The Road to Grad School

For seniors, the final year of college is filled with major decisions that impact the future. One of those decisions is whether or not graduate school is a viable option. Many people will tell you and your student it’s best to go straight to grad school while others will say you should wait and get actual work experience before getting your master’s degree. Because my field of interest has become saturated in this mobile- and social-media-driven world (and because I’m a nerd who actually likes going to school), I felt that going straight to grad school would set me apart from others and better equip me for the workforce—but I wasn’t really sure. I, like many students, found myself stressed and overwhelmed when thinking about my future and where I would end up after graduation; however, I was able to receive the help I needed from the university to find the path that was best suited for me. If your student is considering the possibility of attending grad school, here is what I did that I would encourage everybody to do.

Research Programs of Interest (Junior Year)

Before you consider or apply to a graduate program, it is important to know all you can about it. As an Integrated Marketing Communications major, I’m interested in the marketing/advertising/public relations field. I began searching for schools that had either an IMC, advertising, marketing, or public relations/communications program. I looked at each school’s curriculum, faculty, special opportunities offered, and tuition. I made a simple chart of programs I was interested in, and then I separated the schools by the degree offered. Months later, I then made a massive chart that included each school’s name, where it was located, what degree it offered, the application deadline, the required GRE score, the personal statement prompt, how many recommendation letters were required, and the tuition. I found this to be very helpful as a visual guide and reminder.

Meet with Advisor or Mentor (End of Junior Year)

It’s important to get advice from somebody you look up to that has a great knowledge of your desired industry—luckily for me, my advisor fit both of those roles. I sat down with my advisor for an intensive advising session where he talked to me about life after graduation. We discussed the pros and cons of going straight into the workforce, and then we discussed the pros and cons of going straight to grad school. I presented him with my list of potential universities and degrees, and he went over each one and mentioned how my strengths suited me for the program. He then highlighted certain programs on my list and encouraged me to focus on them heavily. One important piece of knowledge is shared that I feel everybody needs to know is that it is best to attend a different school than where you received your bachelor’s degree (unless you’re in accounting or pre-med), because you’ve learned all you can learn with the teachers you currently have. Plus, diversity of education looks great on your resume and is attractive to employers.

GRE Prep (Summer after Junior Year)

If your student has to take the GRE, GMAT, or any other exam to get into grad school, it’s important to start studying as soon as he/she can. I felt like summer was the best time for me because I wasn’t as busy and had plenty of time to focus on the test. I purchased GRE books and vocabulary cards from Kaplan, and I also took a GRE prep course offered at Ole Miss in the fall through Kaplan. The books, flashcards, and prep course worked wonders and helped me make the score I needed for my desired programs.

EDHE 301—Career and Life Planning (Fall of Senior Year)

A hidden gem of Ole Miss is the Career and Life Planning course offered to students. The instructors for this class work at the Career Center on campus, so they provide helpful tips to prepare you for life after graduation. Over the semester, students in this class will create a resume, write a personal statement and cover letter, gather references for recommendations, practice interviewing, and research jobs in your desired field. This course was instrumental in helping me put together the last-minute details for my grad school application, and I credit it with landing me a spot at my dream school.

Apply to Schools (Fall Semester of Senior Year)

After you’ve done all the research and you’ve gotten your stuff together, it’s time to actually apply. While schools don’t say that early applicants have a better chance of getting in, that’s almost always the case. If possible, try to apply before the first application deadline so that you can interview and receive your decision months earlier.

Interview (By Appointment)

Some programs require an interview as part of the application while others use it as the next round of the admissions process. The interview process can seem a bit intimidating, but it can ensure you a spot in the program. In today’s world, schools offer S

kype interviews to make it easier for the applicant; however, it is best to interview in-person so that your interviewer can get a personal sense of who you are. While parents might not agree sometimes, students should take every opportunity to travel before entering the “real world.” I was invited back to an interview at my dream school, and I was able to use that interview for a chance to take a trip to Chicago. I was also able to talk with my interviewer in person and present tangible examples of my work for her to flip through. On top of that, I received a personalized campus tour from the woman who was interviewing me, allowing me to interact with her in a more casual and informal manner.

Thinking about life after graduation can be stressful for some. If your student doesn’t know what he/she wants to do, encourage them to get help from a teacher or advisor. If grad school is the desired path, get to planning and have everything ready for the fall or spring of senior year. May you enjoy every step along the way, and may your student get into the program of his/her dreams!