GUEST POST: How Do I Start to Think about Graduate School?!?
By Elizabeth Greenleaf
Elizabeth graduated from Rhode Island College in the Spring 2018 semester with a BA in Psychology and a Minor in Behavioral Neuroscience. She will move on to Graduate School at Rhode Island College and earn her MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. During her senior year, she worked as an intern for The Learning Scientists. You can find her first guest blog about student success here.
Applying for graduate school can be an intimidating experience for anyone, especially if you don’t know what to expect. As someone who recently went through the process (and was accepted into a clinical mental health counseling program!), I am excited to share my tips on applying for graduate school. Whether you have your heart set on a specific program, or you're just trying to figure out whether or not you want to go, being prepared and knowing what to expect is sure to help you throughout this challenging process!
It’s never too early to start considering graduate school! I found it helpful to look at programs before I even decided if I wanted to go. This way, I could look at what my options were, and see what would be realistic for me. If you already know that you want to attend graduate school, it is important that you find the program that will be the right fit for you. Think about where you’d like to (or need to) live, keeping in mind that you would probably be living here for the next two to six years, maybe more. Once you’ve decided that, looking at schools becomes easier.
While location is important, so is price. Check each school’s tuition page so that you can find out how much the program will cost you. Many graduate students become graduate assistants and thus have their tuition waived but it is still important to consider the cost of the program. You might not be hired as a graduate assistant in your first year! You should also consider fees associated with the program. Many students hired as graduate assistants still have to pay fees. Knowing what these will be can help you plan ahead. It might also help to consider how much income you can reasonably expect once you have earned your graduate degree, and consider this while thinking about how much debt you are willing to incur.
Make sure that the program you’re applying for is accredited by any appropriate accrediting agencies in your field. Finding an accredited program is important because it ensures that the education you will be getting meets the minimum standards set by accrediting agencies. Also, an accredited program will ensure that you are being prepared for certification or licensure, if applicable. Finally, employers will be more likely to see you as an eligible candidate for a job if you have a degree from an accredited program (1).
As a general rule, you need to plan ahead. Thinking about everything you need to do in order to apply for graduate school can sometimes be scarier than actually applying. You may find that you need to get a lot of information about yourself in order before you can go through the application process. Don’t put this off! It will pay off to start thinking about these issues early. For example, something that a lot of students worry about is the Graduate Record Exam, or GRE. The best way to get through the GRE is to be prepared by studying. Make sure to register for the GRE to leave enough time to send the scores to your programs, and start studying well before your test date. You should also check with the programs you're interested in to see what the minimum required score is. Many schools will require a minimum score for acceptance into their program, so make sure you are aware of what to strive for. On test day, bring with you a list of programs you’re interested in. That way, you can enter those programs on test day and have the GRE scores sent right away (and avoid extra fees to send scores later).
You will also need to provide a few letters of recommendation. These are usually letters written by professors or people with whom you have a professional relationship, like a boss. It is important to ask for a letter of recommendation from people who you know and have a strong relationship with. Remember, the graduate program will already have your transcript, so you want the letter writer to be able to say more than the grade you earned and that you enjoyed a class. Also, make sure that when you ask, you ask in person and give them plenty of time to write the letters, but not so much time that they will forget.
Finally, you will need to write something about yourself, like a personal or professional goals statement. Make sure to cater your statement to the program for which you are applying. For example, if you say that you are excited to learn about family counseling, mention that that specific program has a class on family counseling that you look forward to taking. All in all, it is a good idea to make sure that when you're planning on applying for a graduate program, you are specific about why you want to apply for that program in particular, and how the program will help you reach your ultimate career goals.
In conclusion, while it may seem daunting to apply for graduate school, doing your research and knowing what to expect will certainly make it easier. Remember that no one expects you to know everything: reach out to professors or your academic advisor if you need help. Finally, keep in mind that what you're doing is a big accomplishment and be proud of yourself for attempting to further your education!
(1) Happe, E. H. (2015, November 12). The Importance of Accreditation. Retrieved from https://www.paralegal.edu/blog/the-importance-of-accreditation