Category: Admissions (page 1 of 5)

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.

Hello Heller! Kyle Doherty’s Acceptance Story

Kyle Doherty Headshot

Kyle Doherty, MA SID’22

My Heller admission story does not begin with my own acceptance to Brandeis, but my partner Ran’s. She accepted an offer to Brandeis’ MA in  Psychology program around the beginning of June, so we planned our move to Waltham. I had graduated in May of 2019 with a degree in psychology too, but had decided to take a gap year before going back to school. A little after the year deadline I set for myself, I was more confused than I was when I graduated. I knew I wanted to go back to school to get a graduate degree, but I was uncertain on the type of program I wanted to apply to. As I was doing research for possible schools for a Spring 2021 or Fall 2021 start, I found the Heller School when scrolling through the Brandeis website.

As I flipped through the webpages of all the Heller programs, I was fascinated by what I saw. I was interested in so many of the programs, but also in the existence of a school that prioritizes social justice and equity. The Sustainable International Development program particularly caught my eye because of experiences I had the previous four summers. when I would travel to China to live with Ran and her parents before returning for college. Those trips exposed me to the need for development, by showing just how privileged my American life had been. When visiting their home village, many of the houses lacked sewage, had holes in roofs, and electricity was unreliable. Thinking back to those times and seeing the current development projects occurring there such as roadbuilding and agriculture projects, I decided I would apply to Heller the next cycle. When I went to go check if Heller had spring admission, I was shocked to see that they were still accepting applications for the fall. In that moment, it all came together: my interest in social psychology from undergrad, my love for traveling, and a commitment to disrupt oppressive norms and policies. I knew I had to take advantage of this situation and immediately got all the required materials ready in just a few days. 

The wait for a decision was agonizing as it was the middle of the summer, a pandemic was raging around us, and we were also moving at the same time. It had been a long two days of moving in the July heat as I sat down to catch my breath. Flopping down on the nearest elevated surface, I chuckled when realizing that I was the first to sit on the couch my partner Ran and I had just put together. The air conditioner blared in the background as I opened the Gmail app on my phone (even when handling much more pressing issues like putting together furniture, I still like to keep my digital inbox in order!). As the screen flickered to show an unread email from ‘The Heller School’, the exhaustion I felt moments ago evaporated instantly. Not letting anyone know what was going on, I stealthily thumped in my email and password before hitting the scariest enter button of my life. If I did not get accepted here, I would not know what I would be doing for the rest of 2020. My anxiety turned to jubilation as I saw a financial aid award letter load in slowly because we had not had the chance to install wi-fi yet. I looked over to Ran with a blank look on my face and said “Well, guess I got in”, before cracking a huge smile. Seeing her exhaustion melt away too, she jumped up and gave me the most epic high five into hug combination I had ever experienced. 

After coming off the initial rush of the acceptance I took a day or two to make sure Heller was the right choice for me. It did not take long to make my decision because they had already won me over during the application process. Once accepting the offer and settling into our new place, it was time to enjoy our last month of summer before becoming graduate students.

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.

 

Sami’s Top Five Moments at Heller

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

As my time at Heller gradually comes to a close, I can’t help but to reflect on my best experiences over the last two years. Coming to grad school for the first time, you’ll have quite a lot to look forward to! And to give you a sneak peak, I’ve listed my top five Heller moments of success, learning, and friendship (in no particular order).

  1. Completing my Master’s Thesis. For nearly a year, I’ve been working on my thesis for my COEX capstone, our last project before we graduate. The final paper ended up being over forty pages long (!), but it took a great deal of re-working, tweaking, and editing to get there. I loved the experience of working with my advisor, Dr. Quintiliani, all of the academic support I received from professors and Brandeis’s research librarians, and of course the emotional support and cheerleading I was given from my friends in COEX.

2. Getting to know the area. I have enjoyed getting to know Waltham, Boston, and the surrounding area so much! After moving to Waltham, I had such a good time getting familiar with Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, and Somerville. As a big museum nerd, I was very happy to visit places like the MFA and the Isabella Stuart Gardener Museum. Only twenty minutes from Waltham are places like the deCordova sculpture park and Walden Pond. The greater Boston area is such a wonderful place to be a student.

3. Getting out of my comfort zone. At Heller, I’ve been pushed far outside my comfort zone many times. I’ve found this to be an enormous opportunity to not only learn about a subject, but also to learn more about myself. I’ve engaged in sensitive and sometimes uncomfortable conversations that I quickly realized were helping me to grow as a student and as an individual. Having fellow students’ varied perspectives has brought so much value and meaning to my time here at Heller.

4. The cultural exchange. Students come to the Heller School from all around the world. I’ve learned so much from people whose languages, cultures, backgrounds, and religions were different than mine. Thanks to the COEX program, I now have a best friend from Egypt, and as a result I often find Arabic words sneaking into my vocabulary and my appreciation for Middle Eastern food expanding.

5. Specific projects. I feel very proud of the work I’ve completed as a Heller student. There are a few projects that particularly stand out. In Professor Tamaru’s “Women, Peacemaking, and Peacebuilding”, I enjoyed writing an op-ed on revolutionary Indian women that was later published on Professor Tamaru’s blog. I was also so excited to write a paper regarding various women’s influences on Malcolm X for Professor Sampath’s “Democracy and Development” course. In Professor Madison’s “Intersectionality and Bioethics” class, I had so much fun engaging in a group debate concerning the pharmaceutical industry.

My experience at the Heller School has been rewarding, challenging, and eye-opening. I’ve found my experiences here to be so valuable and have contributed so much to my growth as a student, a professional, and an individual!

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!

A Letter to My Future Self (to read upon graduation): Daniella Levine

Daniella Levine, MPP ’21

Dear Future Daniella,

This is not where you assumed you would be six years ago when you first thought about obtaining an MPP. Graduate school was your ticket out of Boston. You wanted a new city, a new community, a new start. And due to consequences, both in and out of your control, that did not happen. You initially applied to Heller, because it would be silly not to – a top-ranked program, small cohort size, a concentration in gender policy – Heller checked all the boxes but one. After working in Boston for four years, attending college in Worcester and growing up in Providence, I yearned for the chance to expand and grow and for whatever reason, I was determined that wasn’t possible to do in New England.

Oh, how wrong I was. I am waiting on your confirmation, but I am pretty certain I would not be as content or satisfied anywhere else. Heller’s commitment to social justice is one I have never experienced in any other institutional setting. My peers are not focused on being the best alone, we work collaboratively and with care. My professors want their students to succeed outside of the traditional classroom expectations and provides the support and tools necessary to thrive in the world of policy. The structure of Heller’s curriculum allows me to explore the nuance of women, gender and sexuality policy within a social policy framework. Intersectionality is aptly examined in every class because we cannot study policy without the acknowledgement of interconnectivity.

I came to Heller to explore the intersection of assimilation, gender and the cultural socialization on gender normativity.  Especially in the way race, workplace ecosystems and gender coalesce. I am hopeful that my work at Heller will qualify me for a position at a national think tank or research institution focused on gender disparities. Through my previous experiences, I gained a baseline understanding of the work being done to combat sexism, along with a grasp on the development side of non-profit work. I hope that Heller equipped me with a deeper and more theoretical/academic comprehension of contemporary issues to ground the work. I have no doubt that Heller helped me hone in on my critical thinking skills in my personal and professional lives. How much did you utilize the resources of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion office at Heller? Were you able to learn from  faculty and practitioners like Laurence Simon and Sarah Soroui? Could you fit the Policy Advocacy, Protest, and Community Organizing course in your last semester?

Heller, situated in Massachusetts, seems to be the right place for me. So where will I go next? Has my time at Heller grounded me in the Boston area? Will I move to DC? Do I find a niche within the gender and sexuality field? Do I veer in another direction? I started my time at Heller hesitant, and while I may leave with more questions than answers, I will never be questioning if Heller was the right choice. I am eager to see how I’ve grown.

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!

A Letter to My Future Self (to read upon graduation): Sazia Nowshin

Sazia Nowshin, MBA/SID’22

Dear Future Saz,

Congratulations on graduating with a Social Impact MBA and a Master’s in Sustainable International Development from The Heller School! Looks like you’ve done it again. You’ve graduated with a mouthful of interdisciplinary degrees! All jokes aside, all I can ask you is how?

How did you do it, Sazia? How did you overcome the trials and tribulations of life while juggling two years of intense coursework? Finish the Strategic Management Midterm paper? Figure out which organization to do your team consulting project on? There’s so many courses and assignments we can ask you about but what matters the most is that you did it. You, a first-generation Bangladeshi-American, did it. You, a Muslim immigrant, did it. 

These past two years must have “Zoom-ed” by. With your entire first year being online and in a format you struggled to grasp at times to being in person for your second Master’s, your experience at Heller was truly one-of-a-kind. At times, it felt like weeks of classes go by in a blink, in others, you can’t wait for the weekend. I hope you were able to take time for yourself during these weeks and got a chance to breathe. I know old Saz would not shy away from retail therapy at the Natick Mall, but I do hope her future version engages in more frugal forms of self-care. 

Now comes the next big step in your life – choosing a career. Before your parents ask, ask yourself. What are you going to do now? Your interdisciplinary degrees open you up to a multitude of professional opportunities. I remember old Saz coming into Heller with the hopes of refining her skillset to become an international humanitarian aid worker. Now, I assume your interests and skills have equipped you for other routes. After two semesters, I learned so much about making an impact on a smaller scale, which stemmed from experiences like serving on the board of a local non-profit organization. At the end of the day, I know Sazia’s goals and aspirations will transcend time. They will transcend old Saz and future Saz. I want to serve underserved communities, and give a voice to those who aren’t equipped with the faculties to do so. I know future Saz will want to uphold these values. 

The possibilities are endless, and it’s scary. But it’s also so exciting. I cannot wait to see how you implement the valuable knowledge and wisdom you gained these past two years into your career. But never forget, the journey is sometimes more beautiful than the destination! Never forget the professors who left an impact on you, the specialized courses you never thought of taking but ended up loving, and the friendships that blossomed in your cohort over the past two years but will remain a lifetime. Congratulations again, Saz. Be proud of 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.

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