How to Choose the Right Grad Program

Full of so many hopes and dreams, until the DC housing situation crushed them...
Going to college wasn't something I thought about at all throughout my childhood and teenage years. As a kid I was always pretty smart, and as I grew into a teenager I was able to keep an interest in most school subjects and make good grades without having to try too hard.

Colleges and universities weren't a complete mystery to me though, with a sister who was attending a local junior college and the hours I spent watching Rory on Gilmore Girls talk about her need to get into Harvard. (Was anyone else pissed she decided on Yale?) The thing is though, I never had a passion to go to college.

It wasn't until late in my junior year of high school that I realized I had to make a decision about what life after high school was going to be for me. And with good grades and the means to attend, it was an easy choice to attend a four year university right out of high school.

My time as an undergraduate was amazing! I was involved with on campus organizations, made friends from so many walks of life, lived on campus, lived off campus, spent a semester in England, backpacked through Europe, interned in DC, and just overall worked my butt off to graduate on time with two degrees and a handful of lifelong friends.

It wasn't until a few weeks into my last semester as an undergrad that I realized I was in the same position I had been four years ago. What was I going to do next? Except this time, the concept og more schooling wasn't so foreign, in fact, it felt like it was all anyone talked about.

Being a Psychology and Women's Studies double major, I had the friends who were in the STEM field constantly telling me I had to go to grad school to be competitive in the workforce. My Psychology peers were all attending a grad program in the fall, every professor I spoke to advised I should go, the only problem was this time the decision didn't feel as effortless.

GRE exams needed to be taken to prove my competency, never mind the dozens of grades I had earned over the course of four years. Every application came with a fee, essay questions about what I wanted to do with my life, requests for resumes to hear my experience but they weren't interested enough to want it to be over a page long.

It just all seemed like so much damn work, which slightly pissed me of because hello, I finished my undergrad, I think I can handle your (overpriced) grad program.

With the stress from all the application requirements and hurdles you have to jump to talk to admissions counselors, I decided I needed to take a year off to evaluate what I really wanted to do, or more specifically, when and where I wanted to do it.

It wasn't until my now academic counselor contacted me after having visited an open house event at a school in Washington DC. I wasn't able to meet with the main admissions counselor because I had unluckily arrived just after another prospective student, but instead spent an hour talking about my goals, questions and hesitations about attending grad school at all.

A few days after I attended the open house event I received a call from the admissions counselor, and since that day I have spoken to him on a weekly basis. He encouraged me to apply to grad school, helped me through every step of the application process, and even gave me some recommendations of places to visit during my weekend trip to Boston.

Coming from a large university, it was strange to have someone on staff answer my calls at all, let alone help me find housing in a city like Washington DC, allow me rant about my student loan debt, and do what an adviser is supposed to do; help when they can and serve as a person to throw all your thoughts and questions at in hopes of making sense of it all.

This September I will be starting my graduate program with The Chicago School of Professional Psychology at their DC campus. The feeling I left the campus with on that open house day is the same feeling that led me to choose UC Riverside. I felt welcomed.

Choosing a graduate school, or any type of school, is a hard decision to make, especially when you have very few people to help you navigate it all. My opinion is this; if you are asking yourself if you're ready, then you're not. But if you visit the campus or talk to a person on staff, and leave the experience feeling as if you're already a part of the campus community, go for it!

Maybe I could have been accepted into Harvard or Yale, but who needs a big name school when you have an adviser that understands your love of cats and genuinely cares about your transition to a new city and life. Figuring out grad school is tough, but once you find the right program, it's effortless.

4 comments

  1. Aww, this was a really great post to read. It's so amazing that your academic counselor was so welcoming and helpful. I feel like that's so rare sometimes. I'm glad you found the perfect program in DC. Hopefully your time as a graduate is as good as your time as an undergrad!

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  2. Aww thank you for reading the post at all, as soon as I hit publish I was like...who is actually gonna read this random post lol. And yes, the staff at the school has been so amazing making all the work I'm putting in to move worth it :)

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  3. Aw congrats! My undergrad adviser was wonderful/my life coach, and I'm so sad he retired before my senior year. A good counselor can make a huge difference.

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  4. great tips! it helps so much when you have a good support system at school.

    i never went to grad school because 1) i didn't like school and 2) fuck more school. i wanted to get out as fast as possible and although not going to college wasn't an option for me (or parental units kicking my ass would ensue), i finished college and then wanted to get out into the working world and leave all homework, assignments, studying etc behind.

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