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Applying to Graduate School? Cut the “Whoever Will Have Me” Attitude

by Yusra Iftikhar

As a pre-PT student who is applying to graduate school, you've probably been asked, "Where do you want to go to school?" Have you ever responded with, "Wherever will have me"?

Stop that.

Buckle in, everyone. It's my first post for NewGradPhysicalTherapy, and I'm starting with some tough love.

"Whether you think you can, or whether you think you can't, you're right." - Henry Ford

Aim higher

If you've ever defaulted to that "whoever will have me" phrase, or have heard a classmate say it, you know what it means- it's an indication of how difficult it can be to get into a [insert health profession] program.

The idea, then, is that if you do get into a program, you would have done so out of luck or as a fluke.

That's just not the case.

To be honest, I've gone through it, too. Whenever my mom's friends would ask me what school I wanted to attend when I was applying to graduate school, I would answer, "Wherever will have me!" Both because I wanted to appear humble, but also because I didn't want them to think that I wasn't intelligent once I got rejected from my dream school. I used to do the same in response to questions regarding marriage, personal projects, etc. and it was a direct reflection of my self-worth.

Pursue your dream school

Of course, it's important to maintain a realistic image of your application in terms of your grades, GRE scores, variety of volunteer hours- the "tangibles." However, I implore you: pursue your dream school. I don't care what you've read online about that program's average test scores, how many times you've rewritten your personal statement, or what your advisor told you about your chances. Go for it.

I want pre-PT and even current PT students to know that, for whatever happens in life, they're worthy of something great. With the right mindset and drive, they can make it happen. I had a very low pre-requisite GPA at my undergraduate university and did not discover physical therapy until the last year of my Master's. However, I was still able to get into a top 10 school (my dream school) simply due to unrelenting persistence, research, and seeking mentorship.

It wasn't easy and it wasn't quick. But it was worth it.

Introducing the "Greatness Map"

If you're like me and self-doubt is all too familiar a friend- don't fret! I've come up with a method of putting some evidence of your awesomeness onto paper. Everyone else can see the greatness in you, and I want you to be able to as well.

Let me introduce the Greatness Map.

Is there a particularly good quality that people tell you that you possess, but you're not so sure? Maybe it's as simple as "nice" or as specific as "organized with keeping track of shadowing hours." Go ahead and write that down. Yes, even if you don't believe it.

Next, you'll want to draw lines extending out from that positive (keyword!) trait and list "evidence" at the end of each line. Let's go with the "nice" example- maybe at the end of one line you write that you stopped to hold the door open for multiple people yesterday on your way to coffee. At the end of another line, you write that you helped your younger sibling with their homework. Maybe you picked up some trash you saw in the parking lot. Or smiled at the new guy at work. That's 2 more lines!

So on and so on.

It might look something like this:

greatness map

You might surprise yourself with how much evidence you can gather about yourself, even using just the routine tasks you do every day!

Other ways to boost your self-worth

If you're struggling with the Map or just find it to be an annoying concept, that's okay! Try some of these tried and true techniques instead:

  • Journal. It doesn't have to be anything long or fancy. Just a few bullet points a day on what you're grateful for, why you're proud of yourself, and one goal you have for tomorrow.
  • Meditate. Again, you don't have to go for long or fancy, unless that's your style! Try apps like Headspace or Calm to squeeze in a few minutes of mindfulness and introspection at any time of the day, even on the go!
  • Phone a friend. This is going to sound silly, but have a friend hype you up to you. Seriously, I've done it and it really works for me. I asked my roommates if they could help me identify a few of my strengths and it turned into a 1-hour "Yusra anti-roast."
  • Be present. Try to tune into the positives of your day and what those might mean for your character. Did you smile at someone even when you were tired? Get back a good grade? Learn something new? Let those experiences be the defining moments of your day! (And, if you end up doing something that makes you feel poorly about yourself, test your ability to be forgiving and forgive yourself. That was key for my application season.)

Embrace the journey

That I would be "lucky" to be accepted somewhere- anywhere- be it by a DPT program, a person of romantic interest, or a new community- is a mindset that I've had to train myself out of. I won't lie and say that I can always recognize and harness my self-worth when I need it, but I'm working towards that every day.

And at the end of the day, you may or may not get into your #1 choice school. The strength and resilience you will gain through this journey, however, will last you a lifetime.

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