As the year is coming to an end, many of us are already planning for new and exciting changes in the upcoming year. Some people may consider different vacation spots, career changes or even returning to school. If you are part of the group interested in going to graduate school, we can help!
So first you should ask yourself why you are going back to school and whether it is something worth your investment in time and money. Additionally, you may want to ask yourself:
- Can I afford to go to graduate school on a full-time basis?
- Should I go to graduate school part-time while working?
- Will my graduate program allow me to work part-time?
- Will this degree put me on a career track or goal that I need to be in?
- What about dual degrees? Some programs may offer a dual degree program or special concentrations and you may want to consider those as well. (E.g. Double M.A.s or J.D./M.A. or J.D./PhD or PhD/M.D., etc).
According to the Association of American Colleges and Universities, each year graduate tuition rates are climbing higher and higher. Thus, it is important to seek out scholarships, fellowships or assistantships. Your school or graduate program may offer scholarships or a "graduate assistantship" which is usually a paid teaching assistant or research assistant position that pays for your tuition. Find resources covering funding for graduate school.
Even if your program or school does not offer any of these financial resources in the beginning, you may want to inquire again after the first semester or the first year of your study since there may be new positions or spots opening up and that's when you may be eligible. As for government and private loans, it is important that you read the print very carefully and consider all options before taking out a loan. Find resources covering student loans.
Also, you want to consider getting funding from an external source. If you are currently employed and your employer can offer funding for continuing education, take that into consideration as well as other scholarships from foundations or professional associations that you are part of or can join at as a student (e.g. American Historical Association, American Psychological Association, American Library Association, etc.)
Health insurance is another aspect to consider: will your school provide insurance if so, what is the cost and how will this impact your current plans? These are major commitments and sacrifices that one would need to consider and weigh heavily.
When you are checking out graduate programs, make sure you look at several factors carefully: admissions policies, graduate program policies (usually listed as FAQs in a separate web page), faculty lists as well as alumni placements.
First the admissions policies: you have to follow every step that is asked by the school (each school has different admissions policies) — some will require graduate exams such as:
In addition to the exam, most will require you to submit the following:
- Transcripts from your undergraduate program, which you will need to order in advance.
- Personal statement (2-3 pages, your background, reasons for applying, your research interests or professional goals; you should also have someone read over this. See resources on writing personal statements.)
- Writing sample (reflecting your research, writing and analytical skills. For creative writing and art studio/visual art programs known as MFA programs, you will probably need to submit multiple samples of your work as a portfolio: poetry, stories, paintings, illustrations, etc.)
- Current resume or curriculum vitae (demonstrating your work experience. See public programs and free resume workshops held at SIBL.)
- 2-4 letters of references or recommendations (usually from professors or supervisors who can vouch for your research interests or work ethic.)
- Some programs may even interview you before making their final decisions (SIBL has free interview practice as well.)
So how do you prepare for all of this? It's all about time management: planning ahead and keeping up with the deadlines.
First, you want to give yourself enough time to prepare for the standardized exam(s). In fact, you may need to take the exam twice or thrice, just in case. Depending on the schools, they may combine scores or take the highest. For joint degree programs, you may need to take two different exams. Taking each exam can be costly and stressful, so you may want to minimize that as much as possible because you'll also have to pay for application fees. A low score may not get you into the program, and a high score does not guarantee admissions either, but the whole package is considered: your undergraduate GPA, your personal statements, letters of reference, writing sample, interviews, and professional research/work experience.
Second, you may want to look at the graduate program's policies on their own separate web pages thoroughly. Check out their academic bulletins, current and past course listings, research projects or funding/teaching opportunities, etc. They can be slightly different from the admissions policies. Each graduate program has a different deadline as well. It's imperative that you pace yourself if you are applying to more than one program.
When selecting a program, one thing that I recommend is looking at the faculty lists. If your program requires you to write a thesis or dissertation down the line, which is often supervised by a faculty member, you should see which faculty member in the program may share your research interests. Take a look to see if their current research through publications and presentations matches yours.
Another thing to consider is checking the current students in the graduate program; most schools will post a list of their current students; this will allow you to see what kind of research they are working on and who they are working with. If you are really curious, contact them and see what they think of the program overall. Graduate students tend to be isolated due to the nature of their work, but many are friendly and willing to share their experiences. This is invaluable for you to get as much information as you can before applying. Even if it is a top school of your choice, students can give you an insider’s view on how uncomfortable it is to adjust to the environment, or the strong personalities that lurk within the departments. Be cautious of that.
Finally, if some graduate programs offer this information, look into it: alumni placement — see where these past students are, and what kind of research they are working on. This indicates students in their schools have found positions elsewhere. So those are the basics you want to look into.
According to many graduate school guides, location is imperative; it determines your future living conditions. If you have limited your location to one city or region, it may be easier to focus on programs there but if you have more flexibility, you may be able to search for additional programs that fit your research and professional needs. If the school is close to where you are, you may want to visit the campus as well. These are some major questions to think over:
- Do you want to work with a specific faculty or learn a specific skill or gain expertise in a certain area?
- If you move to a new city for graduate school, are you able to adapt to new environments?
- Also online or distance degree programs: they are growing and playing a major role in transforming the art of learning. Would you prefer learning online or in a classroom?
- How many programs should you apply to? You can apply to many programs or just one, it all depends on your needs and options.
St. John's College, Oxford
Now getting your degree abroad is another adventure to think about. Many universities in Europe are well respected and known in the U.S., however, it is important to consider the varying differences, see how these programs match your goals and if you are planning to return to the U.S. after getting your degree. The good thing is that many programs abroad do not require the standardized exams as mentioned above; however, they do have different admission requirements and are generally difficult to secure funding to attend.
If you have not been in school for a long time, consider taking a graduate class as a non-matriculated or non-credited student. This usually means that you are taking a class but are not officially enrolled into the program. From there, you can test the waters to see if graduate school is something you can further pursue but most schools may not permit this, and if that is the case, find one that will allow you to take a course as a non-matriculated student.
The plus side is that you can try to transfer the credits to another graduate program or the same one, perhaps ask the professor for a letter of recommendation, meet with other graduate students, and take advantage of the academic social scene. You can even take undergraduate courses to see if this discipline works for you. For example, you may have a B.S. in Biology but are considering getting a degree in Art History. Since you haven't taken any classes before, so you may want to take an undergraduate class to experiment with.
If you are fully committed in pursuing a career in academia, especially in the humanities and social sciences, then I urge you to browse our extensive e-resources and peer-reviewed journals for the latest research and publications by leading scholars and experts in those fields. Here's a list that you can start with:
- JSTOR: (online/onsite only) - Read the latest peer reviewed articles on a variety of subjects.
- Project Muse: (online/offsite with an NYPL card) - Read the latest peer reviewed articles and monographs on a variety of subjects.
- Chronicle of Higher Education (online/onsite only) - Don't miss reading about the latest trend in academia. The Chronicle of Higher Education is a must-read for all prospective students; you can find school, job and funding information.
- Proquest Dissertation and Theses (online/onsite only) - This is a great way to find out the types of works published by graduate students and to see the topics and advisers that they worked with; only abstract or sample pages.
- More articles and databases.
Many graduate programs are shrinking and becoming more and more competitive in terms of admissions and financial resources. It is important to stay up to date as to what graduates programs are planning to implement and what's available and newly required for prospective students. The state of academia is gradually changing as the humanities and social sciences fields known as "liberal arts" are being assaulted in every direction for their "relevancy" in society. Tenure-track teaching positions are also becoming more scarce, competitive and harder to secure. (See the Chronicle of Higher Education for more on these issues.)
Law School of Cornell University
If your dream job is to become a college professor, then you may wish to speak to as many professors as you can to get a sense of what their work entails as well as the university's expectations. Most are required to teach, publish in peer-reviewed journals, and present their works in professional and academic conferences and seminars while others hold administrative positions. See our database Career Cruising for more information. (online/offsite with an NYPL card).
As a prospective student, you may want to publish, present or engage with other academics, to get your name out there and to become active in your field through professional associations. Additionally, you may want to consider obtaining additional foreign languages, quantitative or technical skills. (e.g. statistics, computer programming, web design, etc.). Many fields in the humanities prefer students with second or third foreign language knowledge for research purposes. You want to stand out from the crowd and look as competitive as you can for admissions and funding purposes.
For some humor on the current state of academia, check out PHD Comics, a newspaper and web comic strip written and drawn by Jorge Cham that follows the lives of several quirky grad students and professors. You'll find plenty of deep insights as well as funny moments in PHD Comics.
It may seem overwhelming at first, but with the right tools and resources that the library offers, it may help ease the transition. Of course following all these rules may not ultimately get you accepted but just know that we at NYPL are rooting for your success in advancing knowledge and life long learning!
If you have tips or success stories, please feel free to share them below!