Author: amandamiller (page 2 of 8)

Hear from our Commencement Speakers!

For the first time in three years, Heller students, faculty, and staff came together for an in-person diploma ceremony. The graduates — 195 master’s degree recipients from 2022 and 41 doctoral degree recipients from 2020, 2021 and 2022 — represent seven programs and more than 40 countries, speaking over 35 languages.

Each year, each Heller program selects one student to speak on behalf of their program, and this year’s students were nothing short of extraordinary. I’ve included the speech of COEX’s Commencement Speaker, Jan Afza Sarwari, MA SID/COEX’22, below, but I encourage  you to read all of the commencement coverage, including the other commencement speeches, on our news page.

COEX Commencement Speaker, Jan Afza Sarwari, MA SID/COEX’22:  “Thank you, Dean David Weil, the members of the board of advisors, respected faculty, friends, family and the COEX class of 2022 for giving me the honor of speaking with you today.

When in the hot summer day of July 2019, my parents hugged me goodbye in the crowded Kabul airport, I did not know that it would be our last goodbye for so many years to come. As the airplane was gradually taking off, I could look down at the spectacular mountain views of Kabul from the small airplane window reflecting on my dreams, bigger than the heights of those mountains. I could reflect on the question posed by the Fulbright committee when I applied for the scholarship, asking, “What will you do for your country when you return back to Afghanistan?”

As I reached Brandeis and we came together under the same roof of the Schneider building at the Heller School, I realized that the world had been a terrible place for almost all of us. Through our journeys here, we also carried along with us the heavy weights of different struggles in our home countries; from genocide to racial inequity, from gender inequality to gross human rights abuses, from corruption to war, from poverty to economic disparity, from climate catastrophe to increased global warming and so much more. But one thing was certain. We came together to stand against all these sufferings and difficulties impacting our world and be the face of social justice as Brandeis and the Heller mission states.

For me, however, the burden of carrying my share of struggles was huge. I am a Hazara, an ethnic group in Afghanistan who have been persecuted for over a century making it as harsh for them as the Holocaust for Jewish people during the World War II. I was born during Afghanistan’s civil war and the Mujahedin period. I started going to a secret school during the earlier Taliban regime, walking two hours each way every day when girls were not even allowed to attend one. I fought patriarchal norms and ethno-religious discriminations to have the power and the opportunity to stand here in front of you at this very moment.

Unluckily, the burden is still huge, when in almost all our classes at Heller, we were taught that girls’ education is a “silver bullet” to sustainable growth, to eradicating poverty, and to eliminating conflict. However, today also marks the 247th day in which millions of girls across Afghanistan are banned from going to school. The burden is still huge when women’s and minorities’ voices calling for justice and respect for their basic human rights are being muted, detained, and killed. The burden is still huge when more than 90% of people in Afghanistan live below the poverty line, making it the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. The burden is immensely huge when your answer to the question of “What will you do for your country when you return back to Afghanistan?” remains on a piece of paper, as for now.

While I struggled with all the hardships during the last year, the Heller School taught me one thing; no matter what you face or what you feel, there is the wonderful Heller and Brandeis community that lifts you up, cherishes you and your achievements and motivates you to move on with hope and resilience and be the face of social justice no matter where in the world you are.

Finally, as we celebrate our accomplishments and the end of a rewarding yet challenging chapter of our lives, I would like to wholeheartedly thank the Fulbright Program and the U.S. taxpayers for their generosity, Brandeis University for giving me a home away from home, my professors, and fellow classmates for providing me with knowledge and courage, my parents for their prayers, family and friends for their unconditional love and support throughout this learning journey.

May we achieve worldwide peace. May we not forget the women in Afghanistan.”

Congratulating… The Heller Class of 2022!

This Sunday, the class of 2022 will be participating in the first in-person graduation that Brandeis has held in three years (the classes of 2020 and 2021 can join a Re-Commencement ceremony). This is an incredibly exciting time for all of us here at Heller, but for those of us in Heller Admissions, it also means saying good-bye to some our wonderful graduate assistants, including Hannah Lougheed and Daniella Levine. To celebrate their accomplishments, I’d like to take a moment to curate a “best-of” for both of them; below, please find some of my favorite blog posts by these two talented students.

Daniella Levine

Hannah Lougheed

Feel free to read the rest of Daniella’s and Hannah’s blog posts, and enjoy the coverage of last year’s commencement, where you can listen to student speakers from each of our graduate programs. Congratulations, Heller class of 2022!

I’m Admitted, Now What? Student Loans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m Admitted: Now What? Financial Aid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Set Yourself Up for Success this Summer

As I write this, it is 57 degrees in Boston with a high of 68 today, so I feel pretty confident in saying that summer is just around the corner. All around Heller, students are holding their last day of classes, preparing for finals, presenting their capstones, preparing for graduations, or looking forward to a class-free and stress-free summer. For those of you entering into graduate school, your summer is likely to be filled with preparations for your new chapter: maybe you have a move ahead of you, maybe you’ll be working hard to save up extra money, maybe (hopefully!) you’ll be participating in the Summer Institute and Summer Career Academy… but no matter what your plans are, I have a few suggestions for easy tasks you can do that will help set you up for success once fall rolls around.

  1. Update your LinkedIn and resume – I know this isn’t much fun, but this gives you the chance to think about and reflect on everything you’ve done so far… and if a great on campus job or research assistantship pops up, you’ll be happy to have an updated resume ready to go (Psst- This is something the Summer Career Academy can really help with!).
  2. Listen to a podcast in your subject area – if you’ve been out of school for a while, it might be good to help get back into “learning” mode early. A great way to do this is to listen to podcasts while you’re driving, walking, or cooking. I am a total podcast maniac, so I have a ton of suggestions: Heller students might like Vox’s The Weeds, BBC’s Intelligence Squared (I especially like their early debate episodes, so scroll back!), Radiolab’s More Perfect, and Harvard Kennedy School’s Policy podcast.
  3. Volunteer for a cause you’re passionate about – no matter what your area of interest or your skillset, I promise you there is some cause out there that needs your help. Volunteering can go beyond working at a soup kitchen (although that’s great too!)— organizations always need coders, photographers, phone bankers, fundraisers, etc… so whatever you’re able to contribute, find a cause you believe in and lend a hand.
  4. Take a cooking class or buy a cookbook – two years ago, my partner and I bought a cookbook of one dish vegetarian recipes, and since then we have tried to cook a new recipe together every Sunday. Not only has it been a great thing for our relationship, but it’s also given us a couple of tried-and-true recipes to fall back on when we’re not sure what we want to eat. Graduate school can be tough, and you’ll want a couple of tasty, healthy, and quick meals in your back pocket for nights that you’re cramming for a test.
  5. Do something totally off the wall for you – if you’re an introvert, go to a networking event. Big rom-com fan? Throw a HorrorFest in your living room. Uncoordinated? Take a dance class. Whatever your situation is, think of what you usually do and do the exact opposite. Who knows, you may find something that you really love, but more importantly, doing this will prepare you to take on the unexpected and rise to challenges.

I know the warmer weather has only just begun, but trust me when I say that fall will be here sooner than you think. Taking on a few extra things now will ensure that when it does, you’ll be ready.

Happy Birthday, Heller Admissions Blog!

Five Fast Facts about Interim Dean, Maria Madison

Last week, it was announced that on July 1st, Dean David Weil will step down as dean of the Heller School. Though I’m very sad to see Dean Weil step down, I was so excited to learn that Dr. Maria Madison will serve as our interim dean. Dr. Madison is currently the associate dean for equity, inclusion and diversity and director of the Institute for Economic and Racial Equity (IERE), and I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with her throughout the PhD admissions process. So, to celebrate this announcement, I thought I’d share five facts you probably don’t know about Dr. Madison.

  1. She’s a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer. Heller is known for attracting RPCVs (Heller is ranked the 3rd most popular graduate school for Returned Peace Corps Volunteers), and Dr. Madison is no exception! Dr. Madison was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Zaire for two years, focusing on international development.
  2. She’s the co-Founder and President of a nonprofit. The Robbins House, Inc is a historic home and nonprofit organization focused on raising awareness of African-American history in Concord, Massachusetts that focuses on the long civil rights movement in America. The house commemorates the legacy of a previously enslaved Revolutionary War veteran and his descendants, including a “fugitive slave” from New Jersey and his daughter who legally challenged the nation’s first Civil Rights Act of 1866. The house is an interpretive center for thousands of annual global visitors.
  3. She was the first to hold her current position at Heller. The creation of the Associate Dean of Equity, Inclusion and Diversity position was largely advocated for by Heller students, many of whom participated in Ford Hall 2015, a 12-day student sit-in. In this role, she developed and implemented a targeted, evidence-based approach to improving DEI for all members of the Heller community.
  4. Her background is in global public health research. Dr. Madison has a B.S. in Mental Health, an M.S. Urban and Environmental Policy and Civil Engineering (both from Tufts University) and a Sc.D. Population and International Health from Harvard School of Public Health; after getting her Sc.D,  she spent 17 years managing clinical research studies in the private and public sectors.
  5. She has a legacy of social engagement towards social justice. Dr. Madison’s father was a particularly strong role model for her: in order to provide his children with the best possible public education, he sued through the ACLU to move their family to the all-white city of St. Joseph, Michigan. Her parents brought her to NAACP meetings where she was introduced to “community activism through meetings and projects promoting opportunities for social and fiscal capital—investing in resource-constrained communities.”

There you have it, five facts that you probably didn’t know about Heller’s (soon-to-be) Interim Dean, Dr. Madison!

Heller Town Halls

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

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

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

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

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

Ten Reasons to Love Heller

In light of the most recent U.S. News and World Report rankings placing Heller tenth social policy (and eighth for health policy and management!), I thought I’d share ten 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 267 schools of public affairs. For 2023, Heller was ranked in the top 10 for social policy and for health policy and management. Heller has been ranked in the top ten for social policy for over a decade!
  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. Our faculty. Not only are Heller faculty well-renowned in their field, they’re also incredibly interesting people. Diana Bowser, the PhD program director, is a marathon runner who has worked with the governments of Nigeria, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Ghana, Namibia, Swaziland, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Colombia, Chile, Belize, Saint Lucia, Dominica, Ukraine, Kosovo, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Haiti, Egypt, Oman and Kuwait. Maria Madison, a lecturer at Heller, Associate Dean of Equity, Inclusion and Diversity, and Director Institute for Economic and Racial Equity, is co-founder and President of a nonprofit, The Robbins House, Inc. The nonprofit focuses on the long civil rights movement in America, through the lens of African descended inhabitants of the eponymous 19th century house, including a black woman activist who attempted to challenge the nation’s first civil rights act of 1866. Brenda Anderson currently serves as academic director of Our Generation Speaks, a start up accelerator focused on bringing together young Palestinian and Israeli leaders to work across ethnic and political lines in building high impact social ventures within the region. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention Anita Hill, who needs no explanation!
  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. Michael Doonan, the MPP program director, started his career as a legislative aide for Senator John Kerry where he worked on health and environmental issues.
  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: Q & A with “The Farmer Foodie” , Creative community-building during a pandemic school year, 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.
  10. Being a part of the Brandeis campus. At times, being at Heller can feel like being on your own little island: if you’re a student, you’ll probably have all your classes in the Heller building, and as a staff member, I don’t usually have much of a reason to venture outside of Heller. But when I do, I remember how much I love the campus. There are so many hidden walking and hiking trails that wind their way through campus. Some of them lead to a great view of the Boston skyline, while others will take you to a hidden piece of statuary. I love Brandeis’ campus art in general; the Rose Museum has an impressive collection, of course, but I also love Chris Burden’s “Light of Reason” and the student art projects you can sometimes find behind the arts’ building.

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

Expect the Unexpected

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

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

Number one: Get your finances in line.

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

Number two: Identify your support systems. 

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

Number three: Expect the unexpected.

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

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