By Ashanti “Accel” Henderson, Contributing Writer
The countdown to graduation has begun. Whether you have plans to begin a career or pursue even higher education, the necessary steps to achieving either may seem undefined. In this edition of Ask A Sister, our national vice president collegiate, Jaleesa “Aspire” Reed, and University of West Florida (UWF) alumna, Tiffany “Fuérsa” Alviola, offer valuable insight into the graduate school application process.
Due to graduate this spring from a graduate program, Alviola is pursuing a a master’s degree in psychology with counseling concentration. She works as a psychology extern at the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. She plans to eventually obtain a doctoral degree in military clinical psychology.
Reed is currently a full-time doctoral candidate at the University of Georgia (UGA), where she studies polymer, fiber and textile sciences with an emphasis in international merchandising. She also received her bachelor’s degree in fashion merchandising and master’s degree in textiles, merchandising and interiors from UGA.
Briefly describe the application process for graduate school. How similar and/or different is it from the undergraduate application process?
Alviola: For graduate school, you typically have to submit an application, standardized test scores, transcripts, a resume, a letter of intent and three letters of recommendation. Some programs may also require an interview after the initial review of your paperwork. Thus, it’s similar to the undergraduate application process in that you have to submit an application, test scores and transcripts. However, it’s different in that you have to submit additional components and possibly undergo an interview because graduate programs are much more competitive.
Reed: I would say that it’s pretty similar. There are parts that carry more weight, like your personal statement and your references for instance, but the overall process is similar.
Which schools did you apply to, and which one did you decide to attend?
Alviola: I only applied to UWF because I liked the bachelor’s program, the faculty and the staff in the psychology department, and they had the type of master’s program I was interested in.
Reed: For my Ph.D. program, I applied to Iowa State University and the University of Georgia. I ultimately chose UGA because the professor I wanted to work with at Iowa State was retiring so they would have to hire someone else within my interest area. I didn’t want to take that risk just in case I wasn’t familiar with their work or we didn’t work well together.
What was the hardest part of applying?
Alviola: For me, the process was pretty straightforward, especially since I had less paperwork with Express Graduate Admissions. I kept a checklist with deadlines for all the components of my application, which helped me keep track of completing and submitting it in a timely manner. However, my program also required an interview due to the high number of applicants. The interview was probably the most difficult part because I wasn’t sure what to expect.
Reed: Keeping track of everything, especially when you’re applying to multiple schools! I had to be very organized to keep track of all the recommendations, personal statements and etc.
Who should/can you ask for recommendations for graduate school?
Alviola: Most programs typically ask for three letters of recommendation, at least one of which must be from an instructor. Other people you can ask for recommendation letters are other faculty members, such as advisors, and supervisors or employers. Definitely try to get back into contact with instructors whose classes you did well in and who you interacted with. They are the ones who can vouch for your academic performance. If you can only get the minimum of one letter from an instructor, you can also ask employers or supervisors to write recommendation letters. He or she can describe your work ethic or other relevant skills needed to be successful in a challenging program.
Reed: The best recommendation will come from a professor who’s familiar with the quality of your work and your work ethic. Graduate school takes up a lot of time and requires you to be a self-starter, so think of someone who can speak to those points. What class did you write your best paper for? Or did you have a memorable class with a professor that you really admired (and actually talked to)? These areas are good places to get started. When I was applying to master’s programs, I also asked our former national president, May “Mosaic” Advincula (thank you, May), for a recommendation. Some graduate programs are really into how you serve the community, and your sorority involvement is a great way to promote that!
How many months in advance did you start preparing for graduate school?
Alviola: I started the application process for graduate school about 10 months before the application deadline. However, I had started researching graduate programs during my junior year of undergrad. I applied to graduate school while I was an undergrad with the intent of doing my master’s right after my bachelor’s. The main reason I went straight into graduate school was that I didn’t want to take a break in my education. However, the other reason was to stay on my dad’s health insurance. The military health insurance Tricare covers dependents who are full-time students until 23, including graduate students.
Reed: It depends on when applications are due. I prepared everything at the same time based on my earliest deadline. So even if some schools have rolling admission, I still submitted my application early to secure a spot. I started preparing at least 3-5 months ahead of the actual application deadline. That should give you plenty of time to secure recommendations, take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) more than once if you need to, and write any personal statements.
What do you think is the best test prep book?
Alviola: It depends on the exam you take. I took the GRE and used “The Official Guide to the GRE-revised General Test.” I didn’t take a prep course, but I wish I had because it was difficult re-teaching myself concepts I hadn’t studied in years and motivating myself to study consistently. I didn’t do very well on the GRE, but fortunately, the other components of my application compensated for my low scores.
Reed: I used Kaplan’s free online courses instead of a book. In my opinion, the GRE tests how you problem solve and think critically more than it tests your content knowledge. So I would recommend using preparatory materials that focus on question types, and how to discern what the correct answer might be.
Were you working or in school when you applied to graduate school?
Alviola: I wasn’t working, but I was a full-time student when I applied to graduate school. I received a graduate assistantship and financial aid. For my assistantship, I worked as an undergraduate advisor in the psychology department 10 hours a week with a pay of $10.25 per hour and got a 50 percent tuition waiver every semester. In addition, I received a graduate grant and loans. Since I had the Florida Bright Futures scholarship and finished my bachelor’s degree in less than four years, Bright Futures covered part of my tuition during my first semester of graduate school. I was automatically awarded my assistantship after I was accepted into the program because I was a UWF student. The position as an undergraduate advisor in the psychology department was specifically for UWF students because we had gone through the bachelor’s program and thus knew the degree requirements. However, for other graduate assistants, they applied for assistantships as soon as they were accepted into the program because there was a limited number of available positions.
Reed: Yes, I was working during my undergraduate years when I was applying to a graduate program. Afterward, I’ve been lucky enough to secure an assistantship for all my semesters so far as a graduate student which pays a monthly stipend and also covers my tuition.
Do you have any other advice for sisters who are thinking of applying to graduate school?
Alviola: Interact with your instructors and get to know them since they will be writing your recommendation letters. Get involved with the department or with your field through research assistance, volunteer work and honor societies or relevant organizations. Check the graduate program curriculum for recommended undergraduate coursework and the accreditation status since some jobs may require applicants to have degrees accredited by certain organizations or associations. And of course, check if the graduate school offers assistantships, grants or scholarships and if tuition rates differ for in-state and out-of-state residents. I hope all of these recommendations help, and good luck to any sisters who are applying to graduate programs!
Reed: Graduate school is a lot of work in comparison to undergrad. If you’re willing to invest the time and effort, go for it! If you’re on the fence about whether or not you should apply, try thinking about what you will gain from going to graduate school. Is it really necessary? If not, I’d recommend looking into other options. If you need someone to look over your personal statements, I’m here!
Featured Images: State Farm
Article Images: Special to The Jade Times