I entered my senior year with no real idea about what I was going to do after graduation. My head was full of ideas ranging from joining the Peace Corps to falling off the grid entirely to avoid student debt. When I went home for Thanksgiving my family asked me what my plans were approximately 500 times, and after a complete emotional meltdown, I decided to go to grad school. Because I made this decision in late November, I only had three weeks to find schools, fill out applications, get letters of recommendation, and take the GRE, all while trying to finish my final papers of an 18-credit senior semester. (I would definitely NOT recommend following that timeline). By some miracle, I got four applications completely submitted before their due dates.
Fast forward five months, and I have been accepted by all four schools, and will be attending Ohio University’s Master of International Development Studies program in the fall. So, if you’re thinking about attending grad school at any point in your life, I’ve got you covered. (But in reality, go talk to Talent and Careers. They’re main reason I was able to do any of this). Here are a few tips and thoughts to get you through the process.
1) Start early. Schools don’t start accepting applications until your senior year, but start researching junior year about certain schools and programs. Some programs also have required prerequisite courses for admission, so planning ahead is key.
2) Talk to your professors, advisors, and others that have studied at the graduate level in your field. They are great at giving recommendations on choosing schools, what kind of workload to expect, and how to maximize your opportunities.
3) Think hard about who will write your recommendation letters. Letters of recommendation are crucial, so don’t pick someone because of their position or title, but choose a recommender who can speak to your academic performance, character, and interests.
4) Take a practice GRE. There are several free practice exams online, and this allows you to see what areas you need to strengthen before taking the real test. Additionally, some schools do not require GRE scores, so if you are not a good test-taker, do not fear.
5) Beef up your resume. Take on internships, volunteer experiences, and classes that are relevant to your interests in your field, both to gain experience and to solidify whether or not you want to work in the field. Contact Talent and Careers for resume help as well.
6) Think hard about the money. We all know Eastern is not a cheap school, so adding grad school tuition on top of student loans could be a burden. Many masters degree programs do not offer substantial scholarships, so contact department representatives at each school to inquire about their aid packages and potential outside funding sources.
7) Don’t be afraid to take a gap year. I decided against this for financial reasons, but often times the break from constant schoolwork and stress can be excellent for mental health. The opportunity to strengthen your savings account and life experiences are also priceless ways to prepare for continuing your education.
8) Breathe. Senior year is an incredibly stressful time for anyone, so remember to practice self-care, drink water, and (try) to get sleep. Grad school is stressful, so lean on your support system and never be afraid to ask for help.