With registration in full swing, students are encouraged to think about their plans after graduation. One option many students consider is attending graduate school to get a Master’s degree and sometimes continue on to get their PhD. Continuing your education post-undergrad is a big decision, and it’s important to know all the factors that weigh into this choice. On Wed. Nov. 7, the English Department hosted a Grad School Panel where Drs. Snyder, Spain-Savage, and Dearing shared their own graduate school experiences and gave advice to prospective students. They primarily talked about their experience in grad school for English, but the advice they shared can largely be applied to any grad school program. Dr. Snyder explained the panel intended to “demystify” the process of applying to graduate school.
Dr. Spain-Savage talked about the importance of deadlines in graduate school, emphasizing that it is nothing like the undergraduate workload. In grad school, you impose your own deadlines, she explained, which is one of the reasons why not all graduates complete a dissertation. Unlike the strict schedules of undergrad, graduate school grants you the freedom to set your own deadlines, which can be troubling to students who struggle with time management or self-motivation. Dr. Spain-Savage also commented on the importance of finding a program that fosters and supports your area of specialization. Dr. Snyder shared his personal experience with grad school. He said, “You never feel smarter than when you’re in grad school.” Dr. Snyder emphasized the importance of doing research in the grad school search to find out where the funding is, showing that it is possible to get your Master’s and even your PhD and not have to pay for it. Dr. Dearing, fresh out of grad school last May, discussed the importance of knowing what to expect when continuing your education. She emphasized that graduate school is “not undergrad part two,” but schooling at another level. The panelists then shared their advice on applying for and attending graduate school. Another important part of applying for grad school is the application itself. Applicants usually need a certain number of letters of recommendation. Dr. Snyder emphasized the importance of asking your professors early for these letters and providing them with information to help write your letter of recommendation, like a resume, a personal statement, and a writing sample. Similarly, letters of recommendation should show different sides of you and your personality to reflect how you will fit into a particular program. Talking to current grad students is a great way to fully understand the experience. Because they are currently enrolled in programs, they will be honest and realistic about what grad school is really like. Similarly, ask graduate students what they’re doing once they graduate to get an idea of available jobs and realistic goals to set. Another helpful tip is to reach out to the department of a graduate school you’re interested in and ask to be put in contact with a graduate student.
One big concern for undergrads looking towards grad school is the debt. After finishing undergrad, most students have to begin working off their debt from student loans. All three panelists emphasized the importance of finding programs that will help fund you or at least help you pay for the process. The takeaway? Research, research, research before applying to a program. Research can find you funding to help pay for your education and place you in an academic environment you thrive in. “You have to stay true to what you love,” Dr. Spain-Savage said. Graduate school can be a great opportunity for undergrad students to reach their potential and find themselves in the process. The panelists emphasized to not be afraid to go somewhere new, especially when you’re young. “It’s fun to live somewhere you’re not staying,” Dr. Snyder said.
Grad school is a big decision with many deciding factors and it is not for everyone. It is important to be well-informed about the goals, challenges, and benefits of attending graduate school. If grad school is something you’re considering or even just starting to think about, reach out to your professors, especially those working in your field of interest. They are great resources and are almost always willing to share their own education experience with students. Your academic advisor is also a great resource if you have questions about graduate school. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, reach out, and research the process!