Graduate School: Easy Steps to Choosing a Graduate School or University…

This is my second attempt at writing about seeking out a graduate school so bear with me. I have been asked a lot of questions by peers about graduate school and the process it takes to get there. This is part 1 of my Graduate School series. I hope I can give you some insight about the nuances and particulars regarding graduate school. If I fail to cover anything please feel free to ask me, my open door policy remains in affect.

*SNIPPET* I do not want to give the impression in this article that graduate school is a MUST, I do want to give you the understanding of how to go about choosing a graduate school. In reality, you do not need a college degree nor graduate degree to start a business or find a job, but a degree, if you studied and learned, will make you more efficient at what you do and will “hopefully” give you the tools to the most productive. I for one do not want to come across as pro-higher education because it is certainly not the case. I am pro-you… I chose graduate school but if I were to start a business or some other organization a degree is not required when going to the state secretary’s office to file forms but the knowledge and information you get from your degree can only make you more efficient….with that said… lets proceed*

*DISCLAIMER* This is an approach I used and it doesn’t have to be yours, but to me and others I helped, its the best way to help you decide on a place that fits the bill for YOU!
  1. First things first (obey your thirst SPRITE)
 Your first task when deciding which graduate school to attend is easily the decision to attend graduate school at all. I know a lot of people are wondering, “is it even worth it?” Short answer YES, graduate school isn’t for the people who just want to get by, graduate school is for people with great ambition and those of us who want to be movers and shakers, not only in our communities but nationally and perhaps globally, with me the sky is the limit. On average a person who earns a master degree earns upwards of $2.5 million dollars a lifetime (1999 numbers) which is about $3.3 million a lifetime in 2010 numbers. Yeah that is right, earning a Master’s Degree will get you on average 3.3 million bucks just from working alone, not including investment and other factors but just by punching the clock. Now for some this may seem like a whole lot and for others this may seem like nothing at all for what your ambition holds, but if you are slated to make this on average in a lifetime, you are doing mighty fine for yourself. On average, a person with only a high school diploma will 1.2 million dollars in their lifetime.

Not bad but $2 million more by going to school will greatly help you. In this time of economic strife, more and more people with working experience are going back to school and putting knowledge behind their working experience. That’s right your mother and father, uncle, and good ole auntie and grandma are going back to school for the bachelors masters and some even the PHD. You cannot enter the workforce against these experience heavy persons without a comparable graduate degree. The workforce is getting tougher and tougher, the factory jobs that once were are now out in the far east, and the jobs replacing them are high-skilled technology jobs, and decision-making service jobs. If you want to carry some weight and some pull within your career you need to move from low-level and entry level employment to the mid-level executive and managerial positions, and becoming director’s of non-profits or city government positions require 8-12 years of experience w/o a masters, that puts a college graduate at 31 years old before you can vie for this position, why not at the great youthful age of 22 go to school for a quick and fast 2 years and pursue your masters or a stronger 5 years and come out with a PHD. Don’t be intimidated with these titles because like most students feel they were at one point and time smarter than that one lady who taught that one class. Putting your whole life into perspective you are going to be living roughly 68-76 years, putting in the work now saves you from having to do it later on in life. Invest early in your education so you won’t have to be that 45 year old who decides to go back with all those younger folks. Be that 22 year old in the class showing the 45 year old what to do. (if you are a 45 deciding to go back, i encourage you to do it too, but this a young perspective for young people) Trust from experience, it feels good. Alright, now that you decided to attend a graduate school, time to pick the where you want to live.

Where do you want to live?

Yeah you heard me right, where would you like to stay? For those who are sick and tired of the same metropolitan area, same group of people, same climate, same winter, this is your next best chance to explore another environment that could propel you into another level of adulthood, you will be leaving theprevebial ‘nest’ . That’s right, you can make this “excuse” to your parents, mom pops, I want to move away to New York……for graduate school. When it comes down to it, this is one of the last chances as a young adult without grand responsibilities of a wife/husband and or children. 

(Now if you have them, you might wanna attend graduate school a lot closer to home) but for the rest of us. You can certainly make this a chance to explore that big city you always wanted, or that nice weather your other friends tell you about. If you are like most Americans than you went to school closer to home and feel like getting away away. I was that person, and why not do it under the umbrella of academia.

I suggest you choose a geographic region to live, south, southeast, northeast, new-england, out west, south west etc. or you can choose it by state, texas, florida, etc. I recommend region that way you give yourself greater options to from which to choose. There are great opportunities and options out there, look at what you want, or have always wanted, why not leave and be where you want to be

Next option for choosing a graduate institution is finding which field you would like to obtain a graduate degree in.

What do you WANT to study?

Yes for most people this is tough, but it is a lot easier than anticipated. This like the previous step is your chance to study something you really want, where you want. You may have a degree in marketing or sociology but you want to branch out and learn something new and exciting. You spent 4 years in business courses because your parents thought it would be a good idea but in reality you never liked it. This is an opportunity to study what you want, now truth be told, the further away from your undergrad the harder this will be to complete, but difficulty does not mean impossible. Branching out will broaden your knowledge base and make you more attractive to potential employers who are looking for well-rounded individuals. This is also true for individuals who are looking to become more specialized in a particular field and want to be a top scholar in that field of study. This makes you equally attractive to employers who are looking for people who know a subject matter inside and out. So if you studied business all of your undergrad or anything else, and couldn’t switch majors because you were so far into, and want to go into performing arts, DO IT, if you want specialize and become more knowledgeable on business DO It, what I am trying to say to you is that this is another chance in life to engage your interest and benefit your “cause” in life. If you are having trouble deciding what you want to take up in graduate school think of your life from the end, what is it you want to be doing up until you retire forever, What career would you like to have before you say, this is the day I work for the rest of my life? After looking at it from the perspective you should be able to look at what type of knowledge those persons possess and what would best benefit you in getting there. If you need more specialized help, shoot me an email or message on here and we can work it more. 

Next Step is finding accredited school in your area that have your field of study(ies), hey it could be a few.
Accreditation and Membership:

This is the part where you are like, I don’t care about this, but you should. This is the part that carries the weight of your masters degree, law or Ph.d. If schools didn’t have this you could go to your smart uncle and he could give you a graduate degree and call it a day. I agree that this is a bunch of bologna, but you need to look at school that have national membership accreditation so that once you finish you degree, it means something everywhere, not just in that state or small town. It is the shortest step but takes a little more tedious time if you want to make sure its done right. After you have a list of schools in your area, lets say north east, that have your graduate program, lets say Sociology, that are accredited nationally. You should have a pretty handsome list. Next step is the narrowing the list down.

Narrowing the list:

Hopefully you have at least 15 schools to choose from (yeah go back and get some more) that will make this narrowing process fairer and give yourself better options. Alright first task of narrowing down schools is the city demographics You ought to look at the demographics of what you want out of your new home. Big City living (200,000+) or small townfarmville type of place, do you want warm weather all year round, or do you want seasonal changes, It is also important to consider the racial composition and economic status of the residents in the area in which you want to live so you have the diversity and neighborhoods that best fit your needs. Now that you are looking at your list you can eliminate as many that do not fit city scale and scope of what you want. If you want a larger metro, places like Brooking, South Dakota won’t be on your list.

 Through this process you will learn a lot about your schools city or town and will know by now if they have enough diversity to satisfy you. 

After this step you should be down to about 8 schools.

Next thing to factor in is the enrollment and application process. This is the most stressful and tedious part about applying for a graduate school. IF you ask people who are attending or who have graduated you will hear that this process was the most difficult as well. Aforementioned, difficulty isn’t impossible. Looking at your 8 schools you can begin to form a list of what they require in order to get in GPA,  what financial aid they have, and what GRE score you need (whoa, whats GRE?) GRE is the graduate school equivalent to the ACT/SAT, yes I know exactly how you feel. This is a bunch of garbage and why do you have to jump through ANOTHER loop to get there. I agree, this is a bunch of garbage and it is another hoop you have to jump through to make it but schools do not care about your desire to want to go to grad school, because frankly a lot more people would, but it is a process you must put yourself through in order to get what you want. 

THE GRE is not something to take to lightly, that’s why checking with your list of 8 schools and seeing what they require or have had as an average of the GRE in the past will help you see what score you need to get in. GRE has 3 basic components, Mathematics, Writing and Reading. Each component is lengthy and multiple choice, except for the writing portion which is a short argument. Honestly, I could write another piece about the GRE but I’m here now. In short, you have to study for it, you need to understand the format so get to it. Some schools like mine didn’t require a GRE score but do require you take it for protocol. There may be school on your list like that, this is why you need to look into what they need in order for you to attend. Like a lot of college students you probably are intelligent and worked hard as a students but you also had your fair share of partying so your GPA isn’t a illustrious 3.8 but you did well. So take this factor in knowing which schools you are eligible for and where you stand. Even with a low GPA like 2.4 you are able to make it into graduate schools on a probationary status that allows you too prove in your first semester whether or not you have what it takes. If you want more specialized help with this portion hit me up so I can elaborate more about these options. Now that you seem some requirements you begin to narrow your list of 8-10 schools down to probably 5 or 6. Some schools get eliminated because they ask for high GPA and you may be like me and don’t have it. Unfortunate but hey, still have a great list to choose from.

(before we continue this is the point where you should apply to these 5-6 schools. It may be best to apply to all, but if you know you meet the requirements of all then you ought not worry and continue, but if you want to play it safe, apply at this point so you have options)

6 schools on your list, and I bet you are wondering when I will cover costs. Truth is, Costs are not as significant once you establish a list of schools that have everything you want in them. Don’t get me wrong cost matters, but these schools are like a new pair of shoes or nice shirt that looks nice on you, I bet your behind is willing to pay for it because it has everything you want and need. When you add the cost of enrollment underneath each of the possible schools, your list quickly gets cut down to 2 or 3 places because you seen some of the prices for the exact same education, accreditation, city life, area of the country, so why pay 16,000 when you can 4,000 for the same thing. Its like i’ll pay for x and y but not for z and a. Once you are down to a list of 2-3 schools the decision lies more so with you already.

If you don’t already have a clear idea or understanding of which school to choose, this is where you again get to look at environmental settings. Other words, the social entertainment. If you are looking at these 3 schools you can compare if the professors are studying the aspects of your field of study that most interest you or are aligned with what you which to pursue. If you have professors who are more aligned with what you want to study than you will have closer relationship and partnership with them along the way to completion. Next part to help eliminate schools is by means of visitation. Get out to see the campuses and cities. It is hard to live somewhere you never actually been or visited. If you can, get out and see if everything they say online is actually happening on campus. Does the city have the amenities you feel it should, like a mall, park, club scene, library museums which ever. This should help you eliminate at least 1 school off your list if not 2. if you knocked off two than hey you are in business and you are done. If you haven’t done so and still have 2 schools the last step I know of to help you is to check out the support groups and organization the campus has to empower and impact your tenure at that university. do they have the minority programs you want, do they have student organizations that will help you along the way, these last minute factors may be what you need to say Yes, this is the place for me.

I hope that I was somewhat helpful, I wrote an extremely better step by step last night but it deleted when I tried to upload it, so this one is my second attempt, I may have left out somethings, but if something doesn’t make sense feel free to hit me up whenever for help.
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