Preliminary Thoughts on Graduate School

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There are so many different types of graduate programs to explore once you have your undergraduate degree under your belt. It’s common knowledge now that graduate school education translates to higher earnings. If continued education is a goal you want to pursue, here are some thoughts to consider.

1. Part-time or full-time?

Consider where you are in your life and whether splitting time between work and classes is something you need or want. A lot of programs offer online degree tracks, part-time over a few years, or an accelerated and intensive 36-month option. Some won’t even consider you for admission if you don’t have at least a year of work experience. The timing of your degree completion could affect personal and professional pursuits in your life.

2. In what field?

A common misconception is that certain bachelor’s degrees lead to certain graduate degrees. That’s not the case at all. A Spanish major could go to medical school with the right pre-requisites and other admissions criteria. If you find your path suddenly changing after college, never fear, the possibilities and combinations are endless further down the road. Unique pairings like an MA/MBA or MSN/MPH could broaden your job opportunities and encompass a wider array of interests.

3. Where in the world?

The right graduate program for you may not be in the United States. The array of stellar schools in Canada, Europe, and elsewhere are too many to count and with resources like the U.S. News & World Report one has rankings on the best.

4. Exams

Usually the rule of thumb is that the LSAT is for law school, MCAT is for medical school, GMAT is for business school, and the GRE is for everything else. Each school is different and some may require one of these tests or any of these. Take advantage of free exams offered in the area like the ones Kaplan host. Dates/times of these free exams can be found on Career Development’s calendar. See where you stand before seeking professional tutoring.

5. Admissions criteria

Start thinking about that personal statement. Write a draft about everything significant that happened to you post-high school – academically, professionally, and personally. Evaluate your growth as a well-rounded person and start to craft the person you want be. Reach out to past mentors and employers on writing letters of recommendation. For portfolio requirements, gather your best pieces and work and compile your pride and accomplishments. Create a platform for yourself on who you are so far and where you plan on going next.

Angelica is a fourth-​​year nursing student with a minor in English hailing from New Jersey. She has studied or worked in all the major Boston hospitals. Angelica is also a columnist for The Hunt­ington News and enjoys writing creative non-​​fiction.

Image source: Salisbury.edu/CareerServices

What day is it? I haven’t slept in 4… Tips for Surviving Graduate School

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I had this delusion when I entered graduate school that it would be similar to college. Mid-morning naps, late nights filled with cheap beer and equally bad pizza, all-night cram sessions in the library with friends… oh boy was I mistaken. Although some similarities did exist (I’m referring to cram sessions and cheap beer here), graduate school required a lot more self-discipline, drive and focus than I remember ever having as an undergraduate student. Compiled below are pieces of advice from myself as well as other former and current graduate students in my social network.

  1. Don’t procrastinate/Get your stuff done. This one came up multiple times and I can certainly attest to it. If you’re a procrastinator, for the sake of your sanity, you may want to rid yourself of that quality for the next two years (or however long you plan to be in graduate school).  Many classes base your final grade on just a few large projects/papers and that whole “extra credit if you go to the school play thing” does not exist. Schedule in the time to do your assignments, get into a routine and buddy up with a peer- it keeps you accountable. Sadly, there is no hand holding in graduate school.
  2. Be responsible and realistic. Yes, I know this is very vague, but this applies to many things that have to do with grad school and life in general. For example, be responsible and realistic about your financial situation. Create a budget (trust me this is not my strong point), it would really stink to just run out of cash when you need to buy that book or make a payment on your credit card. Understand your loan situation and don’t be afraid/intimidated to ask questions, it will save you a headache and lots of money in the long run. On a related note, take charge of your schedule and credits- don’t rely on just your advisor. If you’re interested in going abroad (as I did) or taking a class at a another university make sure you have your paperwork in order and that you’ve cleared this with the appropriate offices. This is your education, take control of it!
  3. Stay positive. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and down on yourself. At one point I was working up to 60 hours a week, attending classes four nights a week and still had homework and a fiance to tend to (he did not see me much).  If you asked me now how I did that, I honestly have no idea. Blind ambition would be my best guess. I was, however, determined to maintain control of my schedule so I could at least attempt to budget my energy and time well. In the end, my saving grace was my peers and the certainty that this would all be over  in “insert-number-of-days-here.”
  4. Take time for yourself. This was definitely the most popular tip I got from my network. Grad school is HARD, especially if you’re working full time, completing practicum hours, serving on professional boards (something else I would highly recommend but I’ll save that for another post- along with the importance of developing and maintaining a network) interning and teaching. If you don’t take time out to just chill, your head is most likely going to explode, or you’ll have random crying outbursts triggered by spilled coffee—yes this happened to me. Even if I was exhausted after class on Thursday, I tried to muster up the last bit of energy I had at least every two weeks and go out for a drink with my classmates. It was fun to commiserate with each other and I developed lifelong lasting relationships with many of them.

grad school someecardIn the end, looking back, graduate school wasn’t too bad and- dare I say- it was even nice to be a student for a short time once again. Although I won’t lie, every time I stumble upon my final portfolio—I wince a little.

Kelly Scott is Assistant Director of Career Development and Social Media Outreach at Northeastern University. A social media enthusiast and Gen Y, she enjoys writing about workplace culture and personal online branding. For more career insight, follow/tweet her at @kellydscott4.

5 things to consider when choosing a graduate program

This guest post was written by our new student blogger, Emily Brown, a graduate student in the College Student Development and Counseling program.

We’ve established that going to grad school isn’t always a good idea and that it is a huge commitment of time, money, and energy. Once you’ve made the decision that grad school is right for you, you’re still faced with the daunting task of choosing a program. There are a few key things to keep in mind when working through the process:

  •  Location. An easy way to narrow your choices at the beginning is by location. Are there places that you are simply unwilling to live while pursuing your degree? Do you plan on continuing a job in your current location? I knew I wanted to keep my full-time job as long as possible, so I only researched graduate programs in the Boston area. Conveniently, Boston still has a lot of options, but narrowing my search that way made it feel more manageable.

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  • Reputation. Just like when applying to undergrad, it’s easy to get caught up in schools’ reputations. Meeting your own academic goals and needs should be your top priority so remember that just because it’s an Ivy League doesn’t mean it will be a good fit for you. Graduate programs can vary greatly within the same school so it’s important to research programs and faculty members specifically to determine a good match.
  • Requirements. There are admissions requirements, and then there are program requirements once you get in. Before applying, you’ll have to compare the program requirements with your own credentials. Is there a minimum GPA requirement or certain prerequisite classes? Do you have to submit GRE scores? Make sure you meet these requirements and include all required documents before hitting send. Additionally, most graduate programs will require some sort of experiential learning outside of the classroom. It might be research, an internship, or other practical experience. Think about what will be most beneficial to you and how you can balance your coursework with an unpaid interning or researching.
  • Passion v. Realism. As a career services groupie, I am all about following your passion when it comes to education and career. However, when making an investment in that passion, it’s important to consider what kind of opportunities will be available to you once you complete the degree. Talk to alumni of the programs you’re considering and ask about their experiences in the program and how it prepared them for their current job. Do their jobs appeal to you? You can find alumni to speak to by asking the admissions office or searching on LinkedIn (it’s not creepy, I promise).
  • Cost. Once you’ve hit send on the applications and the acceptances start rolling in, you’ll have more decisions to make. Of course the financial aid a school offers will be a factor in your decision, but it’s smart to also consider the cost of living where the schools are located. Maybe that school in New York City offered you more financial aid, but are you going to spend those savings on one trip to the nearest Whole Foods? You have to be realistic about the cost of school as well as living expenses and make decisions that make sense for you financially.

Once you’ve made it past step one, deciding to go to grad school, make sure you do your due diligence researching programs to find the one that is the best fit for you and will propel you toward your career goals. Location, reputation, curriculum requirements, cost and career opportunities are all key factors to consider and will help narrow your choices and ultimately select the right graduate program for you.

Emily Brown is a Career Development intern and a graduate student in Northeastern’s College Student Development and Counseling Program. She is a lifelong Bostonian interested in the integration of social media into the professional realm.  Contact her at e.brown@neu.edu.

Conquering the grad school application process

Kassi Stein is a senior chemical engineering student hoping to get a PhD. She is interested in bioengineering research and is actively working to connect students across the college of engineering with research opportunities. You can usually find her at the lab bench or in the Capstone computer lab.

Applying to grad school is really daunting. REALLY daunting. Undergrad applications were bad enough, and now I have to go through it all over again? Great. But as I’ve been chugging along, I’ve found that the process really isn’t so terrifying as long as you have a plan of attack. Here are some ideas for how to conquer your application process.

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Research programs ahead of time: You know what’s stressful? Doing things at the last second. You know what’s not stressful? Leisurely browsing websites. Most schools have a pretty extensive admissions site, so go through it. If, like me, you will be pursuing a research-based degree, look at what research is actually happening at that school. It could be the absolute best program in the world, but if they don’t do anything that interests you then you probably won’t be happy there. For example, some of the top ten chemical engineering programs have relatively little research happening in biotech areas, so I won’t be applying there because biotech is the field I want to be in. Good advice I’ve gotten is that you should look for at least three professors you could see yourself working for at any schools you’re considering. If you haven’t the slightest clue where you want to go, some useful places to start might be your professors or colleagues on co-op. You could also think about what part of the country/world you want to be in and see if there are any schools there that offer what you want to study.

Know what materials you need to submit: Every program is different and may require you to submit different documents. Find out if you’ll need to send a hard copy of your transcript so you can get that sent out ASAP. Make a list of what you will need to write, including personal statements, research proposals, resumes (though everyone at NU should already have a nice one of those!), etc. Some of the schools I’m applying to require essays in addition to a personal statement, like an essay on diversity, while others require a statement of intent that is different than the personal statement. Make sure official standardized test score reports (e.g. GRE) get sent if they are required. You don’t want to miss any component or all your hard work will be for nothing!

Start brainstorming: If you’re used to writing lots of essays, something like a personal statement might come easily to you. If you’re anything like me, you feel a lot happier with numbers than with words, especially if those words have to describe your life. Either way, a brainstorm is a good way to generate big ideas that can be the focus of any written work you need to submit. I started by writing down the things that are most important to me in life, what I want to do in grad school, and what I want to do when I graduate to get myself started. Just the act of getting ideas down on paper starts the flow of the writing process, and before you know it you’ll have a draft. If you’re really stuck for ideas, have a conversation with someone who knows you well. Case in point, my best friend was able to point out all the things I’ve done that might make good fodder for a personal statement while I was sitting there panicking about what to write about.

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Get feedback: Have someone else proofread. Get someone else’s opinion. Things that make perfect sense in your head can be complete nonsense to another person, something you won’t catch if you’re the only one reading your work. For example, I can never tell if I’m being too technical, so I have asked non-engineers to read through my work and tell me if they understand it. Also, it’s a rare thing to write a perfect first draft, so other people’s feedback will hopefully help you revise. I’ve revised my personal statement at least ten times at this point, including a total rewrite.

Don’t give up: Feeling stuck on a certain component of the application? Go away and come back later. Clear your mind and refocus. It’s much more productive to come back with a clear head and get to work than to bang your head against the keyboard for hours.

So there it is. Hopefully something here will help you along the way. Remember that this should be about taking your life in a direction that interests and excites you, so keep your chin up and stay positive! Best of luck!

Why going to grad school isn’t always a good idea

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I’ve never subscribed to the idea that going to grad school is a good strategy for escaping a bad economy.  Is the job market tough? Yes. Is it particularly tough right now for recent college grads? Yes. Does it make sense to wait it out another year or two (or three or four) in the hopes that the economy will be better when you graduate? Not if that’s your only reason for going. Getting a graduate degree takes significant time, money and energy. What’s the point if you come out just as confused as when you went in, further into debt, and still not competitive for the job market?

Some of the most common assumptions people make about going to grad school (in general and particularly in a bad economy) include:

The economy will be better by the time I get out of grad school

Hopefully the job market will continue to improve over the next few years, but it’s hard to say exactly what it’ll look like and you may find it just as competitive. Some industries/sectors are struggling more than others, and some fields have always had limited opportunities. Job prospects for a wanna-be philosophy professor are not likely to be dramatically better in 5 years than they are now. Make sure you research the job trends for the fields you’re considering, by talking to people in those fields and researching sites such as the Occupational Outlook Handbook www.bls.gov/ooh. (Doing this kind of background research, by the way, is essential to any kind of career-related decision-making, not just going to grad school.)

I’ll figure out what I want to do when I get to grad school 

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Most graduate programs are far more specialized than undergraduate degrees, and don’t usually give you time to “explore”. You don’t necessarily need to have an exact job title in mind, but you are expected to have some idea of a career path, and why that program would be a good fit for you. I didn’t know exactly what area of higher education I wanted to work in when I went to graduate school, but I knew I wanted to advise college students, and that was specific enough to identify relevant programs.

An advanced degree can make up for my lack of experience

Some fields don’t require or even care about graduate degrees. Many communications jobs, for example, emphasize relevant experience over advanced education. Unless you also get additional work/internship experience during your grad program, you’re still going to be competing with candidates who don’t have graduate degrees, but do have more work experience.  You could end up being over-educated but under-qualified.

I’ll make more money in my field with a graduate degree

Educational level is merely one of multiple factors that may affect the salary level of a given position. Others include experience, industry, size of company, a specific department’s budget, or geography.  As mentioned above, not all jobs require graduate degrees, and education may take a back seat to some of the other factors.

None of this is to say that you shouldn’t ever go to graduate school. But if you can’t explain how you want to use that degree or why, then maybe postponing it is a better option (the world is not going to end if you work a few years before going to grad school). Unless you’re independently wealthy, you’re going to have to find a job at some point anyway, and you may just be postponing the inevitable.

Tina Mello is Associate Director of University Career Services, and has worked at Northeastern for over 10 years. Nicknamed the “information guru” by other members of the staff, she loves to research and read about various job/career/education topics. For more career advice, follow her on twitter @CareerCoachTina.