Tag: Tips (page 1 of 3)

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!

The Sprint to the Finish Line

Hannah Lougheed, MA SID/MS-GHPM’22

I see the end. I am in the last half (or Module 2 as Heller lovingly refers to it), of my final year of grad school.  I have less than 6 weeks left, wrapping up a 2 year process in the pursuit of my MS in Global Health Policy and Management, and my MA in Sustainable International Development.

I had this rose-colored ideal of what my final month at graduate school would look like: dancing through a field of spring flowers while socializing with friends and having enough time each day for a midday nap. In this ideal, however, I was not accounting for the triad of a 20 hour a week internship, courses (and a capstone paper), and job applications. Oh, how the mind deceives.

So, in the midst of this chaos – with acute senioritis kicking in – it can feel like you are slowly being lowered into a bubbling vat of assignments with no way to slow the speed at which you descend… a bit dramatic?  Okay, maybe just a bit.

BUT, I am here to tell you – with time management and small goals, you can work to overcome this  impending sense of doom when you too are at this point in your graduate career. Today I present to you (to take or leave as you’d like), some ways in which you can work to proactively stay on top of assignments, especially when lengthy papers are all due the same week.

  1. Do a little each day – even weeks before it’s due. I have found that when I have time, I like to bite off small pieces of monster papers. So, when I wake up early I may work on a paper for just 30 minutes to write even a paragraph or two. For me, the hardest part of doing an assignment can actually be starting it, so this helps with that roadblock. It does not seem like much, but you will thank yourself later when almost half of the paper is written before the time crunch sets in. It also allows you to brainstorm when not working on the paper over a couple of weeks, instead of days.
  2. Set a time for your mind to rest. If you have read my other blogs, or know me at all, you will know I am a morning person, which means that bt the end of the day I am hardly capable of following a recipe. In undergrad, I used to think that I should not have the luxury of relaxing until I had everything done on my list. Now, however, I have learned that it is okay to set a “no-homework” threshold. For me, that is 7pm (keeping in mind I wake up around 5am, so adjust that time as you see fit in your schedule). When I hit that time, I allow myself to watch tv, go for a walk, call a friend, take a bath, whatever I need to do to relax. I do not think about the assignments due, nor do I allow myself to stress about them. This has really helped me in this season.
  3. Set manageable weekly goals. I have, in total, around 50 pages (at least) of writing I need to complete in the next 6 weeks for various classes and projects. If I opted to put them off until the last two weeks of school, I would not only be stressed out of my mind, but the work quality would surely suffer. So, I have listed out all – that’s right, every single assignment due from this point until the end of the semester and broken down how I can work on them each week. For some, I give loose guidelines like “general outlines” or “begin research and start listing sources” for this week. For others, I give hard guidelines like “at least 2 pages written each week”. This helps me because I am slowly working through a project, and doing various ones on rotation so it keeps my interest levels high; also, I am a list-maker so having the ability to cross things off each week really keeps my motivation level soaring. I make the tasks doable as well, so I don’t get discouraged.

As a graduate student, assignments are such an important part of the learning process, but sometimes – it feels like just too much. I hope my  little tips help – I have found them to help me. Keep reminding yourself why you began this process in the first place, you can do it! We can do it!

 

Financing Graduate School as a First Generation Graduate Student

Ronunique Clark headshot

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.

The Art of People Collecting

Hannah Lougheed, MA SID/MS-GHPM’22

Those who know me know: I am a busy person. I thrive when my agenda is packed full. When people ask me how/why I am so busy I love to refer back to Newton’s First Law of Motion,  AKA the Law of Inertia (with a few small edits): 

 “a Hannah at rest stays at rest and a Hannah in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force (ie. my laptop breaks and I have to buy a new one which happened last night, RIP my laptop).” 

People collecting – or ‘networking’, as some fancy folks may call it – has increasingly been my focus during my last year here at Heller. Yes, I am busy, but I am busy with purpose. What does that mean? It means I have been very calculated in choosing which jobs/roles to take on outside of my classes while wrapping up my final year. When I boiled down my goals and desires for this year it pointed me to three major aspirations:

  1. Collect people, both within Heller and within Boston as a larger community, who can help pour into me and build links to finding a career upon graduation
  2. Make enough money to survive (hey, Boston ain’t cheap)
  3. Do well in classes and get to know my classmates

So, I started with evaluating the types of jobs I would like to pursue this year and landed on these four (yes I did say four, but they are all only a few hours each week):

Graduate Assistant (job 1): Naturally, as a Graduate Assistant at Heller Admissions, I get to connect with many folks who come and go (both students, professors and staff). Plus, I enjoy this role and am learning and growing with each shift. I have also worked in this role since last January so it was easy for me to continue in this position, checks all three boxes! 

Babysitter (job 2): At this point, my mind started running… how can I find another job that allows for schedule flexibility but also pays decently and allows me to collect people? My research led me to: babysitting! Shout-out to Care.com. At first I thought, well, it’s pretty easy money. Then I realized, you never know what kind of connections individuals have, and by babysitting for various individuals across Boston I am building my people collection up outside of my direct network within Heller. Checks 2 out of 3 boxes!

Digital Assistant (job 3): An opportunity arose to be a “Digital Assistant” in a few of my classes. This role piqued my interest because it checked box 2 and 3, and arguably 1 as well. This has allowed me to build deeper relationships with some of my professors as I help them navigate Zoom during class. 

Health Systems Education (job 4): As things started ramping up, a job in health systems education I had applied for in the summer (and was told I did not get) arose yet again. Through connections made here at Heller, I have been able to secure another part-time job that is in the field of my interests. Working in health systems education is a great way for me to continue to learn and contribute to class (checks box 3), make some money (box 2), and build a strong network of connections across Boston (box 1). 

So, it may sound like I am overworked (or just crazy), but let me assure you – I am doing okay! People collecting can look different for each person. For some it is in attending various career networking events, for others it is through informational interviews, but for me I have made it a point to work with and for those who I want to maintain connections with. I do make it a point to slow down and enjoy rest and hobbies (as my Macaron post can attest to), but “a Hannah in motion stays in motion!” and intentional people collecting has been increasingly important as I plan to stumble onto my career path.

You Ask, I Answer: How to Email the Admissions Office

I’m continuing the “You Ask, I Answer” series where I respond to the most common questions I get from prospective or admitted students (you can find a previous You Ask, I Answer: When Should I Start Graduate School? here). If you have a question you’d like me to answer in the next post, be sure to comment below!

To be honest, this actually isn’t a question that I get from prospective students too often, but at graduate fairs, students often mention that although they have the desire to reach out to admissions contacts, they aren’t sure how, or feel awkward or nervous about contacting admissions personnel directly. Which I totally get! When you’re writing a message to someone in an admissions office, you should think of your email as serving multiple purposes. First and foremost, you’re trying to get an answer to a question you have, either about the program or the application process. That should be what the content of the email is focused on. But secondly, you’re also trying to make a good first impression on the people who will be involved in your application process. This doesn’t mean that you should re-iterate the highlights of your application to demonstrate why you’d be a good fit for the program, but it does mean that throughout your email, you should be making an effort to show that you’re interested in the program, you’ve done your research, and you’re a clear communicator. Let’s take a look at a (fictional) email from a prospective student and then talk about what the student could have done better:

To: AdmissionsContact1@college.edu, AdmissionsContact2@college.edu, ProgramManager1@college.edu, DeanOfCollege1@college.edu

From: FictionalStudent@gmail.com

Subject: questions

Message:

hey ProgramManager3,

,my name is Fictional Student and i want to ask some questions about the mpp porgram ur school. i graduated 1st in my class in fictionalprogram at fictionalschool with a GPA of 3.76. since then, i worked at fictionalcompany for 4 yrs as a fictionaljobtitle, where i had fictionalresponsibilities. then i got a job at fictionalcompany2, where i works as a fictionaljobtitle2, which has the additional responsibilities of managing people. i also volunteer as a volunteerposition, and in my spare time i like to read and play music. but now i’m interested in advancing my education threw youre mpp program  bc i want to make a difference in the world. can u tell me when the deadline to apply to the program is??

thanks, Fictional Student”

You can probably tell that this email probably wouldn’t make the best first impression, but what could FictionalStudent have done better? First, they could have looked up the person in the admissions office that handles the program that they’re interested in and emailed that person (and only that person!). Sometimes students email multiple people in the hopes of getting an answer to their question, but it actually can backfire and create confusion among staff, even resulting in students not getting a reply because everyone on the email assumes that someone else will take care of the student’s question. Next problem? The tone is very informal, especially the text-speak. This doesn’t mean that you have to write in an overly formal way, but you should aim to write as a slightly more polished version of yourself, the same tone that you would use if you were emailing your boss or someone you have a job interview with. In addition to the too-casual tone, FictionalStudent also didn’t remember to proofread their email; a single typo isn’t going to ruin your chances of getting accepted to the program, but an email riddled with spelling and grammar errors definitely isn’t going to make the best impression.

Those are the more obvious errors, but I’d also add two more that may not be so obvious. First, the student is including information about themselves that isn’t relevant to their question and will most likely be repeated in their application. Think of it this way: your application is your opportunity to share more about yourself with the admissions committee, but when you’re emailing someone in admissions, that’s your opportunity for the school to share more about itself with you. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t include any information about yourself (in fact, there are a lot of instances where you’ll need to include information about your background and interests), but try to keep the content of your message focused on the question you have and include only the information that’s relevant. Secondly, the student asked a question that can be very easily found on the website. I’m not saying that you have to make sure you scour a school’s webpage before you email someone in admissions, but things like deadlines and application requirements are almost always on a school’s website. Sending an email asking for something that’s featured prominently gives the impression that you haven’t taken the time or the effort to do your research. Let’s end with a corrected email that’s sure to make a good first impression:

To: AdmissionsContact1@college.edu

From: FictionalStudent@gmail.com

Subject: Questions about Submitting Test Scores

Message:

Dear AdmissionsContact,

I hope you’re doing well! I’m Fictional Student and I’m currently applying to the MPP program at your school. While reviewing admissions website, I saw that the GRE requirement is waived for students applying to the MPP program for the Fall 2022 semester. I have already taken the GRE, and I’m considering whether or not to submit test scores as a part of my application. Would you be able to tell me how the GRE is used when evaluating a students application, or what the average scores are for successful applicants? Any guidance you could provide would be very appreciated.

Thank you, Fictional Student”

How to Choose the Right Program: Attending a Virtual Prospective Student Event

About a year ago, I wrote a few posts about how to find the right graduate program for you in How to Choose the Right Graduate Program: Narrowing Your Search and How to Choose the Right Program: Doing Your Research. In the Doing Your Research post, I referenced that one of the best ways to do your research is to attend prospective student events for the programs you’re interested in. At Heller, we’re currently adding Virtual Events for Prospective Students, so I want to share some quick do’s and don’ts for attending a virtual event for prospective students that will ensure that you get the most out of the session and make the best first impression possible.

✓ DO be camera ready. I get it, it’s tempting to keep your camera off and take the meeting from bed, in your pajamas. But this is your chance to make a first impression, and it’s hard to connect with a blackened Zoom box. 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. A good rule of thumb is to prepare the way you would if this were a virtual meeting with your supervisor.

X DON’T use Zoom as a chance to zone out. Treat this event the way you would an in-person event: that means keeping your phone in your pocket (or across the room, if you’re like me and have a difficult time resisting the siren call of Instagram). It can be really tempting to use a Zoom meeting as an opportunity to multi-task; after all, what’s the harm of checking your email when you’re already on the computer, right? But it means you’ll be less focused and engaged, which is detrimental to you and can come across as rude to the person speaking.

✓ DO research who will be presenting. No, you don’t have to know the high school that the program director went to, or Insta-stalk the current students on the panel, but as much as possible, you should try to familiarize yourself with who is presenting and prepare appropriate questions. For faculty or program directors: “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!

X DON’T be afraid to engage. That goes beyond asking questions, although that’s certainly one way to show that you’re engaged and interested. Leaving your camera on, nodding and smiling when someone makes a point you agree with, and using Zoom’s reactions and chat function to respond to others’ questions and points are all other good ways to interact with the presenters and show that you’re interested. Another good tip is to look into your camera instead of the screen; it may seem counter-intuitive, but to others, that will make it appear that you’re establishing eye contact.

✓ DO follow up. Writing a note to the host of the event afterward is a great way to set yourself apart and an opportunity to ask any further follow-up questions. Even if you don’t have any more questions, even thanking them for hosting the event and telling them something you appreciated establishes that you’re paying attention and have a legitimate interest in the program.

Back to School Planning with Doug

Man in plaid shirt smiling at camera

Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

One month to go!

As I write this blog post, less than a month remains before classes start at Heller. For admitted students, I imagine the next month will be filled with excitement, anticipation, and impatience. If you are planning to begin classes at Heller this fall, I hope you have the chance to take a break from work and other obligations and relax, travel, and see family, as well as apartment hunt and begin preparing for classes. Here’s my advice for preparing for the academic and professional side of things, so that you can hit the ground running once classes begin.

At this point, you should be able to view the schedule of classes either on Workday or on the Registrar’s website. You can get a sense of what classes you are required to take this fall, as well as what electives are suggested, by looking at either the website of your academic program or the Individualized Learning Plan forms available for most programs on the “for students” section of the Heller website. These forms can help you to outline your schedule for the next couple semesters. While it’s not necessary to have everything planned out before you start, I found it helpful to peruse these materials before the semester began.

Some additional cheat codes regarding class registration: you can view previous semesters on the Registrar’s site to get a sense of what electives are available in the spring, and once you have access to Workday, our course administration site, you can “browse syllabi” from previous semesters to learn more about courses you might take in the future (with the caveat in both cases that it’s subject to change).

Now is also a great time to review the list of faculty in your program and see who shares your interests and chairs your concentration (if applicable for your program). You might consider reaching out during orientation to a professor with whom you aren’t taking a class this fall – that way you can meet them a bit sooner and hear their perspective in addition to that of your adviser and first-semester professors.

I’d also encourage you to view the career center website and get set up on Handshake as soon as it is possible to do so. Fall information sessions with employers will be available to register soon. I’d definitely recommend scheduling a career advising appointment early in the semester and introduce yourself to the staff.

Lastly, once you have access to Workday, you can view jobs for students and apply for an on-campus job. You can also join career-focused Heller groups on Facebook and LinkedIn (there is also a Brandeis graduate student housing group on Facebook).

While you’ll be provided with the info you need by email and once you arrive on campus, spending some time perusing the website and finding information specific to your own interests and goals doesn’t hurt. Good luck as you gear up for the fall semester!

Building Community around the World

Hannah Lougheed, MA SID/MS-GHPM’22

This blog post today comes to you from Springfield, Missouri (pronounced Missour-ah). You may be thinking, “Springfield, like from the Simpsons?”, but no, the Simpsons are allegedly based off of a city in Springfield, Oregon. Although I have yet to run into Marty Byrde (any Ozark fans out there?), I have met some pretty incredible individuals during my 12-week stint living in this new location. The next natural question would certainly be, why are you living there? So, to remove the absolute gut-wrenching suspense you must be feeling in anticipation I will tell you – I am here for my summer practicum.

So, chances are pretty good that at some point in your life you will have to enter into a foreign place and create community. Maybe you already have numerous times, or maybe graduate school will be one of the first major steps outside of your geographical zone of comfort. I would like to put forth my tried-and-true, simple-yet-effective tip for building community in a new place. Also as a disclaimer, *wow, how odd would it have been if I had stated what is to follow even 2 years ago*, but these tips work best when not accompanied by a pandemic. As a testament to the uncertainty of our future, and to ensure this post remains relevant in the years to come I will add, these tips also work best when not accompanied by a meteor strike, alien invasion, or black hole as well.

Okay, so let me establish some credibility with you before I launch in. There is nothing worse than someone giving advice on something they know little to nothing about, amirite? I have traveled both nationally and internationally, totally alone, to places including Atlanta, Georgia; Utila, Honduras; Chemnitz, Germany; Tres Lagoas, Brazil; Deventer, The Netherlands; and now, Springfield, Missouri. Sometimes I travel with others, or meet folks at my destination, but often I am arriving knowing no one. How then does one make friends quickly and sometimes without being fluent in the language?

Here is it, the tip you have all been on the edge of your seats to read: I find a church (or another house of worship) and a gym literally the day after I am settled in.

Why these spaces? First of all, they are universal and it is an easy connection point.  These physical locations are outward embodiments of aspects of individuals typically not discussed upon general introductions. I like to stay active and care for my body, just like those around me at the gym. I also like to stay engaged spiritually, just like those around me at the church. BAM! Easy conversation starters. “So, how long have you been coming to this gym/church?”. They respond (and if they’re well versed in social norms will likely ask), “and how about you?”. That’s when you can hit them with the fact that you just arrived in the area.

The second reason I really like this method is that, unlike a restaurant or mall, these places are extremely conducive to conversation. Moreover, folks are not generally under super strict time constraints when venturing into a church or gym. This allows for deeper questions and eventually social media/cell phone number exchanges. I have found that when people discover that you are new to the area they want to help you feel connected.

The last piece to this puzzle is, of course, intentionality on your part. I am a pretty assertive and dominant personality type as is, so I will literally say, “Hey, if you guys hang out outside of this gym/church, please invite me along!”. It can sound pushy, but I am telling you – it works!

I have made many friends in many places with this simple method. It is scary to be vulnerable in new spaces, but if you are a community seeker like myself, you will find way more acceptance than rejection along the way.

I also want to acknowledge, this method works for me, but not everyone may be comfortable or able to join a gym or church. The principle behind community building is not always the exact location, but more so the method for joining new spaces. So, go out there and find community – however you comfortably can!

Persistence is Key: How to Unlock your Summer Experience

Finding the right internship or summer opportunity can be challenging. There are so many great choices and it may be difficult to know where to start. Here are some useful tips that helped me during my search.

Connect with the Career Center:

Each program at Heller has designated staff who are primed in your program and ready to help you. They will start running information sessions during the spring semester. I highly recommend you attend at least one. It could be helpful to hear what questions or issues your classmates may have and get up to date tips and tricks from the staff. If you feel comfortable, I recommend also scheduling a one-on-one meeting as well. Whether it’s for resume building or search suggestions, you will not regret it.

Check Handshake and other search engines:

While search engines can be daunting for some (me), they are a great tool. It’s all about finding the right search words. Utilize the advanced search options to help narrow down the available jobs and internships. Identify the region, time of year, pay preference right off from the start. Make sure to include key words to ensure you’re receiving the right responses. For example, I made sure to always have the words “policy” “gender” or “women” included in all my searches, as my studies focus on gender policy.

And don’t get discouraged if the search doesn’t produce too many options at the beginning. While government agencies seem to have earlier deadlines, many agencies do not post their summer internships until March and April! So, make sure to save your search criteria and refresh often.

Network:

Yes, I know “network” can be seen as a dirty word. But if I have learned anything during my own process, it is to not shy away from your connections. And it’s okay if you are new in the field/may not have a strong network yet – that’s what being at Heller is all about. Make sure to connect with old colleagues, new professors, friends in the field. Word of mouth and peer recommendations go a long way! Heller’s network is far-reaching. Connect with professors and faculty in your field. If they do not have immediate connections, I ensure you their networks do. Heller alumni love to help, so set up that informational interview, ask that professor out to coffee, or ping that guest lecturer.

Once you’ve found an opportunity that interests you – make sure to check LinkedIn and see who you may know at the organization or what mutual connections you share. Similarly, let your advisor or professors know, chances are, they know someone.

General:

This process is your own so take it at your own pace. Do not compare your progress with your classmates and peers. Make sure to stick to deadlines and do not be afraid to ask for help. Everyone in the Heller community is here to help you succeed!

You Ask, I Answer: When Should I Start Graduate School?

I’m starting a new series today called, “You Ask, I Answer”, where I respond to the most common questions I get from prospective or admitted students. This question is one I get asked frequently, but if you have a question you’d like me to answer in the next post, be sure to comment below!

What do getting married, starting a family, and beginning graduate school have in common? There’s never the “perfect” time.

Of all the questions I get at graduate school fairs, this one is the most difficult to answer because it really, really depends on each student’s unique situation, but I’ve weighed what I think are some of the most important factors to consider when making the decision to apply to graduate school.

Advantages to starting within 1-2 years of graduation

  • It’s easier to uproot your life. The younger you are, the more flexibility you’re likely to have when it comes to relocating; you may not have to think about moving a partner or children with you, the way you might when you’re older.
  • Your knowledge is fresh. Other students in your classes may not have taken statistics in five or even ten years! The sooner you begin graduate school after undergrad, the fresher a lot of the material will seem, and you may not have to “re-learn” as much as older students will.
  • You can be more involved in extra-curriculars. Graduate school can be a wonderful opportunity to make new friends and to get involved with clubs that interest you. Obviously, older students can do this too, but it’s certainly more difficult to grab an impromptu drink with your cohort after class if you know your spouse and kids are waiting for you at home (or if you have a deadline to meet for your job).

Advantages to starting with 3+ years of work experience

  • Money, money, money. Yes, it’s the elephant in the room when deciding to pursue graduate school: even with significant scholarships, it is still a financial investment. Waiting to start graduate school gives you more time to plan how you’ll pay for it, and to save up money for your degree.
  • You know what you want to do. It’s not always realistic to expect someone to know what they want to do for the rest of your life 22 or 23. Sure, a job or field might sound good in theory, but after a few years you might realize it’s not quite the right fit for your interests or skillset. The longer you wait to attend graduate school, the more likely you are to have a clear idea of the professional path you want to take.
  • You can apply theoreticals to the real world. While Heller is great at providing students with real-world scenarios and giving students experiential learning opportunities, there’s no better teacher than doing. The more experience you have, the more likely you’ll be able to connect what you’re learning in the classroom to real world problems and solutions.

In general, I tend to advise students to gain some professional experience before applying to graduate school. I went to graduate school a year after I finished my undergraduate degree and earned a master’s degree in English with the aim of becoming a teacher, only to find that although I loved the world of higher education, teaching wasn’t the right fit for me. If I had taken a few years to work as a teacher in a classroom setting instead of going straight to graduate school, I could have saved myself a lot of headaches (not to mention time and money!). On the other hand, I have close friends who started graduate school later in life who then had to navigate uprooting their families to a new city, making a financial sacrifice that affected their entire family, and raise children in between studying for midterms. Each path has it’s pros and cons, so make sure you consider the above factors before making your decision.

 

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