Monday, October 13, 2014

So, You Want to be a Student Affairs Grad Student?

Advice on applying to grad school


I know that folks are currently on the #SAGradHunt.

This means countless hours researching, contemplating, and deciding which programs to apply for and I figured I would chime in with some words of advice during this process!

First, take a deep breath.

This is a tough time in your life.
Trust me, I was there two years ago.

I know this is a nerve-racking time of your life.
So, be patient.

I have seen many folks commenting on Facebook groups about the programs they’re considering with the questions they have during this application process and I’ve been quite active in responding to many people. This is great; it is proactive. And yet, there is more that I feel I need to say.

So, without further rambling, here are a few suggestions for those of you taking the time to be proactive in applying to student affairs/higher education graduate programs!

Listen to Benedict.
He knows everything.
 1. Do your research! Know what you want!

Some programs specialize in counseling, others in higher education administration, others in social justice, others in student affairs, student development and theory to practice.

Most of these go by vastly different names and titles; yet, they are generally the same.

Figure out what you might want from a program and go for it!

Reach out to the faculty contact and strike up a conversation with current members of the graduate programs. This is a great way to get a candid account of the program from someone currently experiencing it.

Ask for support on Facebook groups—I know many folks are already doing this; but if you aren’t, do it! There are many of us out here willing to support you!

2. Narrow your choices wisely.

You cannot and should not apply everywhere.
This is for myriad of reasons.

Applications are expensive—as I cover in point #7.
So don’t expect to apply to more programs than you can afford.

Also, applying to multiple programs takes SO MUCH TIME!

So you need to make sure you will actually have time to apply to all of the programs you choose. I genuinely felt applying to grad school was like a full time job.

So, I suggest that a good number of applications to send out is between 4 – 6.
Don’t panic—those numbers might seem low; however, it is important that you take into account your needs and recognize where you truly find yourself being happy studying for two years.

Don’t just apply to a bunch of programs because you think you should.
Apply where you know that you will be able to become a better leader and a better practitioner.

3. Revise your personal statement.
And then revise it again.

And again.
And again.
And again.
And again.

And when you think it’s done, make sure at least five other sets of eyes have seen your personal statement.

It’s important to make sure that you aren’t the only person reading your statement. You will miss things. Other eyes can give you better feedback because they can catch things you don’t see.

4. Take the personal statement seriously.

I mean it when I say take the personal statement seriously.
It is easily the most important aspect of your application.

Some programs limit your word count to as little as 250 words—which is bullshit, because that is impossible.

However, the majority of programs will suggest that you fit your statement on one page single-spaced. I suggest that 700 words can do the trick.

And with this, I also STRONGLY suggest that you do not—under any circumstances—just regurgitate your resume. The admissions committee will read your resume, but what they want is to see that you are an interesting, engaging, motivated human being with potential to take charge of this field.

This does not mean saying that you are “passionate” 100 times in your statement.

In fact, if I had my way, people would only be allowed ONE “passion” in their statement. Maybe that’s the English major in me, but I have read through many personal statements and I promise that you are using an empty word. Pull out the thesaurus and show the admissions committee that you can actually conceptualize your experience!

If you’d like me to look over your personal statement, let me know!

5. Round up your letters of recommendation early.

This is just common courtesy.
Know who you want to write your personal statements and, if you haven’t already, ask them to do it now! Many professional folks are very busy and need plenty of advance notice to write a proper recommendation for you.

Don’t wait until the last second to do this because it will only stress you out.
And make sure you are asking people who can truly speak to your experiences and abilities. Don’t just ask any three or four folks. Get people that know you well and know how to express who you are as a person as well.

NOTE: it is proper etiquette to give a thank you card/gift to those who take the time to write letters for you.

6. Don’t worry about the GRE.

Honestly, I didn’t take the GRE. I don’t suggest that anyone should ever take it.
As a former teacher, I recognize that standardized tests are garbage.

The GRE proves nothing and is often only a simple gateway to admission into an institution’s Graduate school. I only applied to programs that did not require the GRE because I took that as a strong sign that the institution shared my hatred for atrocious standardized tests.

I’ve chatted with many higher education faculty members and the consensus is that the GRE is for appearances only. There is no true correlation to the test and your ability to lead a program board, a resident hall, or a leadership program.

Therefore, take the exam. Do your best. And don’t sweat it breaking your chances of getting into a student affairs program.

7. Save your pennies.

This relates to point #2.
Applications are expensive—they range from $40 - $75+

NOTE: A fun way to raise funds for applications is to create a service that you can provide for others. EXAMPLE: I made paintings for my friends when I was applying for graduate school and was able to fully fund my four applications through simply making and selling paintings!

Also, when you need to travel to campuses for visit days, you will need to pay for flights, or gas, or train—or however else you plan to travel to the institutions that have accepted you! Some programs can offer you reimbursement, but not all of them. So save up!

I suggest investing in teleportation.

8. Assistantship(s).

As most folks entering this field understand: our experiences are EVERYTHING.

Therefore, it is fair to assume that most programs offer assistantships.

They do. They are out there. And yes, it does depend on what experience you want to fuel your career, so applying for and obtaining an assistantship is important, but it is not the end of the world.

Honestly, you will enter the field with an IDEA of what you want to do with this Master’s degree. Then, as you progress, you are more than likely going to redefine your needs and desires—which means you may want to change assistantships!

This is common.

In fact, I currently hold three 10 hour assistantships—two are within the same office, which is nice—yet, I have held five so far during my graduate school experience. I am developing multiple skills in multiple arenas. Don’t be afraid to change trajectories. Don’t be afraid to try something new.

There are two important reasons to have assistantships beyond the experience alone.

a. Getting paid.
We gotta survive, so make sure you are getting paid if you are performing any assistantship.

b. Tuition waivers. (NOTE: See Next point)

I think this is from the Daily 49er from CSU-Long Beach.
I like it.
9. Tuition waivers.

In tandem with point #1—research also means seeking out programs that offer tuition waivers. Even SOME form of a waiver is better than none.

I suggest finding programs that offer FULL tuition waivers—yes, they are out there—e.g. UMass Amherst (where I am, hint hint)—and if these programs interest you, place them atop your list!

I mean, why wouldn’t they interest you?

There is no reason why you should add more debt to your plate in pursuing a Master’s in student affairs and/or higher education! We are doing a public service to our field by being graduate students, so be smart when applying to programs because yes, you can attend for free if you find the right program.

10. Will you be unionized?

Here at UMass Amherst, we are unionized as graduate students.
We have health and dental benefits and we have the highest paying graduate assistantships in the country ($22.76 per hour—public information).

When applying to a program, make sure you check into whether the institution has a grad union that protects you with grievance protection, insurance, and all sorts of campus reimbursements. Not all institutions have them, and they can be a bit of a catch-22 at times; yet, they are incredibly helpful in the long run.

Especially when you begin to feel overworked and underpaid—because you will—they are there to support you with legal support.


11. Apply to UMass Amherst!

Because I’m here and I am king.
Also, we have an incredible focus on social justice and college access and equity.
Feel free to contact me if you’d like more information on our program!

End of list.

Follow me on Twitter @CrigBididman & @SAGradMOD!
#SAGrad chats are each Sunday night at 8pm EST!

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