When I decided to apply to graduate school my senior year of undergrad, I knew I was in for a doozy.
I was under the impression I would be able to take four classes, create and polish a 35 page writing sample, write a personal statement, take the GRE, be a functional employee, and organize the application information of ten different school all without breaking a sweat.
Well, surprise, I broke a sweat (and even let a few tears fall along way), but I just submitted my last application last week! I have made it to the finish line (hold applause please), and I have decided to impart some wisdom onto any of you out there considering graduate school.
IN THE BEGINNING, THERE WAS RESEARCH.
Last summer I spent an excessive amount of time in the Intellegensia on Broadway creating a large word document of all my potential schools. While tedious, this is the semi-fun part, because you get to imagine yourself in a slew of cities across the US. Remember that this research is free of commitment! Write down any school that interests you. As you explore more and more, you will naturally narrow down your pool, deleting the ones that have silly language requirements or an unfortunate location.
LOOK FOR PROGRAMS, NOT UNIVERSITIES.
When I first began to research, the idea of attending a big ten university kind of made me queasy. Then I realized that a lot of the schools that give generous funding are the larger research institutions. The important community to consider is not necessarily the larger university , but the culture that surrounds the program. What are the top professors in that school researching? Do they have similar interests to you? And for those of us pursuing more creative degrees, how do the artists in the community interact? What events do they curate? All of these factors might change the appeal to say, living in Amherst, MA.
Which brings me to…
LOCATION IS NOT EVERYTHING, BUT SOMETHING.
It can be fun to imagine yourself in, say New York, London, maybe Tokyo, as our good friend Ms. Duff once stated in her smash hit “Wake Up.”
Thanks to Google images for this one.
However, graduate school is a temporary setting in your life. Depending on your, program you may only be there for two years or you may be there for five. Either way, the location of your school is not a commitment for the rest of your life. I thought of location as a way to explore an environment I might not want to settle into, but one that I would like to experience!
Academic types love to hear compliments about their research, specialty, journal articles, and the chicken casserole they made for dinner last Tuesday night. It’s important to research the faculty at each of your programs to figure out what kind of perspective they have in your field and how that might coincide with your interests. For creative writing, most of the professors are published authors. Now, there was no way I was going to read all of their novels (did I mention already I’m a full-time student?), but I was able to read some interviews and excerpts. Because I read just a little bit about the faculty, I was able to mention in my personal statement whose work interested me and why.
EXCEL IS YOUR FRIEND.
Once you’ve searched in Internet, scoured the top 50 lists, and read way too many blog posts about applying to graduate school, you probably have a list of finalists. I created a terrifying but instrumental excel spreadsheet that included all the necessary information once I had narrowed down my list of possibles to the final ten. There is no rhyme or reason to the amount of schools one should apply for. I chose ten because, for me, that gave me enough of a range to pick some less well-known schools alongside the dream schools. Money is also a big concern, because the GRE is expensive, and each application for my programs ranged from 50-100 dollars. Either which way, once I zoned in on those ten schools, I took all the VITAL info from my word document (stuff like deadlines, page requirements, applications fees, etc.) and put it into this excel spreadsheet. It was like the headquarters for the rest of the process — if I didn’t remember a due date, I referred to the spreadsheet. With so much information that is necessary for the process, organization is key.
I hope my tips for graduate school research were informative and useful! To those of you thinking about the future and all its possibilities, just remember to keep a level head and preserve. All one can do as an applicant is organize your information and actualize the written work required for the application.
Good luck, ya’ll!