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Guest Post: Applying to Grad School and What to Avoid

8 Jun

Hello friends! Today we have a guest post from my pal Chelsea, a 2010 Sociology/Chinese major who was determined to get her master’s, but the road to grad school was not as easy as she thought it would be.  Below she shares her story and some helpful advice.

I, unlike the vast majority of my classmates, took the GREs, finished my thesis, took my final exams, and wrote up all my grad school applications within the space of a month and looked forward to hearing back from schools.  Flash forward a few months: I got into my top school, accepted their offer without a second thought (after all, this was one of the top programs in the country and everyone told me how I would fit in so well there), and went to go and visit.

Grad school: rude.

When I went and met my prospective department, sat in on classes, and attempted to see where I would be for the next two years, I felt unwelcome, disturbed, and generally miserable at the prospect that my secure future had suddenly ceased to be so secure.  I had a door closed in my face, had my proffered hand of greeting ignored by a professor I wanted to work with and was instead asked “why are you here?”, was unchallenged in a top level class, and was told I was either not registered as a student or already had a large sum of money owed to the school despite having not started yet.  I was miserable and completely confused.

Here’s the interesting thing: I came back to my school, my friends, professors, etc and explained my predicament.  As I flew back across the country I had pretty much mentally settled on declining their offer, but wanted to get the opinions of my professors, family, and friends first, telling each of these people that I wanted to go and get my masters because of a love of learning on my part, not because of a need to get a certificate that would get me a high paying job in the long run.  My friends, all from liberal arts schools, looked horrified and told me not to go, why waste money, time, and energy on a program that I didn’t like and wouldn’t be challenged at.  This was my future, after all, and people always say don’t settle for important aspects of life, why should I settle for my education after years of hard work?  My professors and family, on the other hand, told me in short to suck it up for two years, it is a great program and will look great when I can put that on my resume. Plus, if it was as easy as I claimed, it would be an easy two years with a great GPA to show for it.  Grad school wasn’t undergrad: I wasn’t going to have the warm and cozy campus environment where professors and students share close relationships.

I learnt two main things from this experience: I love learning for learning’s sake. I don’t agree with everyone that told me to go just for the certificate and job I will get at the end, what’s the point?  I’m not going for the paycheck I will get later on, I am going to learn.  I have worked far too hard these last sixteen years to suddenly settle.  I am doing this for me, after all, may as well enjoy myself by means of being challenged and happy if I am going to go.  The job market currently isn’t the prettiest, but there are jobs available to me if I wanted to go that route right now, I just choose not to.

Second thing I learned: I didn’t know my goals in going to grad school when I applied. I initially applied to programs that mimicked or combined my joint majors of sociology and Chinese in college and expected it to be the same.  What I realized after that trip was that my goal really was to make my Chinese as good as it possibly can be and if I wanted that, I needed to get my butt over to China and work/live there.  Applying for grants or scholarships that would allow me to combine sociology as well would be one option or just living there and doing my own research, whether it be by free lance writing for city specific magazines when I am there, commenting from a foreigner’s point of view, or just keeping my own blog, would be ways as well.  Either way, I would be practicing my Chinese like I wanted.

China: She wants to go to there.

Another part of that second lesson was that I am now reconsidering which field I want to go into. So my main goal now is to make sure my Chinese is top notch, okay, cool.  That’s not an academic goal, so want do I want to do academically?  Everyone and every company is in China currently, I have the world of choices ahead of me.  Where are my interests?  What type of field could I combine many of my interests.  The smartest, most mature choice currently may be to not go to grad school next semester and just reapply in Fall, when I have my brain screwed on straight, my interests in order, and much, much more time to research all possible fields.  I just did what I thought I had to do last year and ended up in this predicament.  Clearly, that was not the smartest move and I can see why people don’t typically apply to grad school while they are still at school.  There simply is no time to do so and you end up screwing up because your head is in so many different places.

Here’s my advice for you liberal artists: if you are going to go to grad school for the same reasons I want to go, love of learning, need to be challenged, fear of the real world, etc make sure you know what you want to do.  You don’t want to end up in graduate school like I could have ended up and realize that field isn’t the field you want to be in, ending up with a ridiculous amount of debts and a lack of resume worthy experiences because you chose the education route rather than the job route.  Look outside the box of what you did in college. Realize that graduate schools tend to name things differently from each other, so while you normally wouldn’t look under one department’s heading for potential programs, you never know what you might find.  The perfect department may be hiding under a completely random title.  Lastly, just go with your gut.  I know some people who don’t think I am making the right decision, but I know this is what is best for me.  It just took a major disappointment for me to figure out what exactly I wanted.

So what’s next for Ms. Chelsea? Who the hell knows, check back for more updates!

-Sarah

Alumni Career Services: Tapping into What You May Have Missed as an Undergrad

7 Apr

"What, where are you taking me? No, what if I don't want to turn--stop yelling at me!!"

I tend to distrust things that promise guidance: my parents, my GPS, televangelists, etc.  Chalk it up to stubborn independence, a spirit of adventure, or fierce stupidity, but I seem determined to do things my own way, fail, and then come crawling back–defeated and disgruntled–to the experts for help.

The Career Services Office at my school was in a word, phenomenal.  So naturally, I walked passed the CSO building without giving it a second glance.  Although sometimes I would stop to gurgle at the family of kitties that lived under the stoop.  Because I love kitties, except sometimes they make me sneeze.

Anyway, I was way too wrapped in my thesis and music rehearsals to ever make it in to the CSO.  When you start to sacrifice REM cycles for extra research time, you’re just too busy to think about your future, much less actively do anything about it.  (Also, when you start to use the phrase REM cycle instead of sleep, you’ve gone insane from writing, but that’s neither here nor there.) Besides, I somehow believed I knew everything I needed to know about resumes, cover letters, interviewing, jobs, everything.  I’d done it before–once–so I was confident I’d be set to start the job hunt when I entered the real world.

HA.  If only I’d been more like my career-minded peers, who still made time to take advantage of all these great services while still on campus.

What I didn’t do while at school, I’ve absolutely made up for as an alum.  The CSO website is one of my Mozilla tags.  But holy crap you guys, do you know what the best part about the CSO is?  The CSO offers alumni advising. You can schedule a phone appointment with the designated counselor, and she’ll answer anything you throw at her. In my two sessions with Mary, we reviewed my resume and cover letter, and she answered some other questions that I had.  For example, I was all, “WTF is networking about?” To which she replied, “Only the best thing since Justin Bieber.”  Or something.  She was pretty adamant that I tap into the extensive Midd network.  (I’ll delve more into the networking phenomenon in a later post.)

Most schools offer career services of some kind to their alumni. These can range from online tips, complimentary coaching, to regional conferences.  Say you’re more of a seasoned alum whose looking to change gears, many schools also offer tips for those who are looking to switch careers.  I find this to be an absolutely incredible resource, and one that’s worth checking out.  You should probably click through the student section of the website and see what tidbits you can glean from there.

In short, you haven’t missed the boat on making the most of your college’s career services.  If you’re like me, you just may be a little late boarding it, or maybe you’re coming on for a second or third trip.  Either way, these folks are, as always, more than happy to help.