Category: Admissions (page 1 of 8)

I’m Admitted, Now What? Student Loans

Look, I get it. At this point, everyone on the planet who owns a TV, a smartphone, a computer, or has even glanced at a newspaper is aware of the student loan crisis in America.  Choosing to either go into debt for the first time, going into debt after having paid off an initial balance, or adding to existing debt can feel like a particularly scary prospect with news stories declaring that student debt has reached a record high.

However, in all of this, it’s important to remember why loans exist: whether it’s a car loan, a home loan, or a student loan, you take out a loan because you are making an investment. With a car or a home, it’s pretty clear what the investment is, but student loans can feel a little more nebulous. When you take out a loan to pay for graduate school, it’s important to remember that it is an investment in you and your career, and that unlike a car or a house, once you make that investment, it can’t really be taken away or damaged. Just think: your car could be in an accident the day you leave the dealership, or your house could be flooded the day after you sign, but once you have your graduate degree, it never goes away or lessens in value.

With that being said, the best way to make sure that this is a worthwhile investment is to ask yourself the same questions that you would ask when making any other major investment. Questions like…

What does the return on investment look like? I started to address this above, but I think one major benefit to student loan debt versus other debts is that the value of your investment doesn’t depreciate (like a car) and cannot be damaged (like a house). Regardless, there are other questions that you can ask during your search to ensure that the return on investment is high. What are the job titles of recent graduates like? What percentage of students are employed within six months of graduation?

What is this investment in, and how much is that worth to me? Okay, I know I said above that it’s an investment in you and your career, but to get even more granular, you should consider the entire package of graduate school, even the things that can’t be easily quantified. How much is it worth to you to make connections with faculty, your fellow students, and alumni? Are those connections that you could make otherwise? How much is it worth to you to have access to a dedicated career center for the rest of your professional life? How much is it worth to take some time to pursue a career that you’re deeply passionate in? Considering these things can help you remember the value of the investment you’re making.

What are the terms of the loan? This is a big one, and I really can’t overstate it enough. I will admit that when I went to graduate school, I did not think enough about the actual terms of my loan: I took out the maximum amount and didn’t even consider paying it off while in graduate school. If I could go back, that’s something that I absolutely, 100% would have done differently: take any loan counseling you get through your school seriously, and make sure you understand all the details of your loan including the origination fee, the interest fee, when it begins to accrue interest, and when you have to begin repayment. Plug those numbers into a student loan calculator to see how your situation will change depending on how much you borrow.

I totally get it: student loans are scary (I have them myself!). But federal student loans aren’t the worst investment you  can make, since they come with competitive fixed interest rates and plenty of repayment options. It is a deeply personal decision, however, so take some time and carefully consider how to minimize your debt and to ensure you have a reasonable plan to pay it off.

I’m Admitted: Now What? Financial Aid

After you decide where you’d like to attend graduate school, it’s likely that your next question is going to be, “How am I going to pay for it?” Today I’d like to dive a little deeper into how to evaluate your financial aid package and how to find additional ways of financing your graduate school education.

Read the fine print. When comparing graduate school financial aid packages, it’s important not to get stuck on the percentage of the scholarship you’ve received. Shorter programs, suburban or rural campuses, and internship support programs can all mean less-out-of-pocket costs for students: even living in Waltham over living in Boston can mean paying 4% less in rental costs, even though you’re still less than half an hour from the city! Additionally, some programs provide internship support; in Heller’s MPP program, students who secure paid internships can apply for matching funds of up to $2,500, and students who find unpaid internships can apply for support through Heller. These small differences can make a big impact over the course of a program.

Another factor to consider is what conditions your scholarship has: at Heller, tuition scholarships are not tied to required research assistantships or teaching assistantships because we reward you for the work you’ve already done. However, at many schools, scholarships are dependent on working as a graduate assistant, which may make it difficult for you to work for outside organizations during your graduate program.

Looking into all of these factors can take time and careful research; if you’re not sure where to look, I would suggest starting with your school’s Financial Aid page and the Policies and Procedures handbook for your specific program.

Start your search. Once you’ve compared your costs with internal scholarships, it’s time to start looking at external sources of funding. Here at Heller, we have a list of external funding sources for U.S. citizens and international students, which can be a great place to start. Fastweb.com and Funding US Study (for international students) are also fantastic resources for students looking to fund their graduate education. International students should also contact their local EducationUSA office; EducationUSA is a U.S. Department of State network of over 430 international student advising centers in 178 countries and territories and can help you to identify other sources of funding.

In many situations, there may be smaller scholarships for which you might be qualified. These small scholarships can add up; don’t dismiss opportunities because of size! Think about how you identify yourself: this can lead to some smaller pockets of money that are designated to specific groups available through advocacy organizations and/or foundations, including women’s organizations, LGBTQIQA organizations, and ethnic organizations.

Get to work! Once you get to campus, you can also start looking for on-campus employment. I’d encourage you to start your search for on-campus positions in the first few weeks, as on-campus jobs are usually in high demand. Many colleges have websites where you can search for open student employment positions, so you might even start searching the week before you arrive on campus. Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box (or in this case, your program); international student offices, study abroad offices, libraries, research labs, student employment offices, and athletic departments often utilize student workers. In fact, this blog is written in part by Graduate Assistants in the Admissions Office!

Once you’ve been in your program for a few months, don’t be afraid to approach professors about research assistantships or teaching assistantships. You can also reach out to your faculty advisor for guidance about how to approach faculty regarding your research interests or desire to teach while in graduate school.

Stay tuned, because next week, we’ll talk about student loans!

Happy Birthday, Heller Admissions Blog!

Take a Break!

Hannah Lougheed, MA SID/MS-GHPM’22

It has come to that point in the semester when assignment levels increase simultaneously to energy levels decreasing. It can feel like a true sprint to the finish line (as my last blog post highlights). We are, however, at the precipice of a break in the form of a full week off of classes! So, how do Heller Graduate students spend their breaks?

I find that I recharge best when home (in Pennsylvania) with family. There is nothing I love more than walking into my parents’ house and smelling that familiar yet indescribable smell, being in a well-known space, spending time with my dogs, and loving on my nieces and nephews – not to mention the home-cooked meals. I also find such joy in revisiting my favorite hiking spots and local restaurants. That is where I will be spending my week off, and I have been working hard the past few weekends to get ahead on assignments so I can be very present while home and truly take a break from school.

But enough about me, here are some of the fun things my classmates are planning to get into:

Beatriz Pleites: “I am going back to El Salvador [my home]. The plan is to hang out with my friends and go the beach!”

Ryan Lansing: “I am working over break so that I can be free to surprise my mom with a visit for her birthday/mother’s day in early May – I am the gift!”

Others have mentioned travelling to Quebec, New York, Cancun, Washington D.C., and Baltimore. Waltham is situated in a location that allows for fun 2-3 day trips accessible by car, bus, train or quick plane trip. Some of my classmates have decided to use the break as an opportunity to get ahead on assignments. Others hope to explore more of their own backyard, enjoying hikes and all of the fun activities Boston offers. Yet others told me they do not know what their break will look like, but they look forward to some unstructured time.

How do you prefer to spend breaks? Regardless of if you recharge through adventure and exploration. family time and familiarity, or quiet rest and relaxation, I wish you the best on your next break. Here is to hoping  that this break reinvigorates us graduate students to put our best foot forward for our final push to the finish line!

An Open Letter to Accepted Students

Hannah Plumb headshot

Hannah Plumb, MA SID’22

Dear Accepted Students,

Congratulations ono your acceptance to Heller! This is a very exciting time 🙂 I know when I got my acceptance letter, I was really ecstatic and could not wait to start picking out my classes, exploring campus and making new friends. I know this can also feel a bit overwhelming with the amount you have to prepare, but it’s also important to congratulate yourself on this important achievement. You did it!

Here’s some tips I would give as you start preparing to contemplate your decision to come to Heller:

1. Celebrate

First of all, congratulate yourself by celebrating this important achievement! All that hard wok of writing essays, seeking out recommenders and paying for transcripts has paid off, and you deserve to treat yourself. Whether that be by going out to a nice dinner, having a small party with your friends or just by watching the new season of Bridgerton, make sure to take time to celebrate your accomplishment.

2. Talk to a current student

When deciding which graduate school to pick, the amount of information to go through can be extremely daunting. However, one great way to get that information and an insider’s point of view is to talk to a current student. You can do this by reaching out to your existing networks, or even scheduling a time to talk with one of Heller Admissions’ fabulous graduate assistants here! Make sure to come with some questions prepared and think about what is most important to you in a graduate program.

3. Figure out which classes excite you the most

One thing that really helped me decide that Heller was the school for me was by looking at the classes that were going to be offered for the Fall. I get to investigate the required classes as well as the electives I was really excited to take (like Contemporary Issues in Gender and Public Policy and Global Social Entrepreneurship). This is a great way to make sure you can focus on your interests while in grad school, while also getting to explore new ones.

4. Budget, budget, budget!

While grad school can be great, it’s also really expensive. Something that helped me in my decision was by taking a look at Heller’s cost of living and figuring out how it would work into my budget. I looked at how much loans I would have to take out and if I would need to work or not. While I know this isn’t always the most fun thing to do, it’s really essential when making that graduate school decision.

5. Come visit us!

As of Fall 2021, Heller is officially in person and on campus! Although we aren’t offering in person events for this spring, if you’re in the area, feel free to swing by and get a look at the Heller school and the larger Brandeis campus. It’s great to get a chance to walk around campus and get a feel for what it is like.

That’s it for all my tips for accepted students. Congratulations again on being accepted and good luck in making your decision. Heller is a great place to be, and I hope to see you around here really soon!

Heller Town Halls

One of the things that I, as a staff member, really appreciate about Heller is the Town Halls that we hold each semester. It’s actually something I hadn’t experienced before in my own graduate program or in other schools that I’ve worked at, so I’ve come to see it as a hallmark of Heller that perfectly encapsulates the spirit of what we’re trying to do here.  In short, Heller Town Halls are opportunities for the leadership at Heller to update students on the work or projects that are being done, and to give students the opportunity to comment or ask questions– and even to make demands– of the school’s leadership. Since we had a Town Hall earlier this week, I thought I’d report back on this semester’s town Hall.

The event kicked off, as it usually does, with a welcome from the office of the Dean, which includes representatives from career development; admissions; equity, inclusion, and diversity; academic and student services; communications; alumni relations; research; and many more. After each of the representatives from these offices had a chance to introduce themselves and provide updates on what their offices have been doing, the meeting was turned over to Maria Madison, who leads our Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity Office.

Dr. Madison shared the results of the most recent climate survey, which typically happen every year but have been delayed due to COVID. Climate surveys are really important at Heller, since they’re one of the ways that we measure Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity progress, through looking at demographic, vulnerabilities (like health, safety, wellness, employment, housing, food security), belonging and inclusion (including perceived discrimination, and satisfaction with Heller and willingness to recommend to others. These four measures let the staff and faculty know whether we have been making progress in our commitment to social justice. Since Dr. Madison let us know that the numbers were preliminary, I don’t want to go into too much detail, it looks like in spite of the pandemic, overall, student satisfaction and willingness to recommend to others has improved. Dr. Madison also talked about important next steps for contextualizing and embedding anti-racism, anti-bullying and anti-discrimination into pedagogy, research, and policy work across Heller.

After some quick updates from Ravi Lakshmikanthan, Assistant Dean, Academic, and Student Services and Ron Etlinger, our Chief Administrative Officer, our current Heller Student Association chairs, Zari Havercome and Hannah Lougheed (who of course is also one of our talented GAs who writes for this blog!) shared the results of the elections for the new chairs of HSA and gave some end-of-the-year updates.

With all of that out of the way, the floor was open for questions from students, faculty, and staff and cupcakes were brought out to celebrate Heller being ranked in the top ten for social policy once again!

Expect the Unexpected

Last week, I had a conversation with a student who was interested in applying to Heller’s PhD program. “I’d really like to finish the program in four years; what’s the best way for me to do this?” Uh….

I’ll tell you what I told him: that’s a hard thing to do. Undertaking a PhD is a big step! Your dissertation is essentially the length of a (pretty lengthy) book, and it’s hard to get that done in the year. But, as I told him, if you’re determined to complete it in four years, there are a few things things that you can do right now that will set you up for success. When I sat down to write this blog post, I realized that the advice I gave him actually scales to any student about to undertake a graduate level degree. Doing these three things right now, before you enroll in graduate school, will ensure that you have the best experience possible and get the most you can from your program.

Number one: Get your finances in line.

This isn’t the time to say, “Oh, I’ll figure it out once I’m in the program” or “I’m sure I’ll be able to get loans that will cover my program”. To be successful in your program, you’ll want to have as little stress outside of grad school as humanly possible, and financial stress is an important part of that. You don’t want to be in the middle of taking your midterms, worried about whether or not you’ll be able to make rent next month. Make a budget for grad school: on one side, write down any money you’ll have coming in (a stipend, your savings, a scholarship, your salary) and on the other side, write down any money you’ll have going out (the cost of your program, your rent, your living expenses). Ideally, the first number should be larger or the same as the second. If that’s not possible, the difference will represent the amount you’ll have to take out in loans.

Number two: Identify your support systems. 

Getting a graduate degree is tough. There are late nights, stressful finals weeks, and not a lot of time or money to take vacations. Before you begin a graduate program, I would suggest that you identify things or people in your life that you can lean on when things get tough. It’s been said that everyone should have three hobbies: one that helps your body, one that helps your mind/emotions, and one that helps your finances. I would try to find a hobby for each of those, but also find a person in your life for each of those categories as well.  For body, it might be a personal trainer, a friend that you schedule a weekly walk with, a friend who’s into yoga classes, a partner that will make sure you eat; mind or emotions could be a close friend that gives great advice, a therapist, a supportive parent figure who’s always ready to take your calls; wallet could be a mentor in your field who will give you honest career advice, a partner who is willing to shoulder more of the financial burdens while you’re in school, or a professor who is always in need of a research assistant.

Number three: Expect the unexpected.

Ever heard the phrase, “The best laid plans of mice and men”? The second part of the phrase is, “Often go awry.” This holds especially true if the mice and men are in graduate school. If you can do so without causing undue stress, take a moment to consider some “worst case scenarios” and how you would deal with them while you were in graduate school. If you’re using the school’s health insurance, familiarize yourself with your new coverage. Ask about what the medical or personal leaves at your new school look like. Ask about what happens if you fail a class, or what support there is on campus for students who are struggling. If you have a partner, talk to them about what would happen if they lost their job, or were offered an amazing job in a different area. These can be hard conversations, and scary to think about, but I promise, the more you’re able to have things “lined up” in the event of a problem, the more prepared you will be to solve that problem.

Q&A: What is a Proseminar?

Hannah Lougheed, MA SID/MS-GHPM’22

This weekend, I had the opportunity to take part in a Heller proseminar with a focus on finance and budgeting, and it was excellent. So I figured, if you decide to become a Heller Graduate student (or maybe you already are one), you may also have the opportunity to take part in proseminars and may have some questions about what they are and how they work. Let’s take a moment to discuss what exactly they are:

Q: What makes proseminars different from regular courses?

A: Proseminars are 9 hour “crash courses” (my words, not Heller’s) that typically meet Friday – Sunday that feature a wide variety of topics. 

Q: Are proseminars required?

A: No, they are totally optional! If it is a topic you are interested in, then you can opt in to the course – but they are never required. 

Q: Do proseminars count for credits?

A: Yes! Proseminars count for 1 academic credit. 

Q: Why would I want to take a proseminar?

A: As was mentioned above, proseminars can cover a variety of topics – such as finance and budgeting for nonprofits;  technology for development; diversity, equity and inclusion; and many other changing topics! You. may chose to take them out of interest, or because they count towards your overall credit requirements (or both)!

Q: How many proseminars are offered each semester?

A: It depends. I have found that there are usually 2-3 each semester, but I believe that can change . 

Q: Do I have to pay to attend a proseminar?

A: No, these are free for students to join at no additional cost. It is akin to attending a free weekend learning conference.

Q: Are proseminars graded or on a pass/fail basis?

A: They are graded and count towards you GPA the same as a regular module or semester long course. 

Q: How do I enroll in a proseminar?

A: You will get an email from your program advisor a month or so ahead of time with all needed information – including an online sign-up form. 

Still have questions about a proseminar? Feel free to reach out to your program advisor for the most accurate information on when they are, what topics they may feature, how to enroll, and any additional questions!

 

Love is Blind: Admissions

Like many others across the nation (and even the world: there’s now both a Japanese and Brazilian version), I spent a good portion of last month binge-watching season two of Netflix’s hit show Love is Blind, and tuned in this past week for the reunion episode. For those of you unfamiliar with the premise of the show, it goes a little something like this: over less than two weeks, potential couples participate in a version of speed dating where they can hear, but not see each other. By the end of the pod dates, some couples choose to get engaged, if accepted, the two will meet face to face for the first time. The show then follows them out of the pods to their honeymoon, and then back to real life where they meet each other’s friends and families. At the end of three weeks, they then decide if they want to get married or not.

Okay, Amanda, what’s your point? I’m getting there! The show has been very much on my mind, and we happen to be at the point of the admissions cycle where we’re both still admitting students and trying to yield the students we’ve already admitted this cycle… and when I sat down to write this blog post, I realized that in admissions, we often use words like “perfect match”, a “good fit”, or “knowing in your gut”, the same things people often talk about when they’re dating. It got me wondering if Love is Blind just may have some important lessons for students in the process of applying to grad school. Here are some of my takeaways:

Love, whether it’s for a graduate school or a romantic partner, can (and maybe should!) be blind. In the pods, contestants are challenged to fall in love without knowing what the other person looks like. When exploring schools, or choosing the right school for you, I implore you to try to do the same. Strip away the prestigious name or the high ranking, look past how other people might judge you for your choice and ask yourself, how do I feel here? Does the environment feel right to me? Do this school’s values mesh with mine? Could I see myself fitting into this community? Those questions, more than a flashy name, will help you choose which school is the best fit for you.

These things take time. Couples that seem like the strongest in the pods often fall apart after a week in the outside world. All the bonding that they do through the walls amounts to very little when they’re confronted with each other’s families, friends, apartments, conflict styles, love languages, etc. Unfortunately, there’s no shortcut to love, and I suspect there may not be a shortcut to finding the right graduate school. It takes careful research, meeting with people in the community, a visit to campus (if possible!) to figure out if the school might be the right one for you. Don’t try to rush into things!

There’s no such thing as “The One”. Something I was struck by in Love is Blind is how frequently contestants will say something like, “I never connect with people outside… but in here, I have three guys that I could see as my future husband!” I think that goes to show that the myth of one soulmate or one perfect school may just be that… a myth! There are probably a few dozen schools that you could be happy at, so don’t take rejection too hard. Even if you don’t get into what you think is your dream school, it may just be that there’s another school out there that you would ultimately be more suited for.

While I don’t think Love is Blind is necessarily the best way to find a romantic partner, I think there are some takeaways that are actually better applied to graduate admissions. But worry not– you don’t have to enter into a pod to see if Heller is right for you.

Recap of a Stint in Virtual Learning

Hannah Plumb headshot

Hannah Plumb, MA SID’22

When I was looking into graduate schools back in 2020, one thing that was really important to me was having in person classes. Obviously, when the pandemic first hit, most graduate schools had all their classes online. That was why I decided to wait and apply for Fall 2021, when I knew it would be more likely that I could experience everything in person. Thankfully, the Fall 2021 semester was all in person and I got my wish.

However, in December 2021, the Omicron variant hit, and uncertainty about classes being online was in the air again. So many people I knew were getting infected, and I got more and more concerned we’d be moving online permanently. I constantly was checking my inbox over the break, looking for updates about if in person classes would begin. Finally, I saw the email– I quickly skimmed and found the information I was looking for. “Classes will begin online for the first two weeks of the Spring 2022 semester.” My heart sank a little bit; even though I knew it was the right decision with the new variant, that didn’t mean I wasn’t disappointed.

Now being back in person after those two weeks, it seems a good a time as any to look back on those two weeks of online classes. A few good things about being online were that I seemed to have so much more time. Since I wasn’t as worried about getting to campus, my time was my own, and I had a lot more of it. Also, being at home meant that I could take some time during the day to cook, get my laundry done etc, which I don’t get to do as much during a normal week. However, there were also negatives too. Because I also was working remotely, I was essentially staring at my computer for 12 hours a day every day. As someone who loves being outdoors and being social, this was a little bit tough for me. Plus, being online I have a much harder time concentrating, and find that I get distracted much easier.

While there were definitely some benefits to being virtual, I must say I’m very happy to be back in person. However, I have to give credit to the professors that made being online much more engaging that I anticipated. One professor that really stood out for me with her skills in teaching online classes was Professor Kaitie Chakoian.  Professor Chakoian teaches Policy Approaches to Gender-Based Violence, which is my favorite class of the semester so far. When we were online, she did such an great job at letting us be part of the discussion and coming up with exercises to really make sure everyone was able to participate. In addition, these discussions got us thinking on a deeper level about what rape culture really is and what constitutes it. Also, she made sure to give us frequent breaks as needed, and give us time to get into break out rooms to have further discussion about the topics of class. This was so helpful, as it gave us time to really absorb the material and ask any questions we might have. Professor Chakoian did an amazing job, and if we had to be online permanently, I would take her class in a heartbeat.

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