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Thinking About Graduate School

April 9th, 2014 by ebeck722

By: Emma '14Emma Dauphinais

The world-renowned poet and author Oscar Wilde is quoted as saying, “One can never be overdressed or overeducated.” Have you ever really thought of what “overeducated” could mean? I have, but I can’t really think of an appropriate definition, simply because I think that there should be no limit on how much education one should receive. No limit on education? More college after RWU? Enter: graduate school.

Graduate school is a great way to advance your future career or to advance your knowledge. Graduate schools provide professional or advanced degrees, such as medical degrees, Ph.D.’s, Master’s degrees, law degrees, and business degrees – such as MBAs. These degrees often take two to more than five years to obtain, and then can be very costly. When I decided I was going to graduate school, I received varying reactions. Some people asked me why I would want to continue going to school after already spending four years getting my Bachelor’s degree (sorry, I just REALLY like learning!), while others wished me good luck with my endeavors.

So, how do you know if graduate school is for you? This is really the first step in this whole process. Graduate school is for people who have entered fields where Bachelor’s degrees are only the first step in the process of creating a career. Graduate school is really a way to make a Bachelor’s degree more specific and more advanced; not only will you learn new material, but you will cover that material more in depth. For example, when I graduate from RWU in May 2014 (yikes…), I will receive my Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology. Psychology is an extremely broad field, and careers in psychology can range from forensic psychologists to legal psychologists to neuropsychologists. Due to this, graduate school for psychology is often very popular so that individuals are able to make their general psychology degrees more specific. In my case, I will be attending a graduate school in the fall to obtain my Master of Science degree in Counseling Psychology. Some careers don’t require their employees to have advanced graduate degrees, allowing these individuals to get right into the work force. However, upon getting a degree like my own Bachelor’s degree often requires further schooling in order to make specifications that original degree.

Once you decide that, yes, graduate school might be something you are interested, you should go on to this second step: How do you pick which graduate school to go to? There are so many colleges everywhere. There are Ivy League colleges, there are state colleges, there are commuter colleges, there are online colleges, and the list goes on. Although geographic location really should not limit one’s graduate school search, most people that I have spoken with have chosen to go to graduate school in the location where they would like to later work and reside. Besides this, I suggest doing some major online searches of relative programs (and I really mean major – I have spent weekend nights scouring the internet to find the perfect program for me). For instance, some universities may have great reputations, but they may not have any programs that would be beneficial for you. I suggest narrowing down a group of schools to apply to – I would say no more than ten, but no less than five. I really don’t suggest applying to only a few schools because graduate schools are extremely competitive to get into, and you don’t want to place all your eggs in one basket. This list should be compiled during the beginning of senior year at the latest. Applying to graduate school is an extremely grueling process.

Once you have created a list of schools that you would like to go to, now you have to apply. Most importantly, here is step three: how should you prepare for the process of applying to graduate school? For me, organization was extremely necessary in this process – I made a chart containing each school, that school’s program that I would be applying to, the due date of that application, how many letters of recommendation that are required, the price of the application, and if GRE scores are necessary. Most schools have application due dates around the same time, but it depends on the degree you are aiming for. For instance, Ph.D. programs consistently have a deadline of December 1 for application to be considered for the fall semester of the next year (requiring you to be super prepared). Each school also requires a “statement of purpose.” These statements vary from school to school, so unfortunately, you will be writing an individual “essay” for each program you are applying to. These statements should include why you are applying to this particular program, why you are a good candidate for that particular program, and what your future plans are. Letters of recommendation are required by all schools (each school usually requires three), so getting to know your professors or supervisors at your internships is extremely important. Graduate schools are looking for academic ability, but they are also interested in how you are as a person, and letters of recommendation are often good portraits of how you are in a professional environment. It’s good to remember to ask these recommenders to write these letters for you far before they are due – these people are really busy and they are doing this favor for you. The GRE is a standardized test that is probably the baby of the SAT and the ACT, but on steroids. There is no way to beat around the bush – the GRE is brutal. The test takes almost four hours and is done on a computer. Although you can re-take the test, it costs almost $200 to take it each time. There is also the additional cost of sending your GRE scores to each institution that you should consider. On top of this cost is the cost for each application – this can range from $50 to $100 per application.

Did I scare you away from graduate school yet? I hope not. Although the process of applying to graduate school is totally draining (especially on top of senior year academics), it is extremely rewarding. Receiving acceptance letters totally made up for all of the stress that I went through during the application process.

Something really important to remember is that there are so many people to help you in the process of applying to graduate school, so you’re never truly alone in the process. The Career Center often offers a lot of help in this area (like resume workshops that are free!), for example. Also, the majority of your professors likely went to graduate school and they are great resources for information regarding the application process – I guarantee that most of them will want to help. A lot of your classmates will also likely be in the same boat as you, so it’s often helpful to link up with others and work on the applications together.

One of the main reasons that this particular blog entry is so important to me is because I never read anything like it during my first few years at RWU. In fact, I never really thought about graduate school until junior year in college. I think it’s so, so, so important to consider this much earlier. A lot of programs will require certain prerequisites, for example – it would really be upsetting if you couldn’t apply to your dream graduate program because you were missing a few classes you didn’t know you had to take. I also want to remind you that there are so many people on campus that are willing to help you with this process. Applying to graduate school is half the battle – if you can make it through that, I have faith that you will get into the program that is right for you.

If you decide to apply: good luck, study for your GRE’s, and drink a lot of coffee!