Campus visits are important!

Now that everything is submitted, it is now time to wait for responses. It is important to keep in mind that rejection letters are inevitable. Don’t let them get you down. There are many options out there, and it is not the end of the world.

However, you should still be proactive in the meantime while you are waiting. Do you yet know your list of preferred schools and why you want to attend them? Have you visited them? Visiting an institution and getting the “feel” to what it is like to be there will help you make a decision and not regret it later. Each institution is different. The campus life, environment, and structure can be a huge impact on how you will enjoy spending years there. Do you like big cities? Small college towns? A scenic campus to walk through? Visit, visit, visit! Visit IU by emailing us at! I hope to meet you at IU! GO HOOSIERS!

Visiting the IU Campus

I always wanted to attend a college with grass, trees, and brick buildings as an undergraduate student. When researching graduate schools and after visiting a few VERY urban campuses, I realized that this was an important criterion for me. I like the grassy, pillows and blankets, trees, and frisbie catching experience that green space offers on college campuses. Yes, this may sound very traditional, but that was a quality about the IU campus that appealed to needs that I did not know that I had. As a graduate student, the traditional feel of IU has encouraged several things: relaxed environment to work in, less traffic and challenge of the fast life, as well as interacting with undergraduates while walking to class. This has enriched my experience as a graduate student.

You should visit the IU campus because it does offer many traditional aspects to college life. As previously mentioned, green space is very important to this institution. The campus highlights this by providing programming, fairs, and other activities to engage with other students. And, there is usually free food in Dunn Meadow when it is warm and sunny on a regular basis! 🙂

Visiting campus as a graduate student is ideal. You may be here for longer than four years. You might have a family that would be using campus facilities. It might impact how you fit into your department or even with other graduate students. Whatever are your specific needs, I strongly encourage you to visit to evaluate if this is the place for you.

I was sold on my first visit and have never regretted it since!

Graduate Visitation is a MUST

I often get the question from prospective graduate students on whether graduate visitation is a necessary step in the overall graduate admission process as the prospect of taking time off for travel might be difficult on a tight schedule and/or the cost of travel is just too steep for an individual ready to submit to a few more years of ongoing poverty. The short and simple answer is YES. A visit to prospective institutions, in my opinion, is a must.

The collective knowledge gained from every visit was arguably the single most critical element in the process that helped me determine the right place to dedicate the next 4-5 years of my life. Let me explain. It is the universities’ job to put forth their best foot and convince you that their institution is the one for you. Typically this accomplished through a ton of promotional literature and relentless recruitment on behave of the school. It is safe to say that no schools will falsify this information, but by the same token, certainly no schools will represent their institution in a negative way. With that said, it is the responsibility of the prospective student to discern the institution that best fit their personality, as well as career orientation. And the only ways to truly do this is by going straight to the source and investigate. Here are some tips that may be helpful in the process of graduate visitation:

  • Cost of airfare and hotel rooms are expensive and certainly will add up after about 2-3 visitations. Most universities, and depending on structure of each department, typically have money set aside to fund visitations. Do inquire further at the department office of the program in question. The worst that can happen is a polite, “No.”
  • With all the action happening on the admission side of things, administrative employees are often very busy. This can make them a little grouchy and unwilling to help a lowly prospective graduate student, true story. This is where open communication with faculty members pay off and they are usually very effective at making your case to the administrative side. Even if the admissions people remain uncooperative, the faculty can certainly help fund your trip from their own accounts.
  • Cost of living analysis should be carried out at every institution. Getting a $20k annual stipend to live in Los Angeles is certainly very different from living in Bloomington. Choose wisely.
  • Ask about available scholarships, fellowships, and funding sources for your education. A $250k billing at the end of the graduate career is no fun. I know many in this situation.
  • Inquire into research opportunities and well as teaching opportunities available at the institution. This will insure that you are at a place where you can keep your training relevant and skill set diverse.
  • Nightlife. I cannot stress this enough. It is important for your mental health as well as the mental health of those in your program to have places to just relax, have a beer, and unwind. This vital information is often obtained through current graduate students at the institution. Feel free to ask.
  • Lastly, have at least two professors that you’d like to personally speak with regarding the program and what it has to offer. It is a good idea to do research ahead of time on these professors to strengthen your questions in the context of their work.

Good luck, and have a wonderful visitation day!

So you have applied, now what?

Congrats you have sent off all of your applications. You have paid your fees and jumped all hoops. So one last question remains, now what do you do? There are two very different options. You can begin your preparations if you plan on moving in the summer. That is the fun and studious option. Personally I’d suggest you ENJOY THE END OF UNDERGRAD! wooo congrats you made it. The grades you will get the final semester will most likely not destroy your graduate school chances (although I wouldn’t suggest testing it). This is your chance to finally relax while still at your soon to be alma mater. You cant really specifically prepare for graduate school because you don’t know exactly where you are going yet and you don’t have the tension in your shoulders from getting piles of forms and transcripts together. Yes you are stuck in the blissful window of waiting. Reconnect with friends if you have been distant, find out what other people’s future plans are…or don’t. But whatever you do just relax and let your past efforts dictate your future. Good luck

While you wait for good news

Unlike most graduate students, I went through the graduate admission process twice. The first time around, choosing work over graduate school was the more logical choice at the time. The second time was fueled by the desire to depart from the industrial culture to embrace something more academic in nature. The difference is simple: industry strives to create products as efficiently with the lowest overhead possible whereas academia strives to expand fundamental pursuits by any means possible. They are truly apples and oranges when compared to one another, each direction with their own rightful merits and shortcomings. I eventually chose the academic route as it gives me the chance to explore a specific discipline while being able to share the findings with colleagues and beyond.

The graduate admission process was much smoother and relaxing the second time around. Here what I learned:

  • Use the time to read review articles in the fields that you are interested in. It’ll give you good insight and background to be relevant when given the opportunity to converse with faculty and researchers during the graduate visitation periods.
  • Remain in contact with faculty and researchers whose work you are interested in, it’ll help prepare you to make the right decision while selecting future institutions and faculty advisers to work with.
  • The period just after you’ve sent in all your applications materials until the first acceptance letter can be quite psychologically taxing. You entire future for the next few years is completely in the air and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. And it’s exactly that, there is absolutely nothing you can do about it at the moment, so why waste time and health stressing over it. Use that time to catch up with friends and family before your eventual departure. I am glad I did just that.
  • Once again, just relax. The one thing I wish I did more frequently in California before I left was go to the beach. Not even to tan, surf, or swim. Just to feel the sand between my toes and the sounds of the crashing waves. Homesickness will hit hard, savor the moment.

And now your waiting? What to do next?

Now that you have sent in your application, you must be wondering what you should do next.  Double check with your school if you need to submit separate applications for fellowships and scholarships.  You will want to investigate these opportunities.  It’s a good idea to talk to faculty of your department to see what departmental opportunities there are to apply for.  Fellowships will provide opportunities for you not only to seek funding but also experience.  What is important about fellowships is that they allow you to be secure regarding funding and during your first year as a graduate student, you can explore other options if your fellowship is only awarded for one year.  If fellowships are not an option, begin looking for other financial assistance either through campus employment or working in the community if you are in need of funding while studying. Many schools and departments have research centers that may be looking for help.  Make sure to be exhaustive in your search.

If you have missed the deadline to apply for fellowships, create a folder and collect information for the next year.  Being prepared will help you keep a foot out front and have all necessary documents, recommendations, and information ready to submit at a moment’s notice.  If you are needing recommendations, do not procrastinate.  Professors will write you a better recommendation if they have time to prepare and not have to use a “canned” letter.

Stay tuned to next month about filing for a FAFSA.


The Waiting Game

I remember what January of 2010 was like.  I had sent in all 5 of my applications. I had focused so much energy and time, produced so many drafts of the “perfect” personal statement, paid so much money in application fees, and had sent too many emails to my recommenders.  Although this may seem like a time where you should worry, it is not.

There is nothing eloquent that I can write about this waiting game. Nothing heartfelt or rhythmic.  I only want to encourage you that now is where the confidence in all of your hard work, your academic experiences, your decisions to select the schools to apply to, all of the internet and soul searching, every sacrifice that you have made, and the strength that it took to take a leap of faith to actually begin the application process is going to pay off. You will succeed.

Indiana University is an amazing school and definitely a place where you can thrive and learn and grow into a better academic and professional. And, if this is your choice, I look forward to seeing you at future GPSO events. Don’t worry about shoulda, woulda, couldas….worry about the  “I wills” and the “I can’t waits!”

Relax. Go about your daily routines. Wait for the email notification. And, be patient. The confirmation is coming your way!!!!

Grades and good test scores are important … but not a life & death matter!

Many folks are concerned that if they messed up freshman or sophomore year with their academics and their GPA isn’t as good as they would want, there is no hope for graduate school.   Others are not as good test takers as others and are worried that their performance will hinder their admissions.  Remember that graduate school is not a life and death matter!  There is always hope and if you want it badly, you can achieve it!  YOU CAN DO IT!

If your GPA or graduate standardized test scores are low, supplement them with other positive characteristics of your application.  You may want to get another masters degree that is relevant to your field of interest to perform better as an illustration of your academic abilities.  Getting a job in your field of study and performing well in it will show schools your work ethic.  Studying harder and taking the test another time can supplement a poor score and show schools that you are persistent and really want to achieve.

Remember, there is never a dead-end, just a detour.  Don’t get frustrated and give up … there is hope!  Message me if you want more ideas!  Good luck … and remember … YOU CAN DO IT!

Graduate Application Checklist

Here is a useful checklist that I personally used while finalizing my graduate school applications.

  • Check and save records of all electronic applications (as .pdf) and written applications (as photocopyies. It’ll be useful to reference if anything goes wrong with your application process in the near future.
  • Carefully read through each personal statement and statement of purpose. If you used a general template tailored to each specific institution, make sure the university and the program names referenced in the statements corresponds to the actual school you’re applying to. This will surely avoid awkward situations.
  • Double-check that your GRE scores (general and field specific) have been sent to the correct university codes. Then check again by calling ETS. They are notorious for ruining applications.
  • Stay in constant contact with the nice folks who will be writing your letters of recommendation. First and foremost, they are people who have lives outside of work. Secondly, they are likely professionals or professors at your institution. These people are arguably the most busy people in the world. Don’t be afraid to offend, remind them OFTEN of upcoming deadlines. They’ll appreciate it.
  • Make a spreadsheet that contains all the schools you are applying to, the status of their applications, and special considerations as the application process for each school is quite unique (and should stay that way to avoid the plague of putting names into “magical black boxes” to determine one’s future that is currently a point consternation in the medical field).
  • Once the last application is sent off, DO NOT DWELL. Find something relaxing to occupy your time that applications has once stolen from you. Absolutely free you are, until bonded and shackled to your graduate project, but you didn’t hear it from me. =)

Best of luck always on all your endeavors! Email me if you have any questions.

Grades and Grad School Applications

As an emissary for IU, I’ve had the chance to talk to a lot of students who are going through the application process for graduate school. One question which almost always comes up is, “How much do grades and GRE scores matter?” This can be a tricky question – it often depends on the individual student and the program they are applying to. I’ll share my perspective, but if you are worried about your numbers you should also talk to people at the institutions you are applying to.

If you don’t have high test scores, don’t despair. Grad school applications aren’t just about GREs and GPAs.

Graduate programs care about grades and test scores, but they also care about recruiting students who are dedicated, determined, and who have well-defined research interests. In my opinion, not many programs will take on a student who doesn’t know what they want to do in grad school, no matter how good that person’s grades are. On the other hand, they might be willing to take on a student whose grades and test scores are somewhat low, provided that they have the personal drive and direction that are needed to get through grad school.

A friend of mine was accepted to IU (with funding) in spite of her low GPA, because she was able to prove her worth in other ways. After completing her undergraduate degree, she strengthened her resume through work and research experience. She didn’t apply to graduate school right away, but she used her time wisely. Eventually, she developed a rapport with professors within the department she would later apply to. When she did apply, she had contacts within the university to vouch for her, as well as important experiences which made her application strong.

Gaining research experience is an excellent way to strengthen your application and show you are dedicated to furthering your education.

While some departments might prove stubborn about their minimum test score and GPA numbers, I think you will find that many departments are flexible, especially if your application shows your ability in other ways. So if your scores are not quite what you wish they were, don’t lose hope! You may have to work a little harder to prove yourself, but it certainly can be done.