Tag: Choosing the Right Graduate Program

Preparing for a Virtual Admitted Student Event

If you’re one of the lucky students who has gotten into one or more of your top choice schools, first of all, congratulations! The good news: the worrying is over! The bad news: the decision-making isn’t. Even if you’ve only gotten into one school, you still have to make the choice as to whether this is the right program for you or the right time for you, and if you’ve gotten into multiple schools, well, you still have to answer those questions! The question of, “Is this the right time for me?” is going to be deeply personal, but when you’re trying to answer, “Is this the right program for me?” there are a lot of resources that you can tap into to help you answer. Most schools (including Heller) are hosting a variety of admitted student events that you can use to help you decide which school is right for you.

In this new world of Zoom, it can be tempting to leave your camera off and attend the event from bed; after all, you’re already in, right? But think about it: the current students will someday become your colleagues and classmates and the faculty will one day become your thesis advisors or mentors. These people’s opinions (whether or not you end up attending the school!) still matter because after all, they’re in your field.  Well, I have three easy tips to make sure you make the best first impression.

1. Be camera-ready. Okay, you can leave your sweatpants on, but your top half should be presentable. There’s no need for a suit and tie, but aim for business casual. If the room behind you is visible, make sure it’s in a reasonably presentable state, or better yet, use a Zoom background if your camera has the capability. In other words, prepare the way you would if this were a virtual meeting with your supervisor; even though you already have the job, you want to present yourself in the best possible light.

2. Prepare your elevator pitch. Chances are, you’ll have the opportunity to introduce yourself. The faculty and staff probably already know your background from your application, but especially if you’re meeting with current students or alumni, take a second to think of how you want to present yourself, so you’re not left either stammering to come up with an answer or ending up in a diatribe about your experience at summer camp in the fifth grade. An easy formula is past+present+future, so for example, “I first became interested in social policy when I was interning with Congressmember X while I was earning my bachelor’s degree in political science. After graduation, I’ve worked as a consultant for multiple projects, but I’m most proud of my work with Organization Y, where I helped them to develop an improved delivery system for those living in food deserts. I’m interested in learning more about Z, and I would eventually like to work as a program director for an organization that focuses on reducing homelessness.”

3. Get some questions ready. Again, you’ll want to tailor this to the group of people you’ll be meeting, but you should still ask the questions you want to know. A well-researched, to-the-point question is sure to make you a stand-out! For faculty: “Do any of your current research projects employ students?” “What type of student is successful in this program?” “Do your classes rely more on independent work or collaboration?” For current students: “What surprised you about this program?” “How available are faculty members?” “What’s been your favorite class and why?” For alumni: “What skills did you gain in the program that have proved most useful?” “How helpful was the Career Development Center in finding employment?” You can even write these on post-it notes to stick to your computer so you won’t forget!

There you have it! Now you’re ready to make the best possible first impression and get the answers you need to help make your decision. Remember, admissions offices are hosting these events for you, so make sure you come in prepared to get the answers you need.

Hello Heller!: Sazia Nowshin’s Acceptance Story

Sazia Nowshin, MBA/SID’22

One fateful Friday in late February of last year, I was leaving my workplace to go back to campus and received an email from Brandeis regarding an “update on my application.” As I was walking down the stairs to the backdoor exit, I opened the email and went to my application. Thinking back on it, I’m sure I should have been more nervous. But at the moment, I was so tuckered out from a long day’s work, I opened up the email as casually as possible. However, when I discovered that I got into Heller, I stopped in my tracks immediately. I remember texting my closest friends and FaceTiming my parents. 

Congrats on brandice,” my friend told me, whose ability to remember the school I applied to mattered more than spelling Brandeis wrong. 

I remember my sister being ecstatic over text, and my parents having extremely different reactions. My father’s first question immediately was “how much does it cost?,” a question that Heller Admissions can help answer for prospective students and parents (please don’t judge my shameless plug). My mother, on the other hand, was bawling at the idea of me moving to a different state for school. Nonetheless, I believe they were all proud of me.

Once I received my decision from Heller, I was faced with a difficult decision. I had to choose between this program and another social policy program in New York. Either way, I would have had to move because I had lived at home all my life, needed to change my environment to really focus on my graduate education, and experience new things in life overall. After weighing my options and consulting with many people whose opinions I value, I ended choosing Heller. 

The biggest factor that caused me to hesitate with Brandeis was name recognition. The other program was from a school that all my friends knew and had a high ranking in social policy programs, and no one but my professors had known of Brandeis’ esteemed academic reputation. But name recognition only gets you so far, in my opinion. One should choose their program for what it truly offers. With Heller’s program, I would be able to experience the vast opportunities the Greater Boston area has to offer and the diverse student body of Heller. The program at Heller was also better for me in terms of financial aid and the opportunity to network with those in the international development community, which is the field I strive to have a career in. 

When it comes to choosing which program or school one wants to attend, what really matters is if one believes they can make the most out of where they are attending.

How to Choose the Right Program: Doing Your Research

Last month I talked about how to initially narrow your search for the perfect graduate program for you by looking at basics like population size, program format, geographic area. But once you have a list of about ten to twenty schools, making cuts can seem almost impossible. Especially now, when visiting schools is virtually impossible (pun intended!), how do you know which to cross off your list? Today I’m sharing some tips to move from a list of schools that meet your criteria to the four to six schools you’ll end up applying to.

Step 1: Take inventory. I referenced this briefly in my previous post, but this is the stage where you’ll really want to dive into what’s motivating you to go to graduate school. What are the holes in your knowledge? What do you want to gain from your time in graduate school? Try to make this list as concrete as possible (i.e., not “I want to make connections” but “I want to make connections with people in fields x, y, and z.”).

Step 2: Dive in. Now that you have your list, compare that to the curriculum and faculty interests of each program. If you know you want to gain hands-on experience, programs that don’t offer an internship or practicum option can be crossed off your list. If you want to focus on behavioral health issues in Southeast Asia (for example!), and none of the faculty at the school have experience in either behavioral health or Southeast Asia, you can eliminate them as well. If you know you need to learn STATA (a statistics software), and there’s no classes or support for that in the program, you know that the program would not be a good fit for you.

Step 3: Final cuts. After step two, you should have narrowed your initial list significantly; if you didn’t, it’s a sign that your list of objectives wasn’t concrete enough. But once you’ve gotten your list under ten, that’s where the fun part of the research comes in. Reach out to admissions staff members to get any answers for your remaining questions. Connect to current students and alumni, and ask questions like, “Do you have enough academic and career guidance? What do you like and dislike about your program? How available are your professors?” Attend virtual events for prospective students! Many schools, including Heller, are offering a ton of virtual events to help students connect to faculty, program directors, and current students, so take advantage of this opportunity.

Only you can decide which program will be best for you, so think of this as an opportunity to reflect on what you want to do after graduation. In the end, remember that graduate school is a stepping-stone toward your personal and professional goals, not the final destination; every person’s path will look different depending on where they see themselves in the future. Start early, keep your search organized, and know that whichever program you choose, your passion and hard work will be the keys to success!

Why Choose Heller? 60 Reasons for 60 Years! (Part 2)

We’re continuing to celebrate Heller’s sixtieth anniversary with our 60 Reasons for 60 Years series, where you can hear from current students, alumni, staff, and faculty about what makes Heller a unique experience.

21. “Everybody at Heller wants everyone else to succeed. My classmates would say, ‘I want you to be whatever you want to be in the world. I’m going to cheer you on.’ That spirit— it’s what the world needs. It touched me in a deep way. I am changed forever because I have these people in my life.” Megan Casey, MA COEX’18
22. “Literally in my first class at Heller, which was with Janet Boguslaw, I learned this language around asset building, the racial wealth gap and the hidden welfare state. It was an amazing experience.”  Alexandra Bastien, MPP’12
23. “I chose Heller because I was interested in an interdisciplinary approach. I wanted to think about the issues I was interested in in a broader context, and I’ve had that opportunity—to think about how education and discipline connect with health, mental health, housing, poverty and equity issues.” Joanna Taylor, PhD candidate
24. “At Heller, there’s the opportunity to be proactive and create your own path through the programs. I leveraged what professors had to offer with their experiences, had the experience of teaching and grading, and took advantage of being in Boston to work with NGOs there.” Rebecca Herrington, MA SID/COEX’14
25. “My dissertation experience was wonderful. As the first person in my family to graduate college, I appreciated the fact that my professor encouraged someone like me to write a book, even though it was hard. It meant a lot to me.” Carol Hardy-Fanta, PhD’91
26. “Heller’s a unique environment. I lit a match and it started a fire. I don’t think I could have found that anywhere else.” Isaac Cudjoe, MA COEX’19
27. “Through a combination of academic and real-world experiences during my time at Heller, I became more attuned to the role that government can play in addressing social determinants of health and other upstream factors that can improve population health and reduce inequities.” Fran Hodgins, MBA/MPP’18
28. “I chose to come to Heller because of the international focus and the diversity. The connections have been the best part of my experience so far. It’s given me new perspectives of different places in the world I’ll never go.” Tomesha Campbell, MA SID/COEX’19
29. “I got more than I expected at Heller. Everything from the classes and the professors, to the optional training in Excel, to the Career Development Center staff and website.” Farida Mushi, MS GHPM’16
30. “Heller students are among the most progressive crowds I’ve ever been with.” Alain Lempereur, Director of the COEX program
31. “I realized, to shift paradigms we were witnessing with respect to economic fragmentation, I needed to have the tools to champion all the outcomes I’d like to see and that’s what led me to Heller.” Ricky Ochilo, MPP/MBA’15
32. “With my interest in Heller specifically, I really appreciated the grounded focus on social inclusion and social justice. What drew me to the specific Assets and Inequality Concentration was Tom Shapiro and the work that he does on toxic inequality, and focusing not specifically on just wealth employment but also asset attainment.” Aaron Colemen, PhD Candidate
33. “I chose Brandeis because of the programs here at Heller. They were really attractive to me, as I want to work with people in my home country to bring a change in mindset.” Sita Leota, MA SID’20
34. “The writing quality that I got from the Heller program— writing memos and policy analyses— distinguished me from the other candidates for the job.” Todd Swisher, MPP’16
35. “I’ve seen the school’s commitment to social justice and also how diverse the classroom is. It’s the first time for me that I’m in a place where I see so many other Asian-American women too, so I feel like it’s a great place for my learning, and I also feel more at home.” Chibo Shinagawa, MS GHPM’19
36. “Heller’s curriculum, faculty, staff, and students prepared me well to work directly with senior-level financial and strategic decision makers.” Roger Perez, MBA/MA SID’16
37. “Our students are really, really good at going into a situation, understanding it in a sensitive way, using data-driven analysis to develop objective solutions and figuring out how an organization can implement it. That is a suite of very valuable skills.” Carole Carlson, MBA Program Director
38. “The practicum option was attractive because international development is something that’s so dependent on experience. The opportunity to spend the second year traveling and working and getting exposure was really valuable.” Noah Steinberg-Di Stefano, MA SID’17 
39. “I’ve made very good connections through both Heller and UPEACE. You meet such genuinely wonderful people who have a similar mindset of mutual support, from all over the world.” Kyla Graves, COEX/ILHR’19
40. “We’re trained at Heller to not just pursue business opportunities, but to take on the harder challenge, which is always to look at the social impact of business on our team, on our community, on our economy.” Brenna Schneider, MBA’12

Look out for our final post in this series coming soon!

Why Choose Heller? 60 Reasons for 60 Years! (Part 1)

Since our founding in 1959, Heller faculty, students, researchers, staff, and alumni have remained united by a vision of “knowledge advancing social justice” and a commitment to rigorous research and engagement with policymakers, practitioners and recipients of social policies, as well as academics. To celebrate our 60th anniversary, we’ll be sharing sixty messages from students, alumni, faculty, and staff over the next few weeks.

1. “I’ve never experienced the support that the staff gives the students at any other higher education institution, and for that, I will always be grateful.” Nicole Rodriguez, MPP’14
2. “We always treat the person as the number-one priority when we’re dealing with any issues, be they academic, personal or professional. And we make sure to link them to the resources they need.” Ravi Lakshmikanthan, Assistant Dean for Academic and Student Services
3. “Heller was where I first understood health policy, its links to global health, and the social justice issues around global health. Heller helped me choose a focus on research to provide rigorous evidence that health policymakers can use to make meaningful decisions.” Adeyemi Okunogbe, MS GHPM’12 
4. “My education at Heller, including a deeper understanding of economic, political and sociological theories, coupled with skills in statistics and research methods, has given me a distinct advantage.” Antoinette Hays, PhD’90
5. “Having classmates from all over the world helps you to get rid of some of the biases you have.” Shadi Sheikhsaraf, MA SID/COEX ’17
6. “I was drawn in by Heller’s social justice focus. I didn’t want to have to do a more traditional graduate program and translate that to the work I wanted to do. I wanted to be around people who cared about the same things I cared about.” Maryse Pearce, MBA/MPP’18
7. “My Heller cohort continues to be my extended family and professional network. I frequently reach out to individuals or groups to inquire about specific topics and I’m always amazed by the overwhelming support.” Rodrigo Moran, MA SID’16
8. “The students are enormously dedicated and engaged. I was thinking, during orientation, that it kind of feels like a family, and that’s wonderful, especially when you are dealing with such difficult issues and topics.” Pamina Firchow, Associate Professor
9. “At Heller, social justice is in the DNA.” Michael Levine, PhD’85
10. “Heller not only had the SID program, but also the environmental conservation concentration that I wanted. My coursework at Heller and summer internship are preparing me to address sustainable energy challenges in Africa from a global perspective.” Abdishakur Ahmed, MA SID’20
11. “Our community is passionate about local and global social justice, and we have a strong academic purpose.” Maria Madison, Associate Dean for Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity
12. “Heller sends grads out with the tools to understand data and models, and also with the skills to understand whether a policy is going to help people or hurt people.” Brian Kennedy, MPP’16
13. “I just had a great experience at Heller. The faculty, the students — the community was fantastic.” Susan Windham-Bannister, PhD’77
14. “The most important thing I took away from Heller was the way I approach my work. As someone passionate about social change, I bring a much stronger equity lens to every aspect of my work as a result of my time at Heller. I also feel more confident, more organized, and generally more impactful in my work processes.” Analissa Iversen, MBA/MPP’16
15. “The professors are very approachable, they’re always telling us to come visit them, and they really make themselves available.” Dahiana Loaiza, MS GHPM ’14/MA SID ’21
16. “I’m really, really happy here, with how much I’m learning and seeing everything from other perspectives,” she says. “My professors are convinced there’s a resolution for everything. A lot of us came from war zones, where people just gave up. They show us different ways to do things and what’s possible.” Natalia Hermida-Cepeda, MA COEX’19
17. “Through a combination of academic and real-world experiences during my time at Heller, I became more attuned to the role that government can play in addressing social determinants of health and other upstream factors that can improve population health and reduce inequities.” Fran Hodgins, MBA/MPP’18
18. “I went into Heller to pursue what I was most passionate about and learned things I knew nothing about before, like organizational theory with Jody Hoffer Gittell.” Anne Douglass, PhD’09
19. “Heller helped me to understand the theories behind what I was doing in my work. At Heller, you meet a lot of inspiring people and you learn the way they have done things in their own countries. I now understand the problems in Nigeria, the challenges to young people in America, the struggles around gender identities in India.” Qaisar Roonjha, MA SID’19 
20. “I chose to attend Heller to be part of a community of policymakers intent on incorporating social justice into every aspect of their work.” Billierae Engelman, MPP’19

Stay tuned for part 2 and part 3, coming up over the next few weeks!

Five Tips to Making Your Decision (Without Visiting Campus!)

Brandeis University sign with blooming tulipsAh, spring: when the flowers start blooming across Brandeis’ campus and the weather in Waltham begins to get warmer. Spring is all about new beginnings, and for many working in admissions, it’s one of the most exciting times of the year: when we get to welcome our admitted students to campus.  Back in January, we were gearing up to host hundreds of admitted students to help them make their final decision. For many students, stepping on campus is a lot like falling in love: when it’s right, you just know.

We were able to host two of our six planned Admitted Student Days before the world as we knew it ground to a halt. We’re not alone: all across the country (all across the world!), schools have stopped all campus activities, and students are faced with the challenge of choosing the right program without ever visiting campus.

But there’s good news:  there are many dedicated professionals who are ready and willing to assist you, and a lot of resources available to help you make this big decision. Today, I’m bringing you five ways to get a feel for an institution without ever stepping foot on campus.

  1. Admitted Student Webinars and Virtual Events.  Most colleges have been working overtime to provide students with opportunities to connect with current students or faculty members, so take advantage of this! Heller is currently hosting Housing Chats so that admitted students can connect with current students to ask questions about moving to the Boston area and how to find housing and roommates. We’re also working on creating more virtual content, so keep checking back!
  2. Check out magazines and newsletters. One of the best ways to gain insight into a program is by searching for different perspectives. Magazines, newsletters, and other types of publications aimed at current students or alumni can provide greater insight into a school’s culture. You can find the Heller magazine and our Social Impact Report (which focuses on the ground-breaking research happening at Heller) on our website.
  3. Take a virtual tour (or two). It can be hard to picture yourself on campus without visiting. Luckily, many institutions have been putting a renewed focus on their virtual tours. You can check out Heller’s virtual tour for a detailed look at our building, or the full Brandeis tour to see the rest of our beautiful campus.
  4. Scroll through social media. This is an often-overlooked way to get a feel for a graduate program, but it can be a great resource for trying to determine if the school would be a good fit for you. You should absolutely follow the institution’s social media handles, but also take a look at your program’s and student groups’ social media accounts. Because these have a different target audience, you may get a different insight than you would from just following the institutional account.
  5. Reach out to the admissions staff. Most of our typical spring travel has been canceled, so admissions teams might be even more available than they ordinarily would be this time of year. With many of us working from home, it may be tricky to get someone on the phone right away, but if you send an email, most schools are being very responsive to students’ questions. You can reach Heller Admissions at helleradmissions@brandeis.edu, or visit our contact page to find the email of your program’s admissions contact.

Although it may seem overwhelming, this can be an opportunity to learn even more about the programs that you’re considering. And at the end of the day, remember to trust your gut: you know yourself best! You can make a hundred pros and cons lists, read endless program overviews, and scroll through social media until your thumb aches, but when you’re able to envision yourself on campus and it feels right, don’t be afraid to trust that feeling.

I’m Admitted, Now What?: Choosing the Right Program

Deciding what graduate programs to apply to is hard enough. But deciding what school to attend after you’ve received multiple offers? That can feel almost impossible. Today, I’d like to share some tips to help you choose which graduate school to attend. 

Get your facts straight. Even though you most likely did a significant amount of research when choosing which schools to apply to, now’s the time to dig even deeper. Many programs host Admitted Student Days (although most offerings are currently virtual), or connect accepted prospective students to current students or faculty members in other ways. Take advantage of this opportunity, and don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions. Ask current students what their cost of living is, how available faculty are outside of classroom hours, and what their workload is. Ask faculty what mentorship opportunities exist, what their current research projects are, and what their expectations of their students are. Try to get a feel for what the environment of the program is: is it more collaborative or competitive? What activities are available to students outside of classes? What are the relationships between students and faculty like? Remember that there are no right answers; only what would fit you best. 

Compare financial aid packages. Take a close look at the financial aid packages you’ve been offered. Some packages cover fees, while others don’t. Similar programs can vary in length, so a longer program may end up costing more in the long run, even if they’ve given you a higher scholarship. Some packages or stipends are contingent on being a teaching or research assistant, so factor that in as well. If you live out of state, you might also want to consider the cost of travelling home to visit family during your time in the program. The College Board has a great tool for comparing different financial aid packages, although it is intended for undergraduate programs, so you’ll need to substitute estimated living expenses for room and board, and you’ll want to factor in the length of the program as well. 

Weigh your options. For some students, it comes down to a gut decision. But for the more indecisive among us, it can be helpful to create a spreadsheet that takes into account your priororities. Here’s a sample one that I made to help illustrate this, but remember, the weight that you give each category is totally up to you, and you may have other priorities that I didn’t even list.

College A College B
Factor Score Weight Weighted Score Factor Score Weight Weighted Score
Research Opportunities 10 10% 1 Research Opportunities 9 10% 0.9
Community Feel 6 10% 0.6 Community Feel 8 10% 0.8
Academic Rigor 8 40% 3.2 Academic Rigor 6 40% 2.4
Cost 9 30% 2.7 Cost 7 30% 2.1
Student Life 8 10% 0.8 Student Life 5 10% 0.5

By adding the weighted scores together, you should get a total out of ten. In this example, College A scores an 8.3 out of 10, while College B gets a 6.7. Looks like School A is the place for me!

Protected by Akismet
Blog with WordPress

Welcome Guest | Login (Brandeis Members Only)