Thinking About Grad School?

How did you go about choosing your graduate school?

Going to a school like Columbia University seemed an impossible dream in high school. I always had an interest in knowing what going to school there would be like. After graduating from Pacific, I served with College Possible through AmeriCorps. This experience allowed me to meet students from Ivy League schools, including Columbia, for the first time. I saw that I was doing what they were doing, and talking to them gave me the confidence to apply.

When I went to visit the campus in April, I got this feeling that told me that if I went there, I would be able to change the world. I was also drawn in by the prestige of the school; I saw that I would be learning from some of the most brilliant minds in the world and be in classes with people who have had such unique experiences in the field of education.

Finally, Columbia ended up giving me the best financial aid package to pay for my master’s degree. The choice was simple: I became a Columbia University Lion!

What was your experience applying for graduate school(s) like?

The process was not as daunting when compared to applying for undergraduate schools. I had a much better idea of what schools were looking for, or at least knew where to find that information, thanks to both already having done it and helping my own students with that process. I learned more about the different types of schools that exist. Each school I applied to had different values and a certain niche.

I was careful about who I asked for letters of recommendation. I had two Pacific University professors and an executive at College Possible write my letters. I asked people who could show my strengths both in and out of the classroom and who had seen me grow as a student and person.

How does graduate school compare to your experience earning your Bachelor of Science?

Classes are more discussion based and applicable when compared to my experience earning my BS. In graduate school, we use our readings to connect to the field of higher education either through our own experiences or what currently is going on in US colleges.

I have not had one test all of my first term. My assignments are either group projects or essays. Actually, I kind of miss tests now.

My schedule feels a lot emptier than it was at Pacific. We only meet once a week for class in grad school, which is odd for me. Also, I am not a college athlete anymore, which took up a lot of my time (good times!) in undergrad and gave my day a lot more structure. Along with that, there are less extracurricular activities in graduate school to be a part of; I am definitely prioritizing school a lot more now compared to when I was an undergrad.

What is your plan for the future as far as your career goes? Any big goals?

I would like to work at a college one day (like Pacific), hopefully in Admissions. My big goal is to help more minority, low income students attend and graduate college. From personal experience, I know how difficult it is to navigate the admissions process if you’re the first member of your family to go to college. However, I also know the impact that one person can make on someone’s life, and I want to be that person that makes all the difference in students’ lives. I will happily pursue any position that allows me to do that!

Do you have any advice for students considering going to a graduate school?

I would highly recommend researching schools in the fall. This gives you time to do your applications during the winter after fall finals and hone in on the application process.

Be honest about being able to handle going to graduate school right after undergraduate. I know there are people who get their schooling done all at once, but I knew that I was burned out from school after four years of college and that I needed a break. So, I did two years of AmeriCorps in between school, giving me a chance to get some experience in the field of education as well as insight into what area of education I wanted to focus on. Do what’s best for you in the long run; if you can handle continuous higher education, more power to you. If not, find a way to work in the field you’re interested in before hitting the books again.

Determine if you need to take the GRE early in senior year and study for it.

For undergrad, make a list of schools you would want to attend. I recommend applying to at least five schools, two of them being reach schools that have top notch programs in the field that you want to study.

I recommend going to graduate school outside of the state you grew up in, especially if you went to undergrad in the same state that you’re from. One thing I have learned since graduating is that the world is a bigger place than the state of Oregon. Studying in another state helps you learn from different types of people and takes you out of your comfort zone, which helps you grow. I have learned so much from working in schools in Philadelphia, PA and Milwaukee, WI; and now I’m going to graduate school in New York City. The growth and exposure to different experiences I have gone through would not have occurred if I had stayed in Oregon.

Call the school and see if you can get your application fee waived. Not all schools will do this and you need to have a solid reason, but the fees are higher for grad programs. Also, stating your case shows your desire to be at that school.

Check when programs start school. One program I was interested in started in Mid-June, and I ended up not applying because I could not start until July. See if they start in the summer or fall, and when those terms begin, because start dates vary in graduate school.

Look for ways to pay for school. Sadly, the FAFSA does not give out grants for master’s degrees, only loans. Look for graduate programs that provide or require internships, which sometimes are paid positions to help cover tuition or other bills. Jobs with residence life are an option too, which sometimes offer free housing. And of course, apply for scholarships!

Visit the school. Like undergrad, different grad schools give off different vibes and it’s important to see if you could picture yourself there.

Jan. 24, 2017