| By Nora Fogarty |
Until a few years ago, I’d never even considered going to graduate school. It seemed excessive, wasteful. Why would I want to spend another few years in school, paying out of pocket all the way, for a degree I probably wouldn’t need? No, I didn’t want to go to graduate school.
A lot of this sentiment stemmed from my own stubborn insistence that I knew exactly what I was going to do “when I grew up.” I’d always loved reading, and writing silly little poems and short stories, and my childhood bookshelves were packed full of thick fantasy and historical fiction tomes. There was no doubt in my mind that I would get an English degree in undergrad and then go write fiction for a living. Never did the thought of changing my plans occur to me.
During my first year at the University of Portland, I began to experience an uncomfortable sort of revelation. I still loved to read, and the literary analysis in my first English class was definitely interesting, if not always the most scintillating of pastimes, but I also had the opportunity to take core classes in a wide range of subjects, from Psychology to Public Speaking to Sociology, and I had started to realize that my previous certainty wasn’t so concrete anymore.
Fast forward to senior year, and I’m now in the process of applying to graduate school. Go figure, right? But later my freshman year, I’d heard about a program in New York that blended my love for writing and the English language with other skills and interests, and I discovered that I wanted to learn enough about it to become an expert in the field.
(That’s one of the reasons to go to graduate school cited in a USAToday article – a desire to be an expert in a subject or field.)
Getting started on an application for the program was an interesting process, if ‘interesting’ can be casually redefined to mean ‘a series of stop-start motions, often executed with great confusion.’
Let’s face it: there may be a lot of information out there about what to do, but applying to grad school is still a scary, oftentimes Herculean process. Where do I even begin? Who do I need to talk to? I can’t email the faculty! That’s way too fast! These were all thoughts bouncing around my head over the summer.
In terms of starting the process, it’s generally best to sit down and think critically about why you should or shouldn’t consider going to graduate school. You can see our blog post from earlier this week, “Is graduate school the right decision for you?” for more tips on how to make this decision.
Once I had decided that it would be worthwhile for me to go to grad school, and I had a specific program in mind, it was time to get started, and there’s no better place to begin than with deciding who you want to write your recommendation letters.
There are a lot of sources and articles floating around about how to decide who will write your letters. I first emailed the two individuals I felt would be able to write strong letters for me –both happened to be professors with whom I’d taken multiple classes, and who I thought knew me well enough to speak to my skills as a student – in late August, during the first week of fall semester. This may be on the earlier end of the usual window, but the program I wanted to apply for operates on rolling admissions, so I knew that my application would have to be submitted earlier than most to have a good chance of getting in. It’s a solid idea to check deadlines for application, and then email or request recommendations several months prior. Many professors are very busy, and it’s respectful to ask with enough time in advance that they don’t feel pressured or rushed, and can actually write a strong letter.
While my program doesn’t require the GRE, many graduate studies programs do. You can check out places and times to take this admissions test by going to this website. There is a fee for taking the test, so do take that into account.
As for where I stand right now, I’m knee deep in personal statement revisions and curriculum vitae planning, slogging towards the seemingly-distant date when I need to submit my application. It has been a daunting process, or it was initially, but I do feel much better now that I’ve had time to do research, speak with the Career Center about my specific apps, and sit down to consider my goals and plans. The purpose of this blog post isn’t just to babble about where I am in the process, but to also hopefully encourage anyone else who is thinking about applying, but isn’t sure where to start. The Career Center offers a variety of resources both online and at the front desk – stop by and pick some up, or print off the Grad School Handout, linked here.