As I’ve mentioned, I’m headed to grad school this month. No big deal, just casually moving from Seattle to New York City.
About three months in to my two year Peace Corps term I decided to go to grad school when I got home and began obsessing.
On my weekly trip to the capitol city, I would copy and paste page after page or poorly loaded content from university websites and compile them into guides on my computer. I got pretty into tables of contents. From there I would read through each guide, judging the school’s education program on three excel pages of factors, organized by priority.
After a year and a half, I had a spreadsheet of over 40 schools. I applied for three.
My point is that I had the time to obsess about grad school and systematically evaluate my options before picking the best fit. I then had enough time to take the GRE and apply for schools.
Peace Corps was a blessing that taught me how productive I am without the internet.
Today I want to share some tips for applying to graduate school, narrowing down the options, and being realistic about your career goals and financial future.
How Do I Grad School?
- Ask yourself why you’re considering the option. Do you need a Master’s degree for your career goals? Do you even want to go right now? Are you considering it because you’re too scared to do something else?
There are two reasons to go to grad school: you want it and you need it. This a commitment and it’s going to cost you money, so don’t just do it because you graduated from undergrad and don’t know what else to do now.
Besides, if you’re not in it for good reasons, answering those interview questions is going to be rough.
- Pick your schools. If you’re sure about this, get ready to choose schools. Figure out what kind of program you want, what kind of schools are you interested in attending, how far do you want to go from home, what financial barriers are there? I compiled my list from a mix of the Newsweek Top Schools for my specific field of study and the Paul D. Coverdell Peace Corps Fellows list.
- Pick your priorities. Decide what your most important factors, the medium importance factors, and the not very important factors are. For me it was a hands-on learning program, certification before graduation, and financial aid opportunities.
There is no wrong answer here, if money is top of the list, be honest with yourself about that. If it’s a specific kind of curriculum or size of school, ok. But prioritize, because no school is totally perfect, you just have to find the best fit for you.
- Research the crap out of it. You know when you start Facebook stalking someone and eventually realized your back to 2009 of their old roommate’s photos? No? Just me? Ok. Well, the point is you should feel like that with your top schools. You should not only know the program your applying for forward and back, but the people in charge of it.
- Apply. I truly don’t believe that you should apply for more than about five schools. Application fees stack up fast and the can vary from $30 to $130 (lookin’ at you Stanford) just to apply.
I picked three programs I loved; one I didn’t think I had a shot in hell at getting in to, one I thought I might be able to realistically get in to, and one I was pretty confident I’d get in to. It’s better to apply for a handfull of varying difficulty then to apply for twenty and be out the money, believe me you can blow through that money later.
So that’s it, simple. Nothing to it. Then, of course there’s interviews and tests and transcripts and FAFSA and all manner of other educational torture, but hey applying is a pretty big deal.
Best of luck.