Scariest Part of Graduate School

BOO! Image taken from http://www.hdwallpapersinn.com/haunted-house-wallpapers.html

BOO!
Image taken from http://www.hdwallpapersinn.com/haunted-house-wallpapers.html

TUITION! FEES! BILLS! Words scarier than the most blood curdling horror story for a graduate student.  I think the biggest concern for graduate students right after getting accepted, is figuring out how to pay for your new life as a burgeoning academic. It should come as no surprise that the pathway to higher education is never one paved in gold, with money trees and cash bushes lining the sides; the “poor college student” narrative tends to transform itself into the slightly more adult sounding “destitute graduate student” memoir. This should be looked at as an expectation, rather than a fear, however. There are ways of paying for it!

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Graduate School Discernment

At the beginning of my senior year, I happened to unfortunately be one of those soon-to-be matriculating undergraduates that didn’t know what they were going to do.  At the beginning of my undergraduate career, I knew the next 5 years of my life but of course, my path in life changed a couple of times that I never really made an updated 5-year plan.

I applied to various jobs sectors and when interviews never really felt “right”, I then looked into graduate school.  I actively asked my friends and family members what they were thinking and given what they knew about me, what did they see me doing (and more specifically what program).  I’m really glad that Continue reading

Graduate School? Talk to _____

Indiana University Bloomington (from iugradschool.blogspot.com)

There are some who already knew what they were going to do when they started their undergraduate career.  It took me, however, until my senior year.  Many of my fellow classmates were frantically going to job interviews, and I reluctantly went to a few, not knowing what my actual passion was.

It was not until I made a list of what was most important to me that I figured that graduate school should be on the list.  My family and friends always asked me what I wanted to do, and I always said, Continue reading

Going to Grad School vs. Entering the Workforce

Beach Ukelele Smaller version

A shot from Waikiki Beach during a Hawaii recruiting trip in Fall 2011.  Photo taken by Stephanie Nguyen.

I remember asking this question to different people–alums, faculty, and advisers– when I was a senior in undergrad.  Each answer I received was different from another.  In other words, there isn’t a right answer to this question, and it really depends on a few factors:

  1. The industry/field you are interested in actually NEEDS people with professional/higher degrees.
  2. If you want to teach in college.
  3. If you want to contribute original academic research.
  4. How burnt out you are from school (and yes, this is a factor!)

So the best answer for me was entering into the workforce.  I had a great time in college–I double majored (marketing and piano performance); I studied abroad; and I was very involved in clubs and student government.  But by senior year, I was a pretty burnt out.  To me, the idea of doing two to seven more years of school was as dreadful as getting my teeth pulled at the dentist.

I worked three years for my alma mater as an admissions counselor, and boy, did I have a lot of fun!  A few things I loved about working:

  1. There’s no homework!
  2. You get paid for your work!
  3. Saving (or spending) your new found paycheck!
  4. You can focus on your hobbies!
  5. Traveling on the company’s dime!
  6. Meeting new people!

Besides having fun, I learned professional skills like supervising, advising, and budgeting.  Most importantly, I learned more about myself both as a person and as a professional.  Personally, I used my free time to become a half-marathoner runner and to volunteer in the community.  Professionally, I realized that my passions lay in interacting and advising undergraduate students as well as understanding the process of running a university.  So, with the help of my current boss at the time, I decided that I was ready to apply for a master’s in Higher Education and Student Affairs.

So, I am a big proponent of working before going to graduate school.  To summarize, working for a few years will help you find direction in your life.  It will help you figure out if you truly want to go back to graduate school, and possibly help you figure out which academic field is the best fit for you.  Also, taking a few years off from school will help you appreciate academics more when you do go back to school.  Of course, having a paycheck doesn’t hurt as well!  Ultimately, though, this is a choice you must weigh based on many different factors of your life and your career goals.

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

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.

 

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.

Getting a Recommendation letter

Recommendations letters are one of the most important components of your graduate school application.  While your GRE score signifies your ability to do well on standardized exams, recommendation letters tell a prospective program who you are and how you’ll fit within their department.  Here are a few pieces of advice:

  1. If you’re even thinking about attending graduate school, go to a professor’s office hours.  Share your academic interests with him or her.  Take the initiative and help the professor get to know you. The better you get to know each other, the better he or she can speak to who you are.  Plus, getting to know a professor will help you learn more about graduate school, provide you with a mentor, and might even help you secure some undergraduate research projects.  Recommendation letters need to show:
    1. Your critical thinking skills
    2. Your writing abilities
    3. The type of scholar you wish to be
    4. Your work ethic
    5. Your ability to collaborate on projects

Thus, it’s really important to start putting in the effort now and find a professor who can address these characteristics.

2. If you attend a large university, it is likely you’ve taken classes taught by graduate students, or simply have more contact with grad assistants rather than the course professor.  Although this grad student may know you better, it’s really important to secure letters from professors.  Prospective departments want to see your abilities, as determined by an established scholar in the field.

3. If possible, get letters from professors with whom you’ve taken multiple classes.  This way, professors can speak to your abilities across time and with different challenges.

4. Do your research!  This means knowing why you want to attend a particular graduate program and why you’re right for each other.  Share this information with those who will be writing your letters.

5. Be respectful of letter writers’ time.  Bring them all the information they need, including addresses, any necessary forms, or web addresses if applicable.  Most importantly, give them plenty of time and don’t forget to thank them.