Working in admissions, you start to develop answers to common questions. “What’s the cut-off GPA?” “Is my background a good fit for this program?” “Is the GRE required?” But the most common question, the one I get the most, is “What are the application requirements?”
Now, you might be thinking that I’m going to spend this blog post laying out the different programs’ application requirements and what you should be preparing when you’re getting ready to apply. Maybe even some tips and tricks for how to strengthen those application requirements, or how to stay organized when you’re applying. But you’d be wrong! You can always find application requirements on our website, but today, I’m going to flip the script and ask you to think about what your application requirements are.
Okay, here’s what I mean. When I was applying to graduate school, I applied to eleven programs (for those of you out there wondering, that’s way too many). Looking back, I’m still not sure why I put myself through that, but I think most of it came down to two things: first, I was terrified that no school would accept me, and I didn’t really have a plan for what I would do if I didn’t go to graduate school at that time, and second, I had no real idea what I was looking for. Yes, I knew I wanted a master’s in English Literature, yes, there were some areas that I was interested in living, but other than that, I really had no clue.
I share all of this as a cautionary tale: don’t be like me! Before you start applying to graduate schools, take a minute to think about what your requirements are. If you’re not sure, here are some things that it might be helpful to consider:
- Do I have the opportunity to teach or work as a research assistant? If you intend to go into academia or research, this should be a really important question for you. Participating in research and teaching while in graduate school is a great way to start an academic career and build experience. Notice, however, that I also said “opportunity”: at Heller, although many of our students do work as research assistants and teaching assistants, it’s not considered part of your funding and thus, you’re not obligated to do it. If you know you don’t intend to stay in academia or teaching, I would recommend being cautious of schools that do require it: your time might be better spent in an internship or part-time job building skills that translate more directly to your future career.
- Are there clubs, organizations, or leadership activities that interest and excite me? I won’t lie to you, this is probably a bigger factor in undergraduate programs, but you still shouldn’t discount it when you’re applying to graduate school. Especially if you’ll be coming from out-of-state or don’t have a support group already in the area, joining extracurriculars is a good way to network and make new friends outside of your program. Leadership experience (even if it’s for a club or organization) can also be helpful once you’ve graduated to put on your resume or as an example to draw upon during interviews. Heller and Brandeis clubs and working groups include Black Graduate Student Association, Brandeis Graduate Outdoors Club, Brandeis University Africa Forum, Disability Working Group, Gender Working Group, Graduate Student Association, Heller Myanmar/Burma Advocacy Group, Heller Startup Challenge, Heller Student Association, Impact Investing and ESG Working Group, Net Impact (Heller Chapter), Open Air Journal and the Racial Equity Working Group.
- What kinds of access will I have to professors and other outside resources? This question is going to be different for every person. Some students do best in close-knit environments where they get a lot of individualized attention, while others are happy to keep their head down and never go to office hours. Personally, I think that Heller’s faculty to student ratio provides for a really close community and there are a lot of benefits to that (the faculty and research staff to student ratio is roughly 1:6!), but some students might be happier in larger programs where the faculty/student ratio is higher.
These may not be important factors for you. You may care more about working with a specific professor, with not having to write a thesis at the end of your program, living in a certain area or in a big city, taking classes online, a great campus gym… the list goes on and on. But whatever your priorities are, make sure that you’re not only focusing on what schools might let you in: think carefully about what you want the next years to look like.