If you weren’t at Don Asher’s talk last night, you missed out on a lot of laughs, the hottest tips in grad school preparation, and the chance at some free money just for raising your hand! But don’t worry, we’ve brought some of his tips to Professional Edge so that you can successfully apply to and pay for your post-graduate studies.
Turn Your World Upside Down
If you’re graduating in December or May and hope to go to grad or professional school, Asher has a few reasons why you should stop doing whatever you’re doing and start applying right now.
Deadlines are approaching quickly, and you don’t want to turn in your application moments before it’s due. If you’re applying to programs in the humanities, you want to apply at least 7-10 days before the deadline, but if you’re applying to STEM programs, you need to turn your applications in even earlier. Many STEM programs begin admitting students as soon as they start receiving applications. Turning yours in 10-30 days before the deadline helps make sure your application is even considered.
Another reason Asher has for starting your applications immediately is that taking time-off is dangerous. You may be thinking about taking a gap year, but when you get home you get caught up in family drama, or you start making money at a full-time job, or suddenly you’re married with kids, and you never end up coming back to school. If you want another degree – get it now!
If you’re on the fence about whether or not you need another degree, consider this:
An individual with a Master’s degree will end up making over $400,000 more during their life than their peers with a Bachelor’s degree. Someone with a PhD will make over $1.4 million more. Those with a professional degree in medicine or law will make over $2 million more. That’s at least 400,000 really good reasons to continue your education!
What if you’re not sure about your career path after you get a graduate or professional degree? What if you’re not sure you’ve picked the right schools to apply to or the right program of study? Asher’s advice to those lacking confidence is “don’t try to get perfect – try to get going.”
Do you want to be a doctor? Get a law degree? That’s great, but it’s not what admissions committees want to hear, and it’s not going to get you a strong letter of recommendation from your current professors.
Asher says that you need to “get narrow,” be particular, get specific. So, not a doctor, but a pediatric oncologist. Not just a lawyer, an immigration lawyer.
Narrowing your field of study can also help as you research programs, because, Asher says, you shouldn’t actually be researching programs. Instead, search nationwide for faculty who are already doing what you want to do and see how they talk about their work. Do a google search for your interests and limit the domains to .edu, then look for the faculty information pages and use them to start your research. The schools that they are at are the schools that you should be thinking about applying to – and they’re going to help you get in.
Reach out to the faculty that come up in your search and see if they’d be willing to discuss your shared interests with you in person, by Skype, or over the phone. Make these connections early on in your application process – and mention your relationship in your application essays – and then you’ll have an advocate on your side during the admissions process.
Customization Starts at the Top
Asher says that the best first line of a graduate admissions essay, and an almost complete guarantee for acceptance is “my uncle, for whom your library is named, …” But, you don’t have to have nepotism working for you to write stand-out essays. Instead, Asher says, “customize, customize, customize.”
First, it’s important to know what kind of essay you need to write. Personal Statements are normally for professional schools, while Statements of Purpose are for graduate programs. So, what’s the difference?
A Personal Statement, Asher says is a misnomer. These should be called Professional Statements. Professional schools aren’t interested in you as a person – they want to know who you are as a professional. You should limit your “I Statements” to a maximum of four sentences that begin with “I” and instead focus on your ideas. A really easy way to do this is to rework your sentence structure. Don’t write “I am interested in highly successful people.” Do write “Highly successful people are interesting.”
A Statement of Purpose, or Statement of (Research) Intent, should discuss your interests and abilities. What are your interests, what do you want to do in graduate school, and what do you want to do with your degree when it’s complete? Try to tie in your future career aspirations, scholarship, non-profit work you hope to do (or are already doing), and ways you can give back to the school as a future educator.
Asher has one area of caution for any admission essay: “don’t talk about your childhood.” While he says there can be some exceptions, admissions professionals are tired of hearing about the chemistry set that every future scientist received at the age of nine. It’s cliché, and of course it made you want to be a scientist. He also says that those applying to psychology programs should avoid mentioning the family member they know with a mental illness.
If programs have instructions for a word limit on essays, Asher says to write up to, but just under, the word limit. Writing over it shows arrogance, and writing too far under it looks like it’s been used for more than one program application. If you aren’t given a word limit, write 500-1000 words. Before you submit your essays, ask a faculty member review it for you.
One other thing you should think about including in your admissions essays is a note about your GPA if it’s low. This is where having connections to faculty teaching in the program you are applying to can help, as they can vouch for your desire to study the material. It also helps to have the faculty members that write your letters of recommendation attest to the work that you can do. But, you can take matters into your own hand. Look over your transcripts, and see if you can identify a pattern. Did you struggle in your math classes or have a semester that brought down your GPA? Try to isolate the problem, and use space on your admissions essays to explain it away. For example, “High school was too easy and didn’t adequately prepare me for the subjects I would face in college, but after my first semester, I was able to adjust to the level of attention my studies required and I received a 4.0 GPA in my second semester.”
Money, Money, Money
If you know how to do it, you can go to graduate school for free. Ask program administrators who they fund and how you can be that person. Find out if they offer assistantships and when and how you apply for those part-time jobs that often offer a full waiver and a stipend. Look for scholarships and grants. Asher’s book, Best Scholarships for the Best Students, has pages full of sites with multiple opportunities for you to explore. There are plenty of options out there. You just have to know where to look.
Put it into Practice
Tomorrow, October 26 is the Fall 2017 Graduate & Professional School Fair. You’ll have the opportunity to meet with admissions professionals, program administrators, and faculty from graduate and professional schools all around the country. Whether you’re planning to apply this year or three years from now, making those connections tomorrow can help you get started today!
If you’d like to take a look at the handouts from the event last night, they can be found in the attachments section of the Handshake event page at AsherTalk17.usfcs.info.