Author: amandamiller (page 1 of 5)

Is the PhD in Social Policy right for me?

Now that the admissions cycle for Fall 2021 is drawing to a close, we’re beginning to gear up for the Fall 2022 entry cycle, which means we’re doing a pivot over here on the blog: while we’ve been focusing on the needs of our admitted students for the last few months, now I’ll be shifting my focus to those of you who are just embarking on your journey to find the right program. Over the next few months, I’ll be doing a spotlight on our six programs to help you figure out if one of Heller’s programs is right for you. Next up?

PhD in Social Policy

What is it? The Heller PhD curriculum trains students to ask critical questions about social policies and their outcomes and to conduct rigorous, creative research in search of solutions to persistent social problems. The PhD program consists of a small set of core requirements, allowing students to design learning plans that support a broad array of research interests. Students in our program major in one of our four concentrations: Health; Behavioral Health; Economic and Racial Equity; or Children, Youth, and Families. In each of these, faculty resources and research centers of the Heller School are used to enrich the academic environment and also provide opportunities for students to work on research, outside practical training, and broaden their career network.

Who’s it for? Our typical PhD student has between 5-10 years of work experience, although we do sometimes admit students with less experience if they have strong academics. They’re driven to make systemic changes in policy rather than work with individuals, and they’re interested in conducting the research necessary for making informed policy decisions. If you’re the sort of person that likes doing a deep dive into social issues and wants to contribute to the body of knowledge advancing social issues, the PhD in Social Policy program might be right for you.

What kinds of classes will I take? You’ll take 60 credits over the course of two years before moving onto the dissertation stage of your degree. Courses in the Heller PhD program fall largely into three ‘buckets’: theory, methods, and your concentration area. In addition, you’ll be able to take electives like Immigrant Integration in the US: Policy, Practice and PeopleFoundations in Social Theory: From the Early Twentieth Century to Critical Race Theory, and Diversity, Inclusion and Equity in Social Policy. From there, you’ll move onto your comprehensive exam and the dissertation stage of your degree, where you’ll select a four-person dissertation committee tailored to the needs of your specific dissertation topic. The committee members serve as mentors and guides through the dissertation process and always include a scholar from outside the Heller community (this could be a professor within Brandeis, someone you’ve worked with at another university, or someone working on research in your field).

Where will it take me? After graduation, about a third of our students go into academia, another third go onto work in research institutes and the last third go into roles within the government or non-profit organizations. However, regardless of what sector they’re operating in, most of our recent graduates are taking on roles related to research: recent graduates (graduating within five years) have job titles like Deputy Director of Regional & Community Outreach, Director of Research of the Institute for Health Equity, or Director for Behavioral Health and Opioid Stewardship. Students who have graduated ten or more years ago have titles like Associate Professor/Executive Director of the Institute for Early Education Leadership and Innovation;  President of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate; and Director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

How is Heller’s program different? Heller is a top 10 school of social policy, home to 10 renowned research centers and institutes that cover social policy areas ranging from disability policy to asset inequality. Heller PhD students concentrate in one of four policy areas (Health; Behavioral Health; Economic and Racial Equity; or Children, Youth, and Families), each of which is linked to a Heller research institute. The PhD cohorts within Heller are usually under fifteen students per year, allowing for increased interaction with faculty and facilitating tight-knit cohorts. Heller also provides funding for full-time PhD students for their first four years, including a stipend; at Heller, PhD funding is not contingent on working as a teaching assistant or research assistant. Many of our students do work as TAs or RAs, but your funding package is to reward you for the work you’ve already done, so any money you make as a TA or RA would go straight into your pocket.

Is the Master of Public Policy program right for me?

Now that the admissions cycle for Fall 2021 is drawing to a close, we’re beginning to gear up for the Fall 2022 entry cycle, which means we’re doing a pivot over here on the blog: while we’ve been focusing on the needs of our admitted students for the last few months, now I’ll be shifting my focus to those of you who are just embarking on your journey to find the right program. Over the next few months, I’ll be doing a spotlight on our six programs to help you figure out if one of Heller’s programs is right for you. The second program I’ll be breaking down…

Master of Public Policy

What is it? Heller’s MPP degree has a more comprehensive focus on social policy than any other program, providing students with a comprehensive, interdisciplinary perspective informed by economics, political science and sociology. Our curriculum lives at the intersection of research and policy that makes a difference — particularly in supporting vulnerable, marginalized populations. With a public policy degree from Heller, you’ll be prepared to analyze and create solutions to pressing social problems.

Who’s it for? Our typical MPP student has between 2-5 years of work experience, although we do sometimes admit students with less experience if they have strong academics. Our students are passionate about social justice, and either have work experience in a social justice area or have volunteered in something similar. They’re driven to make systemic changes in policy rather than work with individuals. If you’re the kind of person who gets really excited to talk about things like SNAP benefits and the political feasibility of a progressive approach to economic assistance, the MPP might be the right program for you.

What kinds of classes will I take? You’ll take 64 credits over the course of two years, with an internship over the summer between your first and second year (Heller even provides matching funding for internships!).  You’ll take required courses like Historical and Contemporary Developments in Social Welfare; Diversity, Inclusion and Equity in Social Policy; and Economic Theory and Social Policy, as well as electives like Balance Wheel of the Social Machinery? Context and Contention in K-12 Education; LGBT Justice: A History of Pride, Prejudice, and Policy in the United States; and Labor Income, Labor Power, and Labor Markets.

Where will it take me? After graduation, about half of our students continue in non-profit roles, about a third continue in academia or government roles, and about 10% continue in for-profit roles. Recent graduates are currently working as Program Managers for the Stonewall Community Foundation, Program Associates for the Health Policy Commission, Campaign Managers for Early Childhood Policy, Center for American Progress, and Research and Policy Associates for the Community Resource Hub for Safety and Accountability. Alumni who have been out of school for ten or more years have titles like Director of Communications for Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, Town Administrator of Maynard, Massachusetts, and Vice President and Executive Director for the City Year Program in San José/Silicon Valley.

How is Heller’s program different? The Heller MPP has a more comprehensive focus on social policy than any other program, providing students with a comprehensive, interdisciplinary perspective informed by economics, political science and sociology. Heller MPP students concentrate in one of six policy areas (Behavioral Health Policy; Health Policy; Child, Youth and Family Policy; Economic and Racial Equity; Women, Gender and Sexuality; and General Social Policy), each of which is linked to a Heller research institute. The Heller MPP encourages and helps fund internships and fellowships between the first and second year of the program. In addition, many students have opportunities to work on projects in one of Heller’s research institutes.

Is the Social Impact MBA program right for me?

Now that the admissions cycle for Fall 2021 is drawing to a close, we’re beginning to gear up for the Fall 2022 entry cycle, which means we’re doing a pivot over here on the blog: while we’ve been focusing on the needs of our admitted students for the last few months, now I’ll be shifting my focus to those of you who are just embarking on your journey to find the right program. Over the next few months, I’ll be doing a spotlight on our six programs to help you figure out if one of Heller’s programs is right for you. Up first…

The Social Impact MBA

What is it? The Social Impact MBA gives you all the same skills as a traditional MBA (like accounting, financial reporting, leadership and organizational behavior, strategic management, operations management, etc), but all with an eye towards social justice. In this program, you’ll learn how to use the skills associated with a business degree to solve social problems.

Who’s it for? Our typical MBA student has about 3 years of work experience, although we do sometimes admit students with less experience with strong academic credentials. Over a quarter of our domestic students are service organization alumni (Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, Teach for America, City Year, etc). We believe that our program attracts people who are uniquely innovative, hardworking, collaborative, warm and dedicated to social change. Our students hail from diverse backgrounds and professional experiences but all of them cultivate the skills and professional relationships here at Heller to graduate and manage for a mission.

What kinds of classes will I take? You’ll take 68 credits in just 16 months, including participating in at least one experiential learning opportunity, the Team Consulting Project. You’ll take required courses like Data, Models and Decisions; Social Justice, Management and Policy; and Leadership and Organizational Behavior, as well as electives like Environmental Economics and Policy; Building Microfinance Institutions and Partnerships; and Managing the Triple Bottom Line. Depending on the Social Impact MBA concentration you choose, you’ll be able to focus on the sector you’re driven to innovate.

Where will it take me? After graduation, about half of our students continue in non-profit roles, about a quarter continue in roles in government, academia, or international organizations, and a fifth continue in for-profit roles. Recent graduates are currently working as Program Managers for the Stonewall Community Foundation, Program Associates for the Health Policy Commission, Communications and Engagement Directors for Sustainable Business & Innovation at Nike, and Managers of District Partnerships for Transforming Education. Alumni who have been out of school for ten or more years have titles like Executive Director of Strong Women, Strong Girls, Executive Director for the LGBT Center of Raleigh and Deputy Town Manager of Lexington, Massachusetts.

How is Heller’s program different? Heller’s Social Impact MBA is more than a few extra classes tacked onto a traditional MBA program as a concentration, social impact is woven through our curriculum and baked into every aspect of the student experience. Our six MBA concentrations (Social Entrepreneurship and Impact Management; Healthcare Management; Public Management; Sustainable Development;  Child, Youth and Family Services Management; and Social Policy and Management) leverage many research institutes and centers at Heller, a top-10 school of social policy,  so you have the opportunity to dive deep in the areas that are of interest to you. The program is also only 16 months and condenses two years of study into four consecutive, intense semesters – ideal for people eager to return to the workplace and quickly put their new skills into action.

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.

 

Worrying About What-Ifs

One week ago, I was shuffling through my purse, trying to make sure I had everything I needed before hopping into my car to go to my second vaccine appointment. Driver’s license? Check. Health insurance card? Check. Vaccine card? Check. I checked the same three things over and over, almost compulsively. The truth was, as much as I was looking forward to receiving my second COVID-vaccine, I was also extremely nervous— not because I was worried about having a bad reaction, but I was afraid that something would go wrong and I wouldn’t be able to get the vaccine. That I would get there and they would tell me I had gone to the wrong location, or that my appointment was the day before, or that I needed to bring a completed form that I had never even heard of.

I’ll spare you all the suspense: I got the vaccine. Everything went smoothly, except some arm soreness and a slight fever the next day (and a few tears shed between me and my friend who had an appointment at the same time). But the experience reminded me of something my parents would always say to me when I was younger, and that I’ve tried to keep in mind over the past year: “Our worst fears lie in anticipation”. The first slow hill of the rollercoaster is always scarier than the ride itself; the task that we’ve been putting off is always easier than we imagined it being.

For many incoming graduate students, you are now once again in the anticipation stage. After having been in the stage of the application process where you ask, What if I don’t get in anywhere? or What if I can’t afford it?, you’ve made your deposit and committed to a program for the fall and now… the fear that comes with anticipation sets in yet again. What if the program is too hard? What if I can’t find somewhere to live? What if I hate all my classmates? What if, what if, what if…

I get it: even now that I’ve gotten the vaccine, I’ve adopted a whole new set of what-ifs. Instead of What if I miss my appointment? or What if I don’t have everything I need for the appointment?, I’m asking myself What if I can’t transition back to “life as usual”? or What if there’s a new variant that I’m not protected against? I think that (at least for me) there’s a comfort to this anxiety: that the worry about the future will somehow prepare me if the thing I fear does indeed come to pass. The truth, however, is that it doesn’t usually work like that: worrying about the emergence of a new COVID variant doesn’t in any way prepare my immune system. Even when something I’ve been worrying about does happen, it’s usually just as devastating as it would have been if I hadn’t been worrying about it.

So the advice I have to myself and to those of you waiting out the next few months before the start of a new program is to try to celebrate the wins instead of worrying about what may or may not come. In fact, get excited about the new journey you’re about to embark on! Buy that sweatshirt from the bookstore, start browsing your course catalogs, plan a COVID-safe celebration with your friends or family, order your textbooks, and remember, rarely are things as bad as what we imagine when we’re in the anticipation stage.

 

The Heller Blog: A Year in Review

When we launched the Heller blog a year ago, we were seven weeks into working remotely. I had no idea then that the seven weeks would turn into seven months, then fourteen months and counting; in fact, I was confident that we’d all be back in the office by the summer (of 2020!).  In launching this blog, I hoped to create a space where we at Heller Admissions could connect authentically with prospective and admitted students and where current students could openly share their experiences. It also gave me an opportunity to share advice and tips that I’ve gathered (not only from my time in admissions but from my years of working as an SAT and ACT prep tutor) with students who might not be as familiar with the process of applying to graduate school. Over the past year, it’s grown to be all that I’ve envisioned and so much more. Here’s what we’ve accomplished:

I’d like to thank the graduate students who have served as writers for this blog: Elizabeth Nguyen,  Sami Rovins, Doug Nevins, Andrea Tyree, Hannah Lougheed, Daniella Levine, and Sazia Nowshin. Here are some of my favorite pieces from our students (in no particular order):

I’d also like to thank each and every one of you for reading this blog, and for your interest in Heller. I’m excited for this blog to continue to grow: if you’d like, comment below some articles you hope to see from us in the next year!

Nine Reasons to Love Heller

In light of the most recent U.S. News and World Report rankings placing Heller ninth for health policy and management and social policy, I thought I’d share nine reasons why I love Heller. Everyone has a different story of what attracted them to Heller, but these are what I’ve come to appreciate about Heller in my time here as a staff member.

  1. An interesting and passionate group of prospective students. I’m sure that at some schools, reviewing applications or talking to prospective students can sometimes be a snooze, but that is never the case at Heller. The students I talk to all have fascinating stories: they’ve worked in the Peace Corps, founded their own companies, worked as doctors in their home countries for twenty years… it really runs the gamut! Students who are interested in Heller are passionate, enthusiastic, and dedicated individuals, and speaking with them about their backgrounds and career aspirations is always a lot of fun.
  2. Our peers agree: we’re top-notch. Heller is consistently ranked a top-ten school in social policy by US News and World, which reflect peer assessments of deans, directors, and department chairs at 276 schools of public affairs. For 2022, Heller was ranked in the top 10 for social policy and for health policy and management. Heller is one of only two New England graduate schools of public affairs to be ranked in those specialty areas.
  3. Diversity is more than a buzzword at Heller, it’s a commitment. When you join Heller, you’ll become a part of an incredibly diverse community: last year, we welcomed students from 53 different countries (more than 60 languages are spoken at Heller), and 41% of our incoming domestic students were students of color. Moreover, Heller is home to many students with disabilities, students who are members of the LGBTQ+ community, and students from a variety of religious backgrounds. This diverse environment challenges every student to consider new points of view and offers the unique opportunity to learn not only from our experienced faculty but students who are nonprofit leaders, grassroots activists, policy analysts, and more.
  4. The Boston area is a great place to be for graduate school. I may be biased because I moved from Atlanta to Boston for my graduate education, but I truly think the Boston area is a great place to be when you’re getting your master’s degree. The MBTA system (which connects to the commuter rail line that goes right to campus) makes the city easy to explore, and the city is filled with intelligent, passionate people in a similar place in their lives, whether they’re studying engineering at MIT, or music at Berklee. The Waltham area is great because if you choose to live in Waltham, you’ll be able to find more affordable living, but if you want to live in the city, it’s easy to commute to campus. Once you’re in Waltham, there’s plenty of restaurants and beautiful paths along the Charles to keep you busy.
  5. The history of Ford Hall. The term “Ford Hall” at Brandeis generally refers to two periods of direct action led by black students and other students of color with the goal to promote racial justice and build a more inclusive, equitable and diverse student experience at Brandeis. The first Ford Hall took place in January 1969 and was an 11-day student sit-in; the second Ford Hall (commonly written as #FordHall2015) took place in November 2015 and was a 13-day student sit-in. Heller students were involved in both events as well as sustained efforts during the interim years to promote policies and structures that advance diversity, equity and inclusion on campus. At the Heller School, the second Ford Hall resulted in hiring an Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, the creation of Heller Forward, and the creation of Community Day, a biannual, day-long workshop event centered on Heller’s commitment to eradicating social injustice and ensuring a more inclusive culture. To me, this shows that Heller students are truly engaged within their communities and that Brandeis and the Heller community are responsive and willing to change and adapt to student needs.
  6. Rose! I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Heller’s resident barista, Rose. Heller has a Starbucks located in the Zinner Forum (more on that later), and Rose is a constant presence and probably most people’s favorite person at Heller. She’s extremely friendly and somehow manages to remember everyone; I still remember how excited I was when I realized she had memorized my daily order because it made me feel like I truly belonged at Heller. In the past year of working from home, I’ve missed starting my morning with a cup of tea and a conversation with Rose.
  7. Living up to the motto of “Knowledge Advancing Social Justice”. One of the things I love most about Heller is that even though I’m not a student, Heller consistently pushes me to learn. In January, faculty, staff and students participated in Dr. Eddie Moore’s 21-day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge, and the 7-Day Neurodiversity (ND) Inclusion Challenge just wrapped up last week. Heller’s Office of Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity also maintains a list of books, articles, documentaries, movies, and even music meant to help advance knowledge and understanding on issues of diversity, equity, inclusion and justice as well as inspire positive and equitable social change. As someone who considers themselves a life-long student, I really value the emphasis that Heller places on educating yourself for the social good.
  8. The Heller magazine. Maybe it’s because I’m perpetually nostalgic for my teenage years, but I love a good magazine, and the Heller magazine is no exception. I read every copy cover to cover, and it’s genuinely a pleasure to read! I walk away even more impressed with the work our faculty, staff, researchers, and alumni are doing. Some of my favorite articles from the past few issues include: Peak InspirationWho Is Your Social Justice Hero?From Social Policy to Sesame Street, and 2020 asks us: If not now, when? 
  9. The views from Zinner Forum. The Zinner Forum is a huge, multi-story open space that connects the two wings of Heller (and is where Rose’s coffee shop is housed). When we’re in-person at Heller, we use the Zinner Forum for pretty much everything: orientation, Coffee with the Dean, community events… but when it’s not being utilized for an event, it’s a great place for students to study, socialize, and grab a bite to eat. One of the walls of the Zinner forum is made entirely out of windows with beautiful views of the wooded area outside. In the fall, the views of the changing leaves are absolutely stunning, and in the winter, watching snow fall outside the windows is so soothing.

So there you have it: my top nine reasons to love Heller. I hope that you join us in the fall and make a “Top Nine” list for yourself!

I’m Admitted, Now What?: A Guide for International Students (Part II)

Now that we’ve gotten all of the logistical stuff out of the way in I’m Admitted, Now What?: A Guide for International Students, let’s talk about the experience of coming to the United States for graduate school. I’m not an international student myself, but I previously worked in an International Students and Scholar’s Office, so I’ve heard first hand some of the problems that international students run into and have some tips on how to avoid some of the most common pitfalls.

Plan for homesickness. This isn’t limited to international students, of course (a lot of your classmates will be moving to the area from other states or cities), but it can be especially difficult when you’re moving from another country. It’s totally normal and natural to occasionally feel lonely or uncomfortable while you make this transition, but there are definitely things that you can do to combat it. You’ll want to strike a balance between old and new; maintaining your connections to your friends and family back home, while also establishing new bonds with your classmates and faculty. To maintain those connections, I would suggest: bringing a lot of photos of friends and family to decorate your new home, find a local restaurant that serves your favorite food or drink from back home, set a recurring skype or zoom date with someone back home once a week, maintain some of your old habits (if you always went for a jog before work, or had a cup of tea once you came home, keep doing that!). To establish new bonds, participate in a mentorship program, join a club or study group, participate in cultural events in your new city, and open yourself up to new experiences.

Prepare for academic culture shock. Many students make the mistake of thinking that because they’re familiar with American popular culture, they won’t experience culture shock. But even if you’ve grown up watching Friends, there will probably likely be many moments during your new life where American culture will seem strange, and particularly norms surrounding American educational systems. Especially in graduate school classes, professors expect students to participate by asking questions and offering their own thoughts, and many of your classes may even be discussion-based, rather than lecture style. Another difficulty that many international students run into is unintentional plagiarism; it’s essential that students learn to quote and cite other sources honestly and accurately, in the way that their professors expect.  Academic work in the United States depends on making absolutely clear which ideas and language are your own, and which come from someone else; if the lines get blurred, the credibility of your work is undermined. Luckily, the library at your school most likely offers a workshop or resources for avoiding plagiarism; I would recommend looking into those as soon as possible.

Identify support systems. Speaking from someone in the admissions office, I can attest that the goal of everyone at your university is making sure that students succeed. That starts with admissions, making sure that incoming students have all the advice to make the right decision for them and have all the information they need to ensure their transition to campus is smooth. As a student, you’ll find that in addition to your professors, the Office of International Students, the library, the Health Center, and your program’s administrators are all eager to help you succeed. Don’t wait until you’re in over your head to reach out to ask for help: that’s what we’re here for! I can’t tell you how many times, as an international student advisor, I wished that a student had reached out for help even a week or two before. And remember, life happens and it can be messy. Though I certainly hope your journey is a smooth one, if a major life event happens to you while in school, please please please let the people around you know as soon as possible.

Remember that deciding to attend graduate school abroad is a big step, and will likely not be without its challenges. However, adopting the mindset that challenges are an opportunity for growth (rather than proof of inadequacy) will take you a long way. You likely have a clear reason for why you’ve chosen to make this major change, whether it’s to experience a new culture, broaden your career opportunities, achieve a new level of academic excellence: whatever your reason is, keep that in the front of your mind as you navigate through your new adventure.

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.

I’m Admitted, Now What?: A Guide for International Students

Now that the final deadline for international students has passed for Heller’s master’s programs, I thought it would be a good time to resume the “I’m Admitted, Now What?” series with a post just for international students. If you haven’t read the previous posts in this series, I recommend reviewing these:

I’d also like to issue a quick disclaimer: this is meant as general advice and primarily focuses on F-1 students and their experiences. However, this should not be considered definitive or all-encompassing; visa regulations and travel guidance is subject to change, so for more information, make sure to check out Heller’s Visa Process page, Pre-Enrollment Checklist, or contact Brandeis’ International Student and Scholars Office.

Now, with that out of the way, let’s get started! Say you’re an international student who’s just been admitted… what should you do first (other than celebrate)? Consider this your checklist:

⬜  After you’ve accepted your offer of admission and paid your tuition deposit, you’ll gain access to your Visa Information and Declaration of Finances (VIDOF) Form in March. To complete your VIDOF form, you’ll need to submit a  clear picture current valid passport including photo, expiration date, name, and passport number, as well as proof of your ability to pay for one year of your program (tuition + fees + living expenses). Generally speaking, any proof for funds you’ll be contributing needs to be 1. dated within 9 months of your start date (so there needs to be a date on the bank statement), 2. include a specific amount of funds (in other words, saying “the account holder is in good standing” is not sufficient), and 3. funds need to be liquid at the time of your program start date (meaning that they need to be funds that are immediately available, so for example, a mortgage, funds that have a maturity date after your program start, etc. would not be acceptable). If you’d like to bring dependents under an F-2 visa, you’ll need their passport and proof of funds for them as well.  Make sure to follow the instructions on your VIDOF form carefully.

⬜  After you receive your I-20 or DS-2019, check to make sure that all of the information on the I-20 or DS-2019 is correct. You’ll use your SEVIS number to make your visa appointment; make sure you bring the same documents you used to apply for your I-20/DS-2019 to your visa appointment (and don’t forget your I-20 or DS-2019!). I recommend applying for your I-20/DS-2019 as soon as possible because visa appointments can fill up quickly! You can find a full guide to preparing for your visa interview on Brandeis’ ISSO website.

⬜ Make sure you’re up to date on relevant travel information or advisories well before your flight. You can find an updated list of travel proclamations related to COVID-19 that are currently in effect on Brandeis’ ISSO website. As of now, all air passengers traveling to the United States will be required to present a negative COVID-19 test within 3 days before their flight or provide documentation of having recovered from COVID-19, so be aware that this may still be in effect at the time you’ll be traveling, and plan accordingly.

⬜ When you enter the US, you’ll be issued an I-94 form that should read either “F-1 D/S” or “J-1 D/S” (depending on whether you’re an F-1 or J-1 student). Make sure you check your I-94 carefully to make sure it says one of those two, and that your notation on the I-94 matches your visa. If you notice a mistake on your Form I-94 (paper or electronic) or passport stamp, please try to request a correction while you are at the airport. If you do not notice the mistake until after you depart the airport, please bring it to the ISSO as soon as possible so that they can advise you on how to request a correction.

⬜  Find housing (see information in a previous post, linked above!). Brandeis does not provide housing for graduate students, so you’ll want to make sure you have a plan for where you’ll be staying prior to your arrival.

⬜ All new and returning international students in the United States are automatically enrolled in the Student Health Plan (SHP), but if you will be in the U.S. and have an insurance policy that meets the waiver requirements can waive the university SHP by contacting our general customer service (800-437-6448 or info@univhealthplans.com) to request the paper (PDF format) international student waiver form. If you have health insurance that meets these requirements, make sure you waive your coverage, but if you do not, no action is needed.

⬜  When you arrive, you will need cash in US currency or a credit or debit card to which you can charge expenses. You should aim to bring $200-$500 in US currency to cover expenses in the first few days of your stay here. Bring enough small bills ($1s, $5s, and $10s) so that you can buy any snacks/food or anything else that you may need upon arrival. You may also bring travelers’ checks, but keep in mind that they may not be accepted everywhere. Make sure to check with your credit card company and/or your bank to ensure that you will be able to use your card(s) here in the US upon arrival. You may want to open a US bank account once you arrive; there are a number of local banks around Brandeis where you can get help to open an account.

Again, this is just a primer on things to be thinking about as you prepare to make your big move to the US; for more information or clarification make sure you contact Brandeis’ International Student and Scholar’s Office!

 

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