me that I wasn’t a failure – I had just hit a stumbling block – and that with hard work I could still write a competitive masters application. Thus I returned to my laptop with my confidence rebuilt, determined to shake off the insidious paralysis which had afflicted me and retake control of my future.

In the course of the next two weeks I worked concertedly until I hardly knew whether I was sleeping or waking. Although I met my deadlines it had been a difficult and disheartening time, one which had added extra pressure to an already stressful time. Several things could have made planning for life after university easier, and so here are my top tips, whatever stage you are at:

·        Start thinking early. What do you really want in life? Ask tutors and other students for advice on the path that will suit you most. 

·        Use the vacations to get “relevant experience”. Taking a week out of your summer will be worth it for your CV.

·        A one page resumé is fine. Few university leavers will fill two, and conciseness can be a virtue. 

·        Most of all, don’t panic – talk to your peers, make to-do lists and find your deadline-stress wonder food. Small things like these make the big things easier to deal with.

Remember. No-one is alone on this journey, although it may be daunting. And failure is not when you don’t succeed – failure is not giving yourself the chance to try.