What Am I Going To Do When I Grow Up?

Archive for the ‘graduation’ Category

When looking for specific graduate programs, students frequently ask me about college rankings.

Of course, you can turn to resources like US News & World Report College Rankings if you just want some ideas of programs that might be worth looking at.   However, much has been written about the issues with these rankings.  I’ll sum it up this way:

  • These rankings often look at the entire university or college and often do not address the specific strength or weakness of a programs like music, law, or pharmacy within the university.
  • Even when the rankings break down to department, program, or school, rankings do not speak to specific strengths or weakness of specializations within a field.  For example, a top ranked law program may not actually focus or offer much on entertainment law.  Or, a well-ranked English program might not do much in the area of Post-Modern literature.  Even though a program is “good” doesn’t mean their focus matches your interests.   Every program has to make choices about what they want to be known for and they can’t be good at everything no matter how big the program is.
  • Rankings capture what people in the past think or report in response to cryptic questions.  Rankings do not speak to where a program may go in the future.  They can be a good indicator of central funding or on going support, but if the only faculty member teaching music cognition leaves the program and that’s what you came to study… well, it doesn’t bode well for your future studies in the program.

So, how can you do good research into programs?  Well, start by reading my previous posts on graduate schools.  Then, a next great step is to regularly read The Chronicle.  You can see trends in programs.  You can look at the facts and figures available regarding salary and opportunities.  And, you can ask questions in the forum.

There are many such resources along the way.  Use them all.  It’s a process and great research on the path to well-thought out decisions doesn’t happen over night.  Research and uncertainty are just part of the gig and are deeply understandable.  Anyone considering graduate school at moments gets overwhelmed, frustrated, and annoyed.   So, one thing you can do for yourself is to connect with others who are in the same place.  Sharing resources and experiences can be very helpful .  It provides support and a good catalyst for making progress.

Sending fabulous energy!

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If you are thinking about going to graduate school, you may  have wondered about staying at your undergrad school for grad school.   It’s a deeply understandable idea, especially if you really like the subject, the school, and already have a place to live and lots of friends.  Yet, it’s often a very good idea to broaden your horizons.

Depending on your program and field there may be certain conventions specific to your field, so a great place to start is with talking with the faculty and graduate students in your program.  Certain programs strongly discourage or even flat out refuse to accept undergrads from their own program.  Other programs strongly encourage their applicants from their own undergrad program.  So, what gives?  How do you make sense of this?

Well, it might be helpful to first outline some of the key elements of a graduate program:

1) Graduate school is professional training that provides focus and direction for your career.

2) Graduate school provides grounding in key philosophies and practices within a field.

3) Graduate school provides a network at the school and access to professional networking through faculty, conferences, symposium, research, practicums, internships, residencies, and other experience designed to connect you with those in the field.

So, with these 3 key elements in mind, consider the following: no matter how wonderful your undergraduate program is, attending a different program for graduate schools gives you the opportunity to broaden your exposure to training in your field, acquaints you with more philosophies or approaches in your discipline, and of course widens the number of people in your network.    Perhaps that helps explain why some programs make policies that encourage you to look elsewhere for graduate school?

Yet, in certain cases staying at the same school might be the convention in your discipline.  For example, because K-12 licensure or certification is state-by-state, the convention has been to stay local when going to graduate school for education.  There may even be curricular and other encouragement to start undergrad in some kind of pre-education program that provides early or guaranteed entrance to graduate school.   That makes a great deal of sense given the way education is currently governed.

Yet, for most fields, you are likely to find it’s more the norm to look for programs across the country that are a good fit for the exact training, experience, and networking you desire.   This is particularly true if you are a competitive candidate for a number of program.  Often people regard their home school as a “safety net” program.   This is because a place where you are already known, liked, and succeeding isn’t regarded as stretching to the next level of what you can handle.   Making connections from where you are to where you’d be a great candidate is a lot more challenging and presents an opportunity for you really learn, grow, and integrate yourself into the field.

One element that many people find very surprising is that when looking at graduate programs that they are NOT limited to programs that are an exact match to their undergraduate studies.  Here are a couple of examples:

  • You might have an undergraduate major in English, but get an MBA.
  • You might have a film studies major and go on in Public Policy and Administration.
  • You might have a music degree and go on to a graduate program in Psychology.
  • You might have an business degree but then go to law school.
  • You might have an art degree but go to medical school.
  • You might have a biology major and get accepted into a Public Health program.
  • You might have an engineering degree but go on to study environmental design.

There are literally hundreds of examples I could give you of students who studied one thing as an undergraduate and successfully went on to graduate or professional school in another area.  So, how could that be?

Well, for some programs like medical school or related health professions, you need specific classes and experiences to get accepted.  Some students have these classes and most find they may need a few additional classes to meet these application prerequisites.    At the same time, what surprises many is that they didn’t need a specific degree in chemistry or biology to go to medical school.  They needed a core set of science classes, and very importantly, a compelling story of good fit for the medical program.

Yet in other cases, a minor or a core set of classes that may have been part of the general education curriculum may be sufficient academic preparation for entry into a graduate program.   You will need to research specific programs to see what courses, experience, scores, recommendations, or other evidence they require to evaluate your application.    For many students they are able to plan these courses into their general education.  For other students, it may require additional studies prior to graduate application.

The key is to broaden your horizon as early on as possible: look beyond your current school or even your current major to find the best graduate program for you.  Knowing what you want from a program is a good start.  Then, researching what is out there.  It’s a process.  Start from where you are.  There are many resources to assist you on your path. Use them all.

Sending fabulous energy!

Not sure if you should stay in school and plan for graduate school or graduate into a weak job market?

It’s admittedly an understandable strategy.  School is what you know.  Sure, you might be tired of it, but often people find that what is known and unpleasant is preferred to that which is unknown and therefore scary.

At the same time, graduate school is a major investment in specializing within a discipline or field and typically provides very specific training and research opportunities.   Grad school is best engaged in consciously, deliberately chosen and part of a genuine career plan…it’s really not a  place to hide out or avoid the question of what you are truly going to do in life.

There are really many paths to graduate school and that’s really important to remember.  It is NOT crucial to go directly to graduate school after college.  In fact, depending on the program, taking time between college and graduate school to work, travel, volunteer, and gain experience in life, ranges from improving acceptance rates to actually being required.

There are basically 2 schools of thought on this issue:

  1. Many people argue that taking time off of school puts you are risk of never going back to graduate school and you should go while you have the school momentum going for you.  Additionally, some career fields cannot be entered unless you’ve earned a graduate degree.    Of course, if the ONLY reason you are going forward to graduate school is inertia, it’s unlikely to be a successful and rewarding experience.   Weigh out the costs/benefits carefully.  Graduate school is very expensive and a huge professional investment.  Of course, there are also inarguable benefits to graduate degrees and the career fields they open access to.
  2. Others argue that taking time off between degrees allows people to grow, gain experience, and avoid school burnout or fatigue.  Additionally, some graduate programs actually require that people gain work experience or  do post-baccalaureate travels or internships in order to be competitive for their programs.   Many people who choose to apply to graduate programs later in life make more conscious choices about programs, research them more completely, and find the program to be a more rewarding experience, personally and professionally.  This is not always the case.

So what might you do?  Well, start with thinking about the following:

  • Why are you thinking about graduate school?   If you are going because you don’t know what else to do in life, don’t go until you are really clear on why you are going and how it will translate into a career.  Just a vague feeling that graduate school might be helpful for you is not enough.  If you are on a mission and this graduate program fulfills a particular goal in a larger career plan that has been realistically and fully researched, then graduate school is likely part of a good path for you.
  • How motivated do you feel about school right now?  On a scale of 1-10, where do you fall?
    • If going to school, leaves you moaning and groaning and wishing for something else, than put grad school planning on hold right now.  Choose career planning instead.  If at a later time graduate school is something that is part of a well-thought career plan, you will be motivated to go back.
    • If the opportunity to study, discuss, write, research, and work-harder-longer- hours-than-you-ever-have-imagined-working-in-your-life on a life quest makes your eyes shine bright, then graduate school might be heaven for you.

So, if you aren’t sure about whether or not you want to go to graduate school, that’s wonderful.  It’s good to ask questions.  To not question your decisions at all isn’t good planning.  It’s bullheaded and likely to lead to ill-conceived plans of all sorts.  Questioning leads to better answers.  Better answers leads to better decisions.

If it’s helpful, I question my career decisions all the time.  It’s when I can’t find answers that I know I need to do more research.  The issue isn’t questioning, it’s not questioning when it comes to great research.  And great research is really what graduate programs are about.   So, start asking great questions of yourself and those that can help illuminate the way.  Enjoy the process…

Sending fabulous energy!

Perhaps you’ve already applied to graduate school and are nervously awaiting the response?  Or perhaps you’re a recent graduate frustrated in the job search and find your thoughts keep turning to graduate school?  Or perhaps you’re stuck in a job and think that perhaps a graduate degree would help you move to the next level of your career?  Or perhaps you are an undergraduate student consider graduate school as the next step?

No matter what your situation, here are a few things to consider as part of the process:

1. This is the most important aspect and it might seem really basic, but know specifically WHY you are going.

  • What are your motivations for going to graduate school?
  • What do you hope a degree in a specific field will accomplish?
  • How is it tied to a specific career plan?  how realistic is that plan?
  • Who do you know who has a career in that field?  What do they suggest regarding your plan?
  • How very specifically do you think the schools you’re applying to will partner with you to meet this plan?

Put this all in writing.   This is the basis of each of the different letters of application you will send to the schools.

2.  Know your audience.  Each application to each school must be crafted with the specific school in mind.

  • Read absolutely everything you can about each school and this is mandatory:  Read the entire website of the specific department to which you are applying.  i.e.  if you are applying to the English program, read the entire English departments’ website.  if you are applying to law school, read the entire school of law’s website.   It is not enough to read the information admissions provides to you.    Know who the faculty are that teach in the program.  Know what the program requirements are.  Know what the structure of the program is.  Know everything the program put out there for you to read.
  • Speak to a specific audience in the letter.  Do not use the same letter of application to each school.   You might have an initial template you start with, but identify specific people in the department from whom you want to learn, name resources such as libraries in your field or research facilities in that program that are attractive, and  list experiences that the program provides such as teaching, research, interning, surveying, clerking, or whatever actually attracted you to them about their program.   Make the pitch to them as to why you selected their program out of the many that exist and what you hope to contribute to the program.
  • Best fit is key.  Part of the letter should address why you as a candidate are a good fit for their program.  Do it from their perspective:  How are you a team player?  What in your background qualifies you for their program?   What experiences led you to feel that going to graduate school in their program was part of your career or mission in life?  What’s your planned contribution to the program or field?   Use specific examples.

3.  Go Visit.

Perhaps you’ve already turned in the letters and didn’t do the above things?   It is what it is.   This is still a great move.  Or perhaps you are still exploring going in the future?  No matter where you are in the process of considering graduate programs, there is no substitute for a scheduled on-site visit.

  • Reading about a program online is great.  It’s mandatory before applying to a place you will be studying for a minimum of at least a year and typically 2 to 6 years.  Knowing the program’s culture is something that you will only truly understand by meeting the people in the program.  So, an on-site visit really helps you make sure this is a solid professional choice.
  • Visiting will increase your chance of acceptance.   It shows you are serious about your application and helps you fill in the gaps any application might leave.   Visits are very impactful any time of year, but timing is a factor.
  • Make sure you make appointments in advance.   People are not just waiting around in their offices on the off-chance you might pop by and if you don’t have an appointment they might not have time for you.  Scheduling appointments far enough in advance will ensure a great experience for everyone.
  • Request the experiences you want.   Ask to meet with faculty who do research in the areas of study and would potentially be teachers of graduate classes and/or your faculty adviser .  Ask to sit in on a class that is required in your area of study.  Ask to meet with graduate students in the program.    Ask to tour the facilities.    Ask for information on housing, student organizations or clubs, career services, programming, and time to meet with people who can answer these questions.
  • Be prepared to make quite a number of phone calls to set this all up.  It is likely that people keep their own calendars and there is not a central person to make this magically happen for you.   This is your job.

4.  Remember that you are interviewing them (the school) as much as they are interviewing you.

Take this as seriously as a job interview.   So, be prepared.  Ask questions.  Do research.  Set expectations and conduct yourself professionally.  Going to graduate school is an enormous professional investment in time, energy, and resources.  If you aren’t willing to commit to a serious search process, ask yourself if you are ready to commit to what graduate school demands of you.   Make sure that going to graduate school is a meaningful conscious choice on a path to a career you have chosen, researched, and are entering aware of what the graduate degree will do for you.

At the same time, just like a job interview, this is not a one-sided process of trying to squeeze into someone else’s expectations of what kind of candidate should do, be, or act like.  This is a process of you knowing what you want and asking questions…seeking to find the program that will be the best fit for you and one in which you can make a meaningful contribution to a field.

Graduate school can be a great investment in yourself personally and professionally… and like any investment, if you to do the research and groundwork to ensure the investment is a good fit for the goals you have, it is more likely to pay off.   And, if all of this seems a bit daunting, that’s understandable.    Most people find it pretty overwhelming to do this all on their own and so it’s wise to have a mentor or coach helping walk you through the process, pointing you towards resources, and providing accountability so you stay on track.

So, start where you are, take inventory of your resources, and if you need assistence, ask for help.  You aren’t alone.

Sending fabulous energy!

Where we often discover our passions in people and develop our purpose in learning, we can discover unlimited motivation when we apply passion and purpose in our practice.

People will ask me “is that class hard?” or “isn’t going to law school hard?   And, I ask, “is cleaning my bathroom hard?  I mean, really, it is and it isn’t.

It is not physically or mentally hard to clear my bathroom.  I still don’t want to do it.  I don’t know, maybe you do?  if you are a complusive bathroom cleaner,  bully for you.   I still find it hard to clean.  That is, until 1 or 2 things happen:

1) If someone is coming over who cares about a clean bathroom, I in let’s say 15 min or so, tidy up the bathroom to appropriately spic and span condition.   This is crisis motivation.

2) I can choose to identify why I care about a clean bathroom.  I can decide I would really like to have a clean bathroom.  I can tell myself that I can clean the sink as I brush my teeth and scrub out the tub as part of the end of  a shower.

So, what if that is true in all of life?  Things can be hard if we choose to see them as hard.  We can make huge mental barriers, invest in limiting beliefs, invent assumptions, and embrace interpretations of all sorts to make things hard.  Many of us live in a state of perpetual stuckness (or “it’s hard”) until we are motivated by crisis.   We resist doing until we finally feel so compelled by outside forces that we “have to” do something.

Or, as in my 2nd option, what if we can choose to identify how we might put what we care about into practice in small ways?  How might that be productive for you?