This past week, I officially accepted an offer to study at the University of Glasgow for a Master’s in information management and preservation. My decision comes after a long awaited process that involved a lot of questions and even more planning. Ultimately, I came to a decision in the middle of a Panera in Roanoke.
However, there are a few things that I wish I had known before applying to different graduate schools that I think are useful for others.
- Begin looking at programs during junior year
This is a major step in the right direction when considering graduate school. While I always knew that I wanted to continue my education, I hadn’t put too much thought into the larger parts — such as programs. While I had a general idea of what I wanted to do, I didn’t begin to fully decide where to apply until two months before the application deadline and, even then, I still changed programs last minute. This led to immense frustration and, take it from me, avoid the hassle by deciding early on where to apply.
- Have a list of your must-apply schools
Once you’ve decided, make a list of the schools to refer back to. Personally, I created a document that had all of the information I needed: program tracks, tuition, cost of living, scholarship opportunities and the like. For me, it was important to know what was most important about the school — especially if I’d be there between one to three years.
- Visit the schools
I cannot stress how important it is to visit your schools. Whether it’s before or after applying, find time in your schedule to visit the school and set up an appointment to speak to whoever is in charge of graduate applications. While I was visiting the University of Wisconsin, I didn’t set up any appointments and instantly regretted my decision because I missed out on a lot of information. That said, I made sure to find an appointment at the University of Pittsburgh and had a wonderful time seeing the campus. Alongside that, seeing the area is a great opportunity to know if you like the area. For me, I found that both areas are great to live in — but maybe not exactly what I’m looking for at this time of my life.
- Think about your long-term goals
Knowing what you want to do after graduate school can really impact your decision on the program. One of the best ways I did this was talking to current professionals and trying to figure out what I want to do with my life, which was more useful than you think. It allowed me to think about whether or not I wanted to go into the field of information. Another good point about this is to think about is to talk to others about what they wished they knew before going into their graduate program. Their answers can range anywhere from “I wish I finished my Master’s” to “I wish I had asked more questions.”
- When applying internationally, apply early
My biggest mistake was not applying early enough. While I still heard back from the schools within a few weeks, one program takes an additional six weeks to decide on scholarships — which I won’t hear back about scholarships until after the U.S. decision date passes. If you want to avoid my mistake and be fully informed of your decision, I highly recommend submitting all your applications around the same deadline. For me, this was mid-November because this was the first deadline.
- Make sure you have back-up references
If you think you can just use the same three resources, think again. The people you choose as references need to be dependable and accessible, which not everyone can be. So, I highly recommend having at least six different people you can ask for references because you never know what could happen. Also, pro tip: make sure you list a professor as your academic reference because your advisor won’t count as one for every school — so read the fine print.
- Use the writing center at your school
One thing that was a tremendous help for my Statement of Purpose was Virginia Tech’s center. I found that they were great at adding edits and offering useful insight on how to fix your writing. They’re also great if you want help to secure your CV or resume because those can be extremely tricky to perfect. Plus, the woman who edited my paper was super sweet and wished me the best of luck with my applications.
- Have faith
This will be the craziest time in your life. If you’re anything like me, you’ll spend hours agonizing over when you’ll hear back and when you’ll know of scholarships. Take the time to breathe and find ways to distract yourself from the waiting — and these distractions can literally be anything from classes to workouts to meditation to hanging out with friends. If you believe in yourself and give yourself the credit you deserve, it’ll be fine no matter the outcome.
Ultimately, applying to grad school is a terrifying yet exciting feat. Whether you get into every school or none, this is a process that will teach you new things about yourself and what your future looks like. Whatever the outcome, you’ll be ok.