Staying Sane: Mental Health as an Applicant

Sometimes I think about just how much effort it took to be rejected from GC school. Between applications, interview travel, the GRE, and sending transcripts / scores, my first cycle cost about $3000. It also took about 9 months. But more than anything it was extremely taxing on my mental health. As a crisis counselor, I know just how much people in counseling and healthcare fields experience challenges with their own mental well-being. The other GC applicants and I are certainly no exception.

That mental exhaustion has started to rear it’s head again as I’ve been wrapping up my applications this week. It reminded me that I need to get ready to be kind to myself and maintain self-esteem through this grueling process. So I wanted to write about the parts of the process that are most stressful, and some ways to self-care.

Things that are stressful about the process:

  • Every school charging you like $70 to look over your app
  • Wanting the personal statement to be perfect
  • Having to pester busy recommenders several times (!!!!)
  • Still keeping up with work / school / whatever your daily grind is
  • INTERVIEW OFFER (+ rejection) SEASON
  • Mentally calculating your odds of matching, by several different complex algorithms
  • Traveling to interviews (see below)

I took this selfie onboard the first leg of my flight to my Rutgers interview– my flight from SLC to Detroit. It landed at like 10 pm, and hour behind schedule, and by all accounts I should have missed my flight to Newark. Life Pro Tip, btw: If you are connecting between two flights on the same airline, they will almost always hold the second plane until all of the connectors make it on. It’s cheaper than rebooking you.

Continuing the list:

  • People asking if you’ve gotten accepted yet but it’s February
  • Interviewing with v important people! (Current / former members of the National Society of Genetic Counselor’s Head Leadership, Program Directors, Other nationally recognized GCs)
  • Waiting to hear anything
  • Other application and interview disasters not otherwise specified đŸ˜‚

So I’m saying it’s pretty easy to get burnt out. Last cycle interview offer season was really hard for me. I started off with an interview offer, then two days later, two rejections. As rejections and awkward waiting limbos piled up, I found it harder to sleep, eat, and generally care for myself. With so many stressful parts of the application process, I wanted to share some things that I did and want to do to maintain balance and self-care. I hope someone out there going through the same thing finds this helpful! Rather than a comprehensive list of activities, here’s 3 principles I use for building a grad school app season self-care plan– no matter what program you’re applying to. (Or even if you’re not an applicant at all, rather a caring friend or family member who reads this blog to support me. I see you and I thank you.)

#1: Plan Not-Related-To-Grad-School Events to Look Forward To

Especially in the interview and waiting for Match half of the application process, it can really feel like your whole life waits upon Match Day. Living that way can decrease hopefulness about the future and make life feel empty post-match. To combat this, last year I calendared a couple of fun events for after Match Day, including Disneyland, our family trip to see a musical in St. George, and the Utah Valley Half Marathon. These events gave me something to look forward to, even if it wasn’t grad school. This year, I’d also like to plan some good events for January-March so that it’s not like my life is completely devoid of adventure beyond trips to interviews. Who wants to take me to try skiing or snowboarding for the first time before I maybe move away from the snow??

#2: Build a Caring Community

You can find an online community of struggling applicants for basically any grad school admissions type. Med, Dental, PA, and yes even GC have forums and subreddits devoted to talking about the field and getting through the stress. These forums are not right for everyone though! The opportunity they offer to compare yourself to other applicants can be more stress than it’s worth. At the same time, they offer the support of others in the same situation. My recommendation to anyone applying to any grad program: if you’re feeling alone try these communities. If you’re already feeling stressed stay away haha. I used to be a pretty active poster in those GC applicant communities, but I’ve tried to stay away more often this cycle. I am friends on social media with several of the people I met on the forums though, so I still don’t have to feel alone. These communities and the people in them can be great resources if used effectively.

#3: Always Be Improving

Counter-intuitive, right? Push yourself to remain unstressed? What kept my stress down most last cycle was having new activities I was doing that I was proud of, including starting at Primary Children’s and at Crisis Text Line. Even taking on more responsibilities at work made me feel like I could see myself being happy and fulfilled even if I had to stay another year. Always be on the lookout for ways you can better yourself and find fulfillment in your current situation. Then, getting in won’t make or break your future, just momentarily change your path.

I hope someone out there finds all of this helpful, and I think it was so needed for me to remember these principles of self-care as well. Talk to you next week, and seriously drop me a comment or DM if you want to teach me how to do a winter sport this winter!

-Laura Cooper-Hastings

One Comment Add yours

  1. lynne urrutia says:

    Hi sweetheart!
    You are an amazing young woman, I’m so proud of you! You have such wisdom and courage! I love you, even though we have not been close through the years because of circumstances, please remember I have always loved you from afar, and you have always been in my heart. Love grandma


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