As I embark on my senior year of undergraduate, I’ve had numerous decisions to make regarding my future: What did I want to do with my degree? Would I take a year off before pursuing grad school? Would I even go to grad school? In all honesty, tackling these questions can be overwhelming, especially as a first-generation college student. Some of us didn’t even expect to make it to graduation, nevermind go to college. Now we’re entertaining the idea of going to grad school? It’s a lot to take in. For myself, I always knew I wanted to pursue a doctorate and teach at the college level. Applications for programs begin to be due in December and January, which is something I knew going into my senior year. Deciding to go to grad school was already squared away, but as soon as I made the decision, I was left with one question unanswered; so, what happens now?
My first course of action consisted of looking for places to apply. If I was accepted into a doctoral program, I would be spending the next 5-7 years of my life at whatever place I chose to go. Such a commitment really led me to consider deeply where I wanted to apply and what I was looking for. I wanted a program that fostered diversity, had a faculty that shared common research interests to me and was located not too far from Rhode Island. As much as I wanted my Plan A to work out, which was getting into a doctoral program the first time around, I knew I had to devise a Plan B. Getting rejected from the doctoral programs meant I could either take a year off, gain experience and apply again, or choose to apply to master’s programs additionally to doctorate programs. Applying to master’s programs gave me the safety of not having to take a year off while also providing me with the academic experience to be a more competitive candidate in the doctoral application cycle.
Applying to any level of graduate school is a multi-step process that can quickly get away from you if you don’t plan it out early. Through this entire process, I have been lucky enough to work with a mentor who is currently a doctoral candidate at Brown University. Working with them has made the process more streamlined and has provided useful insight to the entire process. Obtaining this mentorship was actually easier than I thought, basically consisting of me emailing current Brown doctoral candidates and waiting for a response. After discussing my goals and wants with my mentor, we were able to create a list of a few schools that I should apply to. From there, I wrote down the faculty members from each school that I wanted to work with, each program’s application deadline, and what each application needed. Just about all of the applications will require 2-3 letters of recommendation, transcripts, a personal statement, a writing sample and a resume/CV.
Balancing school, work, writing my senior paper and applications proved to be much more of a challenging feat than I gave it credit for. Time management has never been my style; I usually procrastinate until the last minute to get anything done. Whoever said “old habits die hard” truly meant it because wow, they do. Even though it took me a while to accept, my mentor advised me to follow sub-deadlines for the applications. For example, I was tasked to have the basic information filled out in each application before Oct. 31. Breaking down the beast that is grad applications made it easier to visualize and implement into my already busy schedule. My next task with applications is to write my personal statement so I can send it to my letter of recommendation writers. Handing in a personal statement to each person you ask to write allows them to get a sense of who you are, what you want to study and how you fit into the programs you’re applying to.
The application process is going to look different for everyone, but there’s a vast range of resources available to guide you through your specific application process. To start, look at the school’s application page. Usually, this page is a treasure trove of information: what they want, don’t want, what other applicants have done in the past. I’ve found that the criteria for personal statements varies from school to school, meaning you’ll have to tweak your statement according to each program. There’s no doubt that this process is long and stressful, but it’s also a nice chance to sit down with yourself and reflect on how far you’ve come. During this time I’ve taken the chance to sit down with myself and go on a journey of self discovery, asking myself what I want to do in the future and how I see myself doing it. Regardless of what you decide, you should always be proud of yourself.