Graduate School

Graduate School is an imperative stage for students to achieve academic success in their academic journeys. As many students recognize that earning a baccalaureate degree is critical to sustain oneself in society, striving for a graduate education is equally imperative. Today, a college degree is equivalent to a high school diploma 20 years ago. If you want to live comfortably with some career flexibility and job satisfaction, you must attain a Master’s degree (at minimum). If you want to teach at a university, conduct research or be a university administrator, it is highly recommended you consider a Ph.D.

Preparing for graduate school admissions is a process and it requires time, commitment, and guidance. Below, I have set aside a few resources for your review to start preparing for this important stage of your career.

Preparing for the Process:

The Five Educational Pillars
The five educational pillars are the preparatory components you must pursue to be a strong candidate for graduate school. Working for over 15 years with admissions directors and placing students in graduate school, I have identified key elements that will facilitate your preparation for the next step in your education. Although a strong GPA is ideal, it is also critical you demonstrate out of the classroom activity, student engagement, and leadership. The pillars (academic, research, practical experience, leadership, and community service) are the ingredients necessary to make you a competitive candidate for your graduate school application process.

As students navigate higher education through self-exploration and peer guidance, faculty are also critical components of a successful college experience. As the university encourages and promotes strong faculty exchanges with undergraduates, students must still seek faculty for mentorship. Mentorship does not simply occur because you are a student in a faculty’s classroom. You must foster a professional relationship with the faculty where you conduct research, do field work or complete a year project under supervision. The exchange will facilitate one-on-one contact, student learning, and professional development. Moreover, this faculty can provide guidance for your professional goals and be a recommender for your graduate school application process. Don’t miss the opportunity to find a good fit with a mentor. A mentor can be a long-lasting teacher and future colleague who holds a common academic interest, a similar research agenda, and a shared vision or change in higher education.

Application Process
Applying for graduate school is not a last minute decision process. Applying for a graduate degree requires preparation, time, commitment, and planning. Part of the application process is to have solid classes to make a case for your admission to graduate school. You must also show some research experience and out of the classroom engagement. Along with these activities, you will need strong letters of recommendation, GRE test scores, and a solid personal statement or statement of purpose.

You must also know the various programs, the faculty in the program, and their research. The student must be able to identify why the program and how it is a strong fit. Make sure you research the unique elements of each program and highlight their advantages in each individual application. Generic applications will not shine in the large pool of applicants. You must be ready to share why their program, who in the program are key faculty, and why you are a strong match for a selective pool.

Statement of Purpose
The statement of purpose and personal statement are two different documents. Different schools will request different versions of your story. You must know which of the two are required and how the two differentiate. Some schools want a story and a detailed narrative. Others want to know what you plan to do with the degree and how you reached the insight that you are a good candidate for the field. Most schools will require the statement of purpose over the personal statement. Yet, some students merge a little of the personal in the statement of purpose. The key is to be succinct but still provide examples that support your preparedness and readiness. You are to highlight what makes you a strong candidate while supporting your statements with key references and declarative statements. Make sure your final draft has been read over 10 times and reviewed by a handful of professionals. Visit the SSARC or Career Center for guidance. Also, make sure a number of faculty have reviewed the document.

The cost for graduate school discourages many students who already have loans after their BA. Do not allow your debt to get in the way between you and your graduate education. In fact, if you select the proper program, there is normally funding for most Ph.D. program and a number of competitive students applying to Master’s degrees outside of California can find funding. For graduate school funding, you have a number of options to cover your costs. Means to pay your graduate education include: fellowships, graduate assistantships, teaching assistantships, counseling and staff assistantships, or loans.

The fellowship rewards the student for their educational success and does not require work hours from the student. It is free money earned for your academic accomplishments. It pays your tuition and provides you extra money for your living expenses. A student can be awarded institutional fellowships or organization fellowships (e.g., FORD). Take the time to inquire about the various options and how you can qualify for them.

Assistantships require 20 hours of work doing research, teaching, recruiting, or counseling. This type of funding also covers your tuition and allows you to not accrue expenses throughout your graduate training. The part-time work allows you to concentrate on your studies while attaining quality experience for your career. The hours are manageable and the financial assistance toward tuition and rent are very useful for your budget. Most students could finish graduate school with assistantships and a minimal debt.

Your last option is loans. Although I do not encourage student to take out loans, they can be attained at a very low interest. Furthermore, they can be paid back in 30 year periods. The interest paid is also tax deductible and some institutions and organizations will pay for your loans if you teach in certain areas and certain students.