For many, the idea of applying to graduate programs is incredibly daunting. Maybe you’re a first generation college student, took a few years off after undergrad and are nervous about going back to school, or you just don’t know what to expect when it comes to the application process. As we’ve both gone through this process, here is our slice of advice when it comes to looking for programs and applying.
Tip #1: Do Your Research
It can be overwhelming trying to decide where to go for graduate school. One of piece of advice given to me when I started searching was to look at where scholars I admired taught and look into the programs there. Once you’ve gathered a list of potential programs, do your research. What kind of classes do they offer? How long is the program? What are the requirements? Does the program specialize in anything? Do they have previous research from alumni that you can look at to get a sense of the type of work that comes out of the program? Learn as much as you can about the program so you can make the best choice.
Tip #2: Get First Hand Accounts
While program websites can provide information about classes and requirements, nothing will give you a better sense of the program and what it’s like than speaking to the students who currently or have previously attended the program. Reach out to programs you are interested in and ask to be connected with a current student! They can tell you more about the reality of the program and speak from personal experience. What do they personally like about the program? Is there anything they don’t like about the program?
Tip #3: Ask the Awkward Questions, It’s Better to Know Now
It’s better to know the truth now than find yourself in a program that isn’t the right fit. Ask the tough questions! It’s better to know now that your potential advisor is notoriously difficult to get a hold of, or that the atmosphere is highly competitive and no one gets along. Ask now, you’ll be glad you did!
Tip #4: Research and Apply for Scholarships, Grants, and Fellowships
Graduate programs are expensive. Do your research and look into scholarships, grants, and fellowships. Many programs will offer scholarships or work study to help offset the costs. In exchange for working as a teaching assistant or research assistant, the program may offer stipends to help with living costs. When it comes to finances, also don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. If you really want to go to Program A, but program B offered you more money, it is possible to discuss with Program A about receiving more scholarships or support. They want you to go to their program (at least they should!), and they may be willing to work with you to do what they can to make it possible for you.
Tip #5: You Don’t Have to Know Exactly What You’re Going to Do
You do not have to have your whole final thesis mapped out before you even arrive. Or even what exactly you want to study! While most programs require you to choose a concentration for your graduate degree, there is time to figure out and fine-tune what that concentration is going to be. Go in with a general idea of what you would like to do (i.e. Renaissance, European Modern, American, etc.) and allow yourself to explore. When it comes time to begin thinking about your final thesis, your topic may be completely different than what you originally thought!
Tip #3: Do What is Best for YOU, Not Anyone Else
There can often be pressure to go to the “top” programs, whether that is an Ivy League school or a highly competitive program. While those programs can be a great fit for many, they may not be the right fit for you. Find the school and the program that is the best fit for your interests, the type of community and atmosphere that is best for you, and will support you in the ways you need. If you are interested in feminist or post-colonial methodologies, will the program provide you the space and support to do that? Are the classes typically lectures (less discussion, more professor led) or seminars (discussion based, more student led)? What is the student-to-faculty ratio? Get the degree that will benefit YOU and what YOUR goals and needs are.
Are you thinking of applying to graduate school? Have you gone through this process before? What is your advice for people looking into graduate school?