As students, we are often concerned with our current assignments, campus events, or studying for a test at the end of the week. When I’m tangled up with today and tomorrow’s academic matters, I find myself feeling overwhelmed and listless while wondering if this degree is really what I want to do; I have to remind myself that this is one more phase of life that I must accomplish and pass through so that I can do what I desire.
Before becoming a graduate student, it is important to remember that undergrad is not the end, and it does not define who you are as a person – and especially not who you are as a student.
If you’re thinking about grad school, then please consider all avenues that accompany it. Only you know what’s best for yourself and if a graduate program is meant for you. If you’re confident about doing a graduate program, then congrats! School is hard and continuing this path is very impressive.
Things to Know:
As someone preparing to pursue an education beyond my bachelor’s, I want to share some information that I found useful as well as things I wish I knew prior to applying to J.D. programs. First, higher education is a major time commitment. Being able to manage your time properly and establish a schedule that works for you is one of the chief foundational steps to being a successful student. Take the time in your undergraduate years to learn your workflow. Now that I’m finalizing my second degree and preparing for my third, I wish I would have paid attention to how I actually get into the groove and solidify my focus on my assignments; I’ve had to learn the hard way that I need a separate space – actually a separate room – so that I can mentally detach my academics from my comforts (especially after Quarantine encouraged me to stay in bed to do my homework).
Furthering your education can be costly. I was surprised by the yearly rates of some graduate programs. It’s very important to research the monetary aspect of any universities and programs you’re interested in, because it might change your plans for when and where you apply. Personally, I’ve had to reconsider my commitment to certain universities based on the cost of their tuition – though, I would suggest that you consider plenty of other factors before turning away from a program based solely on the cost.
If you’re worried about community and how to survive through your graduate plans, remember that many people are (or were) in the same position you are in now. Several graduate programs and higher education universities have mentors and academic support built into their academics to reduce loneliness, confusion, and becoming overwhelmed. Prior to attending, it could be beneficial to reach out to alumni, social media groups, and your family to ask for an extra helping hand.
If you’re still undecided about going into the “real”, “adult” world, graduate school can prolong your time outside of that harsh reality before you have to become a productive, working member of society. In exchange for that protection from settling down into the adult world, you might have to trade some things: time to discover yourself as a person, free time to enjoy doing nothing, continued uncertainty of the continually evolving job market, possibly postponing milestones in life that you want to meet, making more of your own money, or the bright light in your soul that drives you.
Being a graduate student is not just a pathway to making more money in sought-after career field, nor is it a simple way to avoid obligations (student loans, taxes, homeowning, working) so that you can bide your time until you figure things out. You need to be knowledgeable about grad school and the many things that come before and after it.
- Know why you want to continue your higher education. Is this a pre-requisite to a certain career or is it generally preferred for your field? Is it expected of you by others or do you want to push off life for a couple more years?
- Discover the programs and universities that interest you. Are they local to the state or did a family member attend so you want to continue that legacy? Does one university have a spectacular graduate program in your field or are you aiming for somewhere you think will accept you based on your merits?
- Plan to apply early for graduate programs/degrees. Several universities fill their student body by the end of early admission, so it is important to be prepared in advance. This means you should look into testing, if necessary, and applying a year in advance of any deadlines you wish to make.
- Have your ducks in a row: take any preliminary tests (LSAT, GMAT, GRE, MCAT, etc.), secure all transcripts, send your letters of recommendation at least a month prior to needing them, update your résumé, and save a copy of all your application essays (pro tip: many application essays have similar prompts so you can use the general idea and resubmit once you have adjusted your essay for each particular university/ program).
- Expect to apply to multiple places. Apply to some safe options that you shouldn’t have any trouble attending, other places that you meet the criteria for, and to two places that you feel are out of reach. Remember that sometimes application fees are waived and other times they are not, so you may have to prepare for that added cost. From my own experience of applying, I have seen application fees from $0 – $85.
- Research the normal routine and housing costs of the areas you are applying to. Though a graduate degree itself may not be too much for you to afford, it is relevant to factor in the cost of simply living somewhere. I just thought about moving to Dallas for my next degree and felt $0.02 escape my bank account.
Going Beyond My Bachlor’s:
I was fortunate enough to watch my older sibling pursue a graduate degree and learn from their mistakes and missed opportunities. One of my major goals in approaching an even higher education was to make sure that I was prepared enough to do it right the first time. I was also well aware of the necessity of pursuing a J.D. to become an attorney and judge, so I luckily didn’t have to consider if law school was right for me – it had to be so I could work in the career I dreamed of!
What I learned from watching my sibling was that timing was key. As a first-year law student applicant, I prepared 2 years in advance of when I planned to apply for law school. Though this may seem like too much time, it almost wasn’t enough: application deadlines for the next academic year close as early as November and December of the year prior, but I had to make sure I had enough time to study for the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) and have my scores returned to decide if I wished to study and take the LSAT again to get higher score. It takes several months to study, five weeks to schedule the LSAT, one day to test, and three weeks to receive a score back.
The next step I took was to ask for my letters of recommendation two months before I needed them. A precursor to this is establishing good relationships with professors, teaching assistants, advisors, and even my boss! In my mind, it was better to have spare letters than have to spare my application window to convince just one more person to write for me.
As I’m prepared to apply, I am seriously considering any of the universities I want to study at. I have to account for the cost of attendance as well as the cost of travel and living in a new area on top of the financial aid that may or may not be offered to me based on the academic merits of my undergraduate performance. I recently was faced with application fees that were much higher than I anticipated, which changed the list of schools I was applying to since I’m not made of money.
Some things that changed the way I prepared for an education beyond my bachelor’s were my own academics: my GPA, scores, personal statements, and transcripts grounded me in reality rather than expecting myself to be the next Elle Woods. Other things that changed my preparation were the merits of the universities and programs I looked into: rank, rapport, student body, programs, specialties, acceptance rates, graduation rates, availability of financial aid, and even the number of professors!