Category: Admissions (page 2 of 10)

I’m Admitted, Now What?: Avoiding Housing Scams (for 2022!)

I’m following up on my recent post on finding housing while in graduate school with a special post about avoiding scams while looking for housing. According to a recent survey conducted by College Pads, approximately 15% of students encounter a rental scam when looking for housing— unfortunately, it’s much more common than you would think! Although some scams are easily weeded out with just a little bit of investigation, others can be quite convincing, so it’s important to do your homework and keep these tips in mind.

  1. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Before you fall in love with a 2,000 square foot studio apartment with sweeping views of the Charles for only $500 a month, ask yourself if the price lines up with the other apartments you’ve viewed. Although there are certainly good deals to be found, Boston real estate is notoriously expensive, and anything significantly less than the average for the area should be treated with caution. With roommates, you should expect to pay between $500 and $800 in rent in the Waltham area, and between $600 and $1,000 in Boston or Cambridge. If you’re looking to live alone, most studios in Boston start at around $1,600. Anything significantly lower than that should be treated with caution. You can check average rental rates on websites like rentbits.com.
  2. Do a grammar check. Once you start communicating with a landlord or realtor, pay special attention to the emails you receive. Poor spelling, incorrect grammar, excessive punctuation, or language that seems overly “robotic” should all be red flags that the listing may not be legitimate. If the signature of the realtor contains a company website, check that out too; company websites should also look legitimate and use correct grammar and punctuation.
  3. Make Google your best friend. Always, always, always, do a search on the person or company you’re dealing with. If a scammer is targeting you, chances are that it’s not the first time they’ve done this, and you can usually find negative reviews and comments online. Remember that people can pay for positive reviews and delete negative comments on their websites, so look for third-party review pages (like Yelp or GoogleReviews) and look past the first few comments. If there are multiple people complaining about their experience with the landlord or real estate company, treat that as a red flag.
  4. Know your rights. In Boston, landlords are not allowed to charge you an application fee, a credit check fee, or a fee to ‘hold’ the apartment. If they ask for any of these, that should be a huge warning sign. Once you sign a lease, you may be asked to pay first, last, and a security deposit on an apartment, but you should only do this once you’ve signed a lease or seen the apartment at the very least. You can find more information about your rights as a renter on the City of Boston’s website.
  5. See the apartment if at all possible. For students coming from across the country, or even internationally, this may not be an option, but if at all possible, try to see the apartment. If you’re not able to visit the apartment, see if one of your roommates or another close friend in the area can visit it on your behalf, and ask them to take a video of their walkthrough of the apartment so you can see it. This is slightly complicated by the current pandemic, but most landlords are now showing apartments; at the very least they can do a video walkthrough for you (ask to see the apartment from the outside to verify the address and ask them to state your name or the date so you can verify they’re not showing you an old or out-dated video).

In addition, here are some tell-tale signs that the person you are speaking with may not be legitimate:

  • refuses to speak to you on the phone
  • asks for your social security number or other personal information
  • says they are out of the country
  • asks you to pay a deposit before you see the apartment, or
  • asks you to wire money. Also avoid using PayPal’s “My Cash.” It does not protect you from scams.

Unfortunately, if you have been scammed, it’s often difficult to get your money back, so if possible, pay with a check so your money can be traced and you can cancel the check if something goes wrong. The good news is that if you follow these tips and use good judgement, you’ll be able to weed out the vast majority of rental scams. Happy apartment hunting!

 

I’m Admitted, Now What?: Housing Part 1 (for 2022!)

For the latest in the “I’m Admitted, Now What?” series, I’d like to talk about some steps to take after you’ve made your decision and sent in your deposit. Some students may live close enough to Brandeis to commute, but for many, a new graduate program means a new city! I myself moved from Atlanta to Boston for graduate school, and I remember the mixture of excitement and nervousness that comes with taking this next big step. Here are some things that I learned along the way, along with some Brandeis-specific tips, that I hope will help you in your journey:

Location, location, location. Most Heller students choose to live in Waltham, because they prefer to be close to campus; it’s so convenient to be able to walk back to your home in between classes to grab a textbook, have a snack, or (let’s be honest) take a nap. Waltham is a great historic town right along the Charles River, and there are a ton of great restaurants along Moody Street (I love Moody’s Delicatessen for a quick lunch and Sweet Basil for a special-treat dinner). Waltham is also less than half an hour from Boston, so getting into the city is really easy, but rent in Waltham is generally a little more affordable than in Boston or Cambridge.

However, if you are looking to move to Boston or Cambridge because you want the experience of living closer to the city, I would recommend researching the Somerville, Allston/Brighton, or Jamaica Plain neighborhoods. Somerville is popular amongst Brandeis graduate students for its proximity to North Station, where you can board the commuter rail line that will take you right to campus, and the neighborhoods around Porter Square and Davis Square are especially fun, with lots of shopping, restaurants, and cute cafes. Allston and Brighton are common places for students to live in Boston for their great restaurants and nightlife options; for those without a car, it’s easy to take the MBTA to North Station. Jamaica Plain isn’t as good an option for Heller students without a car, but for those that do, this neighborhood is a great mix of students and young professionals and has plenty of great food along Centre Street. Just south of Jamaica Plain you’ll find Roslindale, which is another good option: although it’s a bit further from the city, it’s still only a twenty minute MBTA ride to Downtown Crossing and about a thirty minute drive from campus (it’s where I live myself!).

Mix and match. Unless you’re from the area or are moving with your family, you’ll most likely need to find roommates. There aren’t very many affordable studios or one bedroom apartments in Boston (usually starting around $1,600), so roommates are definitely recommended as a cost-saving measure. The Brandeis Graduate Facebook group has a lot of great information and apartment postings, and many students use it to find roommates. Brandeis also hosts a Grad Housing listserv where you can sign up to get emails about available apartments or students looking for roommates, so I would also recommend subscribing to that. Many Heller students choose to live together; having a built-in support group in your program can be really helpful to students new to the area. Living with other students in your program can lend itself to group study sessions, but having students outside your program can often add a new perspective, so don’t be afraid to mix and match with classmates both inside and outside your program!

Timing is everything. Many apartments in Boston have leases that start on September 1st, but I would recommend looking for leases that start on August 1st or August 15th, so you’re not rushing to set up utilities and get settled in during the first week of classes. Boston housing fills up fast, so I would recommend starting to look as soon as you are able; Brandeis’ Graduate Affairs Office has a great website with a lot of different resources for finding short-term and long-term housing. It can also be very competitive, so if you find a place that you like, be prepared to commit that day: have your documents ready, your checkbook on hand, and a co-signer lined up (if necessary).  During the COVID-19 pandemic, most realtors started offering virtual tours, which can make it easier to decide on an apartment even from far away (and an effective tool to weed out scams!). If you’re renting an unfurnished apartment, make sure you’re also budgeting enough time and money to find furniture; there’s an IKEA only thirty minutes away, and a Target less than fifteen minutes from Waltham, but there are also a lot of thrift stores along Moody Street and Main Street where you can dig up a lot of great finds for very low prices. I

I hope these tips are helpful as you start your housing search! I’ll be sharing more housing tips in the coming weeks, so make sure you subscribe by entering your email address in the sidebar to the right.

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!

Happy Birthday, Heller Admissions Blog!

Take a Break!

Hannah Lougheed, MA SID/MS-GHPM’22

It has come to that point in the semester when assignment levels increase simultaneously to energy levels decreasing. It can feel like a true sprint to the finish line (as my last blog post highlights). We are, however, at the precipice of a break in the form of a full week off of classes! So, how do Heller Graduate students spend their breaks?

I find that I recharge best when home (in Pennsylvania) with family. There is nothing I love more than walking into my parents’ house and smelling that familiar yet indescribable smell, being in a well-known space, spending time with my dogs, and loving on my nieces and nephews – not to mention the home-cooked meals. I also find such joy in revisiting my favorite hiking spots and local restaurants. That is where I will be spending my week off, and I have been working hard the past few weekends to get ahead on assignments so I can be very present while home and truly take a break from school.

But enough about me, here are some of the fun things my classmates are planning to get into:

Beatriz Pleites: “I am going back to El Salvador [my home]. The plan is to hang out with my friends and go the beach!”

Ryan Lansing: “I am working over break so that I can be free to surprise my mom with a visit for her birthday/mother’s day in early May – I am the gift!”

Others have mentioned travelling to Quebec, New York, Cancun, Washington D.C., and Baltimore. Waltham is situated in a location that allows for fun 2-3 day trips accessible by car, bus, train or quick plane trip. Some of my classmates have decided to use the break as an opportunity to get ahead on assignments. Others hope to explore more of their own backyard, enjoying hikes and all of the fun activities Boston offers. Yet others told me they do not know what their break will look like, but they look forward to some unstructured time.

How do you prefer to spend breaks? Regardless of if you recharge through adventure and exploration. family time and familiarity, or quiet rest and relaxation, I wish you the best on your next break. Here is to hoping  that this break reinvigorates us graduate students to put our best foot forward for our final push to the finish line!

An Open Letter to Accepted Students

Hannah Plumb headshot

Hannah Plumb, MA SID’22

Dear Accepted Students,

Congratulations ono your acceptance to Heller! This is a very exciting time 🙂 I know when I got my acceptance letter, I was really ecstatic and could not wait to start picking out my classes, exploring campus and making new friends. I know this can also feel a bit overwhelming with the amount you have to prepare, but it’s also important to congratulate yourself on this important achievement. You did it!

Here’s some tips I would give as you start preparing to contemplate your decision to come to Heller:

1. Celebrate

First of all, congratulate yourself by celebrating this important achievement! All that hard wok of writing essays, seeking out recommenders and paying for transcripts has paid off, and you deserve to treat yourself. Whether that be by going out to a nice dinner, having a small party with your friends or just by watching the new season of Bridgerton, make sure to take time to celebrate your accomplishment.

2. Talk to a current student

When deciding which graduate school to pick, the amount of information to go through can be extremely daunting. However, one great way to get that information and an insider’s point of view is to talk to a current student. You can do this by reaching out to your existing networks, or even scheduling a time to talk with one of Heller Admissions’ fabulous graduate assistants here! Make sure to come with some questions prepared and think about what is most important to you in a graduate program.

3. Figure out which classes excite you the most

One thing that really helped me decide that Heller was the school for me was by looking at the classes that were going to be offered for the Fall. I get to investigate the required classes as well as the electives I was really excited to take (like Contemporary Issues in Gender and Public Policy and Global Social Entrepreneurship). This is a great way to make sure you can focus on your interests while in grad school, while also getting to explore new ones.

4. Budget, budget, budget!

While grad school can be great, it’s also really expensive. Something that helped me in my decision was by taking a look at Heller’s cost of living and figuring out how it would work into my budget. I looked at how much loans I would have to take out and if I would need to work or not. While I know this isn’t always the most fun thing to do, it’s really essential when making that graduate school decision.

5. Come visit us!

As of Fall 2021, Heller is officially in person and on campus! Although we aren’t offering in person events for this spring, if you’re in the area, feel free to swing by and get a look at the Heller school and the larger Brandeis campus. It’s great to get a chance to walk around campus and get a feel for what it is like.

That’s it for all my tips for accepted students. Congratulations again on being accepted and good luck in making your decision. Heller is a great place to be, and I hope to see you around here really soon!

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!

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.

« Older posts Newer posts »

Protected by Akismet
Blog with WordPress

Welcome Guest | Login (Brandeis Members Only)