Grad School: Researching, Applying, & Funding - Oh My!

Since my Junior year is over, I am officially a Senior. Everyone tends to same thing, but it really does seem to fly by. I knew it was creeping closer as my friends graduated each year, but I never thought it would actually happen. I'll be spending my last summer as a college student in DC for an internship with the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, which I am beyond excited for. While I'm there, I'll also have to get started on my grad school and scholarship applications and essays. Although this part of the process is generally considered a burden, I honestly enjoy it. Even more, I've enjoyed the whole process of finding the right schools for me to apply to. Hopefully, you feel a little bit better about the process after reading this article. 

To Go or Not to Go?

The first thing you have to decide is if grad school even makes sense for you. For some career paths, it's an absolute necessity. However, there are some fields that prefer experience over education. Talk to professors that work or have worked in your field. Try to talk to recent grads in your major or even find relevant threads on the internet. For me, I was interested in grad school, but not interested in paying for grad school. If the same rings true for you, you should put extra effort into your research for programs and scholarships. 

If the Program Fits

If you decide you want to go to grad school, I recommend extensive research into schools and programs. Grad school isn't worth it if you can't find the right program. The "right program" could be a lot of different things. It could be a continuation of your undergrad degree or a transition into another related field. In my undergrad, I double major in English and Writing Arts, which are already related fields. I never considered going to grad school for English; I wasn't super interested in teaching and, even if I were, those jobs are extremely hard to get. When I was looking for programs, I was considering creative writing MFAs and MAs and publishing MAs. 

Basically, I started by checking different schools I was interested in for such programs. For example, I knew a lot of people attended Emerson's MA in publishing and found it really useful. Additionally, I would search lists of programs like "Best MFAs in the US." There, I could find schools I didn't necessarily now about. I also recommend having another chat with your professors. See if they know about any really great or really sketchy programs. In talking with one of my advisors, she recommend that I look into more Ivy League programs. Your list might get pretty big, but you're going to be cutting it down later. Also, you should generally be applying to more graduate schools than you applied to undergrad since it's more competitive. 

When narrowing down your programs, there are a lot of factors you should keep in mind. These can be different for everyone, but there will definitely be overlap. Major factors can be location, funding, and length of program. You want to find a place that works for you and certainly a price that works for you as well. 

Paying the Bill

For me, I took schools right off my list if I couldn't pay for them. In talking with professors and alumni friends, there was one general consensus: Don't go into debt for grad school. Some of them even said not to pay at all. Luckily, there are a lot of ways you can pay for grad school. Most schools offer fellowships and assistantships although those positions can be very competitive. If you do get one, your tuition is paid for and you even receive a small stipend for housing. In some cases, you'll be teaching as well as attending class yourself. Additionally, if you're already working for a company, they may even pay for your post-grad degree. 

Beyond the school itself and an employer, you can find many outside scholarships as well. Ultimately, I only have outside scholarships paired with grad schools abroad. Although extremely competitive, scholarships like the Fulbright and Marshall could pay for your studies. Head to your school's fellowship advisor to find out which ones fit you and your post-grad plans best. Keep in mind that these scholarships all have their own requirements and deadlines that you'll need to add to your calendar. 

Get Organized 

In your research, you're gathering a lot of information. Location, length of time, funding options... Once you start to add in deadlines and entry requirements, the list can be impossible to keep straight just in your head. Organize the information how ever you like. I put all of my information into a Google Sheet and OBVIOUSLY color-coded it. Each school with its basic info, requirements, and funding options is organized by deadline. As I start or complete requirements, I update the sheet. I like using an online form instead of physical so that I can share it with professors and advisors when meeting with them. 

Break It Down 

I know this can all be very overwhelming. Try to divide up the work so that you can do a little at a time. Over the summer, I've set multiple deadlines for myself to complete certain aspects of each application. I'm also factoring time for reviewing and editing so I can make sure everything is as strong as possible. If you like organization like I do, even this step of the process can be fun and makes your life much easier in the future. Keep in mind that some aspects of the application process will overlap; some of your essays could be reworked for multiple schools. 

I don't know if I'm ready to graduate from Rowan and move on. I don't even know if I'm ready to go to any of these schools I'm applying to. However, I do know that all these plans help me feel better. It gives me a little bit of control in a whirlwind of change that can make you feel small. By doing my researching and breaking down my application schedule, I'm preparing for something after I graduate -- whatever that might be. I know that I'll be ok and so will you.