Author: ronuniqueclark

Financing Graduate School as a First Generation Graduate Student

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Ronunique Clark, MPP’23

The feeling you get when you receive your offer into the graduate school of your choice is undeniably one of the best feelings ever! You may have been working on your application for months, recommenders may have bailed out on you, the personal statement began to look like a blur after too many rewrites, but you finished it, submitted it, and got in. The next order of business is always “so how will I pay for this?” This can be answered in many ways, but for now, I will just offer my own two cents.

For me, I was lucky enough to leave my undergraduate institution with minimal student debt because I was granted a full scholarship. However, unlike undergrad, I knew that it would be difficult to secure sufficient funding in grad school. When I started my grad school application process, I would search the websites to determine how schools would disburse financial aid. Heller usually offers at least a 30-50% merit scholarship to most students applying to their programs, though some programs may offer more. This was a green flag for me when applying because it showed that Heller did not want students to unnecessarily worry about the financial part, but to come in and be able to learn without the additional stress.

A few things I learned when seeking funding for grad school: First, I learned when searching for funding, you need to be specific in your wording. I would recommend searching for “scholarships for public policy students” or “scholarships for graduate students”, which would narrow the information down to my particular request, avoiding the disappointment that comes with finding a great scholarship only to see in the description, “this is only for undergraduate students only”.

Second, I live by the saying “closed mouths do not get fed” and from this, I took the initiative to reach out to my mentors, former supervisors, or programs that I worked/volunteered for. This can be helpful because many jobs or programs have funding to support individuals’ academic efforts. Sometimes these can be free without any additional requirements, or you may have to fill out an application and work out a system to receive the funds. If you do not advocate for yourself and your work ethic, then who will?

Lastly,  working and going to school can be difficult. I found full-time or part-time work-study jobs to be beneficial. Note that most schools do not offer work-study for graduate students, especially international students. But even if it is not work-study, some on-campus jobs are able to hire students directly to their payroll if the department allows for it.  I advocate for on-campus or work-study employment because they work the best with students’ academic schedules, and they also are able to provide support and resources, and you may be able to score a job that fits your academic interests.

Seeking funding for graduate school can be rough, but it does not have to be. Always reach out to the school of your choice and see what resources they provide to graduate students; if you do not ask, then you will never know. This information is sometimes public but not always, so it is important to really advocate for yourself and your needs when you’re applying, during your time in the program, and even after you graduate.

Closing out the First Semester of Grad School

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Ronunique Clark, MPP’23

Finally! I’m seeing the light at the end of the tunnel for my first fall semester of the MPP program. As I near the end of the semester, I have had time to reflect on the challenges, accomplishments, and personal goals I want to set for myself next semester.

When entering the program, I had no idea what to expect initially. Being one of the few in my cohort who began the program straight out of undergrad, I had to work around the preconceived notions and tactics I have built being a student. How would the professors be supportive? How will my cohort be supportive? What resources are offered on campus if I am having a hard time or struggling? At my previous school, grades mattered the most— if you did not receive anything over a C+, you were frowned upon by peers and professors. My professors at Heller were very supportive, responsive, and understanding. At the beginning of the semester, they all instituted that we should not focus just on our grades, but we should focus on how we connect with the material and find ourselves when writing and discussing these issues with our peers, teaching assistants, and professors. This made me more comfortable with meeting with professors outside of the classroom because I felt confident enough to ask questions and express my concerns. Additionally, although I see myself as a social butterfly, I entered Heller in a cocoon. I did not know how to really engage with my peers or start conversations that were not always school-related, but my cohort made it very easy. They all wanted to get to know each other, not just on a surface-based level, and being able to grab a seat in Zinner Forum and have a conversation with a few of my peers has made my days lighter.

After overcoming these small challenges, I can say I am very proud of myself for how far I have come in an academic space. Even though I still have a small fear of bringing my own opinions up in class discussions, I noticed I am not afraid to share more on issues that may directly or indirectly affect me. I also find myself really taking my time with the assignments I turn in, asking follow-up questions prompts, deadlines, or anything else that comes my way. During my time in undergrad, I became very self-conscious about my writing skills, but after this semester, I am more confident in working with my peers on peer reviews, making numerous drafts to get that final one, and really putting my best foot forward when writing on issues that I am passionate about.

Graduate school is still not easy, but this first semester has been very eye-opening and has allowed me substantial room to grow. My goal for next semester is to be able to lead more discussions in my classroom and also fight the urge to procrastinate when a project or assignment presents itself. I want to be able to really connect my personal experiences and passions to the research presented to me and flesh out more ways to combat the issues in a social justice manner. I am super excited to be kicking off my second semester and can not wait to see what it entails.

Applying to Graduate School as a First Generation Graduate Student

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Ronunique Clark, MPP’23

Applying to graduate school as a first generation graduate student is not always as easy as it may seem.  When I started my senior year at Boston University, I was on the pathway to become a law student. I spent all summer and most of fall prepping for the LSAT, deciding what schools I wanted to apply to, endless amount of GroupMe messages… it was all super draining.  Yet when it came time to write my personal statement I could not find the words to say why I wanted to be an attorney. Was it because I wanted to help my community? Was it because I will be financially stable? What was it? I spent the last  two years prepping for my journey into law school and now I can’t even say why I want to be there. I think I was turned off by the law school process. I did not understand the purpose of the LSAT when all the 1L and 2L says the LSAT has barely anything to do with your classes. I did not understand why I would choose to sit in a class discussing outdated laws. I did not understand the process for the bar exam. It all just seemed like a rigged system to me and I no longer wanted any part.

Once I officially decided that law school was not for me, I was right back to the drawing board. Well, what am I supposed to do now? I was set to graduate from BU in less than 5 months and I just shut the door on what I thought was my dream career. I remember speaking with a old supervisor of mine about my concerns: I told her I knew I wanted to help people but I wanted to make a everlasting impact, I wanted to be within the community making the changes they want to see, and that I was thinking of applying for a MPP or MPA degree. She told me it sounded like a great idea and if she could had gotten her MPP or MPA instead of law school she would have 1000% done it. She said to me, “I did not want to study law I wanted to learn the legal and government system to make it better.” From that statement alone I began thinking some more about my personal goals and the field I saw myself in. Once that became clear, I began my search for masters programs.  I had few goals for this new journey: find a master’s program that did not require the GRE (hey, what can I say I was burnt out from standardized testing), only apply for 5 schools, and secure a scholarship offer.

One thing I forgot about once I narrowed down my choices and began my application process was that in undergrad I had way more assistance. I had more time to polish my personal statement, I had more time to search for schools, I had more time to submit scholarship applications, and on top of that, I was chosen as a Posse Scholar, and they pretty much do all the work for you– all I did was show up to an interview and a few meetings. I was on a time crunch submitting grad school apps, finding recommenders, and submitting scholarship essays. Not only did I have to deal with being on a time crunch, I had to deal with the most hated question of college students, “What are you doing after you graduate?” I would answer, “Grad school” only to receive responses such as, “Why would you want to go to grad school right after undergrad?”, “What do you plan to do with a second degree?”, questions I honestly did not have the answer to and probably still don’t have the answer to.  However, my mentor, my posse, my friends, and my family where all very supportive of my decision to get my masters. They always wanted me to do what made me happy and I can not thank them enough for the support. Friends offered to read my statement of purposes, people always asked for updates and when acceptances letters came in I was showered with words of wisdom and encouragement. Most of my family never went to college and sometimes its hard for them to understand the challenges I have to face, but they never doubted my ability to finish strong. One piece of advice I want to give a first generation graduate student is that breaking generational curses starts with you and even when the road looks foggy, trust the light is always at the end.

Getting Involved through Extracurriculars

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Ronunique Clark, MPP’23

Believe it or not, I had planned not to join any extracurricular actives in my first semester here at Heller.  I felt that I was somewhat overly involved in my undergraduate career and I wanted to go with the flow of school before I began to commit my time to other activities. Yet as the semester got underway, I felt I didn’t have many connections outside of my cohort and I wanted to get to know more students across Heller.  I opened my email one day and saw that the Heller Student Association (HSA) was looking to fill some positions. From my experience in my undergraduate program, I didn’t really want to join a student association as I felt they were never really for the students and there were always problems, so I wasn’t eager to apply.

But after reading the previous executive-boards’ (also called E-board) bios and the HSA mission statement, Heller’s HSA seemed like a team that wanted to serve the students of Heller wholeheartedly without any gimmicks. It seemed like a good fit so I took my chance and applied for the Administrative Coordinator position, note-taking for meetings and events while also serving on the Graduate Student Association (GSA) Senate as a Heller representative. I did not know what to expect joining HSA, I just hoped that everyone was open-minded, driven to meet the needs of Heller students, and friendly. To my surprise, the HSA team embodied all these qualities and many more. Even though it is only the beginning of our journey together as the HSA 2021-2022 E-board, so far we have been able to host a successful first Town Hall/ Meet the Board and also a Halloween Event where we provided games, arts and crafts, music, and good conversation amongst the students. In addition to our events, we have also begun petitions in support of Heller student parking and to re-open our favorite coffee shop in Heller, Starbucks.

At the moment, I don’t think I will be joining any other E-boards, but I hope to be able to make a lasting impact for the students at Heller with my team. Joining extracurricular activities in graduate school can be difficult when juggling academics, work-life balance, and home, but even if you do not join organizations’ executive boards, it is always good to remain connected with what organizations on campus are doing to enhance your graduate school experience.

A Letter to My Future Self (to read upon graduation)

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Ronunique Clark, MPP’23

Dear future Ronunique,

The time has final come! It is May 2023 and you were able to complete not one, but two degrees during a global pandemic. Cheers to that! Even when everyone thought you were crazy for going into a Master’s program 3 months after graduating from undergrad, you were able to overcome and prove them wrong. Another exciting part is that not only have you gotten your Master of Public Policy, but your first best-friend, Mom, is graduating at the same time with her bachelor’s degree. Please hold the tears for after the ceremonies.

You made it this far, and I know it was not easy. The readings, the group work, and the e-board meetings all seemed to be happening so fast but you were able to stick to it no matter the circumstances. If no one else ever tells you, I am more than proud and 13-year-old Ronunique thinks you are very cool! What is to come next? You have gained all this incredible knowledge on how to compact social inequities, where do you go from here? I hope that you stuck with your dream of creating an initiative that will educate formerly incarcerated individuals in California on why voting matters, how to register to vote, and making sure that their votes are counted! Do you plan to go back home to the Bay Area to assist your community in the fight to end violence? Have you taken your gems elsewhere to another community in need? Are you helping the fight for access to adequate government programs? Are you doing non-profit work or working as a program manager for a government sector? Whatever you decided to do, I know you made the right decision and that you are going to do it well.

Remember your favorite quote by Howard Thurman, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and do it.  Because what the world needs is people who come alive.” I know you are showing up to every space alive and giving the people what they want and need. You have been more than a representation but an inspiration to others who come after you.  Do not forget to always be your best yourself in every situation. You have always been more than enough. I know you have not only impacted your own life, but others as well, which has and will always be your number one purpose in life. You were adaptable, strong, and resilient. I can not wait to see where and what you do in this next chapter. The price was high but the reward was greater.

Until then best wishes,

Ronunique

Hello Heller! Ronunique Clark’s Acceptance Story

Ronunique Clark, MPP’23

During my fall semester of senior year at Boston University, I was remote learning while also drowning myself in LSAT prep books and study groups, as I had the dream of becoming a lawyer. After months of connecting to law schools, LSAT study groups/courses, and gathering my application materials, I was in the middle of writing my personal statement for law school that I realized I did not want to be a lawyer anymore. It was now the end of November: I opted out of taking the January 2021 LSAT and was back to the drawing board of what I wanted to do after graduation. The most important part of the next journey was that I knew I wanted to work in the government sector, but I did not want to enforce laws. I wanted to create, implement, and assist in helping communities gain adequate access to government resources. After consistently asking myself “What are you going to do?” I came across the Master of Public Policy at the Heller School of Social Policy.

I was familiar with Brandeis University, as a Posse scholar hailing from the Bay Area, and I knew if Brandeis was a Posse partner school, then this university prided itself on working to making the next leaders in our generation. After reading more about the Master of Public Policy program, it embodied every element I wanted to gain knowledge on. I appreciated Heller’s dedication to social justice and encouraging their students to think beyond the current social structures, providing them with the tools to addressing systematic inequities while developing equitable solutions. From there, I knew I wanted to apply for this program.

After attending my admission interview with Andrea, who is now a 2nd year MPP student, she made me feel much more confident in my application. Andrea was sweet, informative, and she answered the questions that I had to the fullest extent. After logging off my zoom call my anxiety was through the roof— I wanted to know in the next 24 hours if I was admitted into the program or not.  Almost 2 weeks went by before I received the decision letter. I had just walked into my dorm room from taking graduation photos when I felt my Apple watch buzz that there was an update made to my application. Without a second thought, I yanked my phone out of my pocket, nearly dropping it in my rush to the status page. And there it was: “Congratulations we are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted in the Master of Public Policy program at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management with a scholarship.” I screamed my very first graduate school acceptance letter and with the scholarship offer, it was the best thing yet. I screenshotted the status page and texted it to my mother: just like any other proud parent, she posted about it before I even got the chance to decide. Yet we knew the decision that was going to be made. The scholarship money was a plus, but being accepted into the Heller School of Social Policy and Management told me that it was the beginning of my new official journey of fighting for the social causes I believed in.

It now has been 3 weeks since I started at Heller, and I know it was the right decision. My cohort, the professors, and the team at Heller admissions have been so helpful and enlightening. I am so excited to see how these next two years will become I hope to gain the most knowledge and skills from this program. 

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