June 1, 2017

Tips for Graduate School

College was a cultural, social and academic shift from high school. Now, graduate school is another huge change; most people who’ve been through it will tell you that it’s a lot of work and not as much play. If you know what to expect and how to manage it, though, grad school will be a rewarding and beneficial experience.

First of all, the work load may shock you. You can almost consider graduate school like your full-time job—and then some. So don’t expect to have the kind of social life you might have had in college. It’s helpful to remind yourself that you’re studying what you love, or at least what will get you where you want to go in your career. It’s also good to give yourself a break: Chances are, the amount of reading you’re asked to do isn’t humanly possible. So get done what needs to get done, skim the rest and take solace in the fact that everyone else is in the same stressful boat.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, seek out help. You were accepted to grad school, so you’re smart and have good study habits, but this is different, so don’t go it alone. Talk to your professors if you feel confused, stuck or even inspired. They’ll appreciate you showing initiative. Also, while graduate school doesn’t have as much built-in guidance as undergrad does, it should still have resources that can help with things like time management, prepareing for nerve-racking oral presentations or even making friends.

Which brings us to: Make friends in grad school. You’ll always have your Alpha Phi sisters, but if they’re not with you in this chapter of your life, branch out a little. Hit the gym—it might alleviate some stress and help you sleep well too—join a campus service club or simply study with your classmates. Even if you prefer to study alone, take part in study groups now and then, as these people are your comrades through school challenges and celebrations. 

Besides exercising, remember to eat well. You do yourself no favors by living on coffee and Red Bull. Remember what your mother told you and fuel up for the day with a healthy, protein-heavy breakfast and drink lots of water. Resist going out and ordering in, as you’ll probably spend too much and eat poorly. Instead, grab those newfound friends and cook together. Or at least make your own, healthy meals. You’ll kick yourself if you work so hard only to be down for the count when you get sick.

Another important part of grad school is the connections you’ll make. Talk to your professors because they are probably some of the big wigs in your field. They have the knowledge you need, and they also may have the power to help you get a job.

Speaking of getting a job, it’ll help the process if you start early on to organize the work you complete in graduate school. Other than your thesis (which goes without saying should be organized), consider making folders for any academic papers, studies or research you do.

In the end, graduate school can boost knowledge, earning potential and your career in general, but it’s up to you to graduate with more than just a degree.

How to Write a Graduate School Admissions Essay

What do a surgeon, a lawyer and a professor have in common? They all had to write a personal statement, or essay, for their graduate school application. The graduate school essay can be incredibly stressful, but here are a few tips to make it more manageable.

Talk to people who are in your prospective program:
Connect with university alumni and your Alpha Phi network. They can give you writing samples and advice regarding your essay’s content, and put you in contact with professors that teach at your dream school and might even edit your essay. The possibilities are endless.

You’re smart, so show it: Write about your fridge-worthy research paper, or discuss what you learned in the lab that you practically slept in while running all those experiments. Describe your mentors and how they influenced your academic career. Talk about the moment you knew that you had to go to graduate school. Don’t be shy about discussing your academic achievements. You are trying to convince a graduate program that your intellect would be beneficial to their program.

Add some spice to your essay:
By adding colorful details, you will maintain your reader’s interest. Feel free to incorporate your ethnic, religious or cultural background. This will allow the admissions committee to fully understand your individuality and any obstacles you have encountered. In addition, tie in your other passions and hobbies with your motivations for attending graduate school. For example, I incorporated my lifelong dream of becoming a batboy for a baseball team into the reasons why I wanted to study gender inequity within religious institutions. If you decide to take this route, make sure that all details relate back to your thesis.

Edit, Edit Edit: The graduate admissions process has no room for typos. Ask professors, your friend who has memorized Strunk & White and your parents to read over your essay. Remove any details that are superfluous to your argument. At times, graduate school essays can have too much information; try to find a balance between academics and your personality. Each school should have a personalized essay. Your reasons for attending University X will vary from your reasons for attending University Y; let your essay reflect that.

Above all, do not underestimate your academic prowess! Be confident about your abilities. If you are excited by the prospect of pursuing a subject that interests you, it will show in your essay. Have fun with this process, plan ahead and give yourself plenty of time to review your essay. Good luck!

This article was originally published in the “Collegiate Perspectives” blog in 2011 by Devin Denny (Theta Kappa-Rochester).

Funding Grad School

Funding Graduate School
You decided what you want to be when you grow up, and it requires more schooling than your four-year undergraduate degree. Which also means more money. Have no fear, there are ways to fund your dream.

What does the school offer?
First check the school you’re considering. It probably offers some scholarships, fellowships, work opportunities and other funding options. Many universities have financial aid offices that specifically help with these sorts of questions, but you can also contact your specific department of interest, as they may know of other money sources. Talk with some current students to find out how they’re making ends meet. Tip: The earlier you submit your school application, the more chances you have for school-provided money.

Federal and state aid
For many graduate students, their funds come from submitting that multi-page FAFSA (free application for federal student aid). Unlike for undergrad, you’re now considered independent from your parents, so you won’t need all their financial details, just your own. The good news is that for graduate school, the initial loans are often larger than for undergraduate loans; bad news is that the interest rates are usually higher, and they start calculating right away. Look to state-specific aid, as well, and know that sometimes a state extends its reach to neighboring states.

Fellowships are coveted awards that bear names like Rhodes and Fulbright and might include a tuition waiver, travel, stipend for independent research or other bonus. Of course, they’re highly competitive and typically take into account academic achievement, as well as character. Besides the big-name fellowships, many universities have their own.

You’ll have to work for your money with an assistantship—for instance, helping a faculty member with research, teaching a class or providing administrative duties—but you’ll get work experience and probably a great reference upon graduating. Just be prepared for the stress and time constraints that working will add to your schedule.

Private loans
While private loans typically come with a higher interest than state or federal loans, they’re often a good last resort.

Related work
If nothing else, you can earn some money by working outside of your class time in a related capacity, such as teaching at a nearby community college or writing for trade journals.

Sites that provide a listing or links to graduate school funding options and information: scholarships.com, fastweb.com, edvisors.com and gradschools.com, which has a financial aid section.

Applying to Grad School

Applying for Grad School
If you’re headed to graduate school in the fall, then you’ve already done this part (congrats!). But maybe you’re planning to attend graduate school and still considering your options or wanted to get some work experience first. In any case, it’s not too early to get the ball rolling in terms of your application.

Talk to Your Teachers
Before you graduate, find time to chat to your teachers about which graduate school programs they’d suggest for you. Request information from the schools, and then ask your teachers if they’d be willing to write you a letter of recommendation. Chances are, you’ll need two or more for an application. You’ll also need school transcripts, so keep that in mind; you might not be able to get them before you graduate, but you could find out how to request them.

Tackle the Exams
Find out which exam is required by the graduate schools for your field of interest—and what score you should aim for to be in serious contention for acceptance. Most graduate schools require the GRE, but if you’re considering law school, you’d go for an LSAT, medical school requires the MCAT and business school, usually a GMAT. It’s a good idea to enroll in a test prep course to fully prepare—the sooner the better—but know that you can typically retake an exam within the same year.

Draft Your Personal Statement
For college applications, the essay was your beast to tame; for graduate school, it’s a little bigger, because you’ll need to not only recap your academic career, but indicate why you will make a good addition to their program. The trick is, to tell a story—the story of you—but give them all the information they need at the same time. Get more tips in “How to Write a Graduate School Admission Essay.”

Gather Samples of Your Work
Depending on the type of graduate school you’re applying to, samples mean different things: an art portfolio, research results, published papers, etc. Whatever it is, take care to present it in an appealing, comprehensible way. Whatever you do to make it easier for the admissions committee to receive, understand and, hopefully, enjoy your submission, works in your favor.

Check the Instructions
Each graduate school may have slightly different requirements and requests. Be sure you understand and follow the directions for each one. Failing to do so not only shows a lack of respect for the process, but it makes you look lazy and may kick you out of the running entirely. For example, maybe one school wants 1,000 words for a personal statement, while another one says 500 max, but you send them both 1,000. It will only take a second for the admissions office to put your application in the “doesn’t follow instructions” pile.

Cross Your Ts

No point in rushing to send something if it’s not done well. Give yourself enough time to complete your application and then have time to go back and edit and proofread. An admissions committee might not notice that you’ve polished to perfection, but they’ll notice if you don