The Career Paths Your Advisor Forgot About

questionThe field of physician assistant (PA) studies has been cited among the fastest-growing careers (38% in the next ten years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) and was named by Forbes as the “#1 Best Master’s Degree for Jobs” in 2012.  But when I sought help in planning my path to becoming a PA, my university’s health professions adviser told me, “We’ll learn about this together.”  There can’t be a framework in place for every possible career, but figuring out the path doesn’t have to be difficult.

Find others with similar plans.  The first real companion I found was a friend from high school who was applying to become a physical therapist.  We were both used to having to defend our career choice; each of us had the experience of people asking, “But why don’t you want to be a doctor?”  With that off the table, we were able to get into the details of what we were excited about, what we were unsure about, and why we were going into our chosen fields.  A supportive environment makes the rough parts a little smoother.

Reach out.  Really, really reach out.  It may be hard to find people to shadow or meet with.  I was able to shadow one of the PAs who worked with my aunt, but after that, I didn’t know how to find others.  The shadowing program set up through my university had plenty of alumni who were doctors, but not a single PA.  Desperate for more contact, I emailed the state physician assistant association and asked for help.  Not long after, a representative emailed me a list of PAs who would be willing to take me on for a day.  I attended a program for emergency medical technicians to shadow emergency room physicians, and when the doctor found out I was applying to PA school, he found me one of his PA colleagues to work with instead.  Take every opportunity, and do everything you can to create them.

Don’t be afraid of nontraditional resources.  There was no organization for pre-PA students at my university, so I went to a few meetings of the fledgling pre-nursing group to figure out where I could take my prerequisite courses. There wasn’t a lot of information relevant to me, but there was enough to get me started.  And just as there are study guides for every possible standardized test, there are “how to get into school” books for nearly every career.  Working from those books and scanning over message boards ultimately got me all the information I needed to put together a successful application.

Mariah Swiech Henderson is a first-year student in Northeastern’s Physician Assistant Studies program. She can be reached at with any questions about working in healthcare and applying to/attending PA school.

Preliminary Thoughts on Graduate School


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.

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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.