Diaries of a (Hopeful) Grad Student

Part 1:

Coming from someone who is relatively in the middle of their graduate school search process, I wanted to take a bit of time to write about the experiences I am having and what I have done so far to get to where I am at right now. So I guess I will start off by saying a little bit about me:

I am currently in my fourth and final year at Oakland University, majoring in Anthropology and attempting to hide as the finality of my college career is hitting me for the first time. For me, the grad search process is not only an extraordinarily intimidating one, but a necessary aspect for my future career (which happens to be in Student Affairs).

I started in the summer before my senior year to begin the grad search process, which I would say was rather late to the game. If I was smarter and wiser, I probably would have started my research in the final semester of my junior year, just to give myself enough time to really focus on what I wanted out of a program and geographically what I was looking for. However, I began my search this past summer. I looked up schools based on rank for the program I was looking for, as well as schools that I was generally interested in attending, and also schools that had been recommended to me. I compiled my list, did my research regarding program requirements and dates, and looked at the general campus feel for each of the institutions on my radar. There are three extremely important questions I would encourage you to ask yourself when you are starting ‘the list’:

  1.      What academic level are you looking for in your program? (This will depend on the size and prestige of the institutions you are looking for)
  2.      What geographic region are you interested in attending school? (For some of you, it may be wayyyyy far away from where you are, and for others you may want to consider schools only in the region you currently looking at)
  3.      What types of financial aid are the schools you are looking at willing to provide? (You will, unfortunately, have to pay for it somehow, so make sure to pay attention to this)

When considering the first question, I asked myself where I saw myself academically speaking. Personally, I was looking for a challenge, I was looking for the next step academically, one that was going to push me harder and provide a rigorous course load. For you, this might look different, and that’s okay! I will say that grad school is inevitably going to be much harder than your undergrad experience, so if you’re not ready for the next step, try to prepare yourself as best you can! Additionally, I wanted to make sure that I was providing myself with realistic expectations. I don’t have the best GPA, and my GRE scores certainly didn’t stand up to where the institutions wanted them to be (don’t worry; we can talk about GRE scores later). My solution became structuring my list in a three-tier way. ‘Dream Schools’ became the schools that I have always wanted to go, that might be slightly out of my reach; ‘Realistic Schools,’ were the colleges I knew I wanted to attend, and were where I thought I should be academically; and lastly ‘Safe Schools’ were the ones I knew I could get into, the ones I wasn’t as worried about admission for. This tier system may not work for you, but it made my search process organization incredibly easy.

As for the geographic location, some of you might have familial commitments, or aren’t ready/willing to live away from the region you are currently in. Others may be ready to sever the ties and are dying to get out! For me, the latter is definitely where I sat. I was ready to leave, to say the least. Not that I hadn’t enjoyed my experience, but I was absolutely looking for the next adventure. So, when you go to look at this bit, definitely pay attention to where you might be looking at.

Lastly, and most importantly, financial aid. You are going to have to fund your education somehow. Fortunately, some of you have extraordinarily generous backers (most likely parents) that are willing to chip in and help you out. For me, this isn’t the case and never has been. Money and paying for all of the things I need has been incredibly crucial in my process. I am going to pass on an important secret, one that has been passed down to me…you should NEVER have to pay out of pocket for grad school. EVER. There are absolutely tons of ways in which you can fund your education. Sometimes there are companies that will pay for your education (a lot of large businesses, engineering firms, etc.) and then there are also graduate assistantship positions (on-campus positions that are designed for grad students that will pay you in tuition remission or tuition waivers—I will touch on the difference of these at a later date). For me, I was looking for a graduate assistantship, specifically one within Housing on campus that would also provide me with an on-campus apartment, to cut down on a lot of costs.

 

By Holly Lustig

 

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