Sunday, June 15, 2014

Some notes - advice for applying to graduate school

I was recently asked to speak about how to become a competitive candidate when applying graduate school. The venue was a great conference called, UndocuGrad

As context....I am a professor who is currently the graduate coordinator of a program for an MA in Sociological Practice. I have enjoyed mentoring a diverse array of students who have been accepted to doctoral, MA in Sociology, MSW, MFT, teaching credential, EdD, law school, and counseling programs. 

Below, I share my talking points for the hour long session.....mci

Marisol Clark-Ibáñez, Ph.D.
Professor and Graduate Coordinator 
Sociology at CSUSM

Identify Ultimate Goal for Graduate School (professional, academic, applied)
o        PhD, EdD, MA, MFT, MBA, MS, JD, MD (see next session for specific types of graduate schools)
o        Depending on the profession, you need a specific strategy and likely take specific exams (GRE, GMAT, MCAT)
§     Study for these exams like it’s a full or part time job; many programs take the test results very seriously – more than your GPA which are suspicious in general due to “grade inflation” concerns
o       Consider an MA/MS program as a pathway to PhD; however, do your homework on funding sources and debt that may come with pursuing an MA degree.

What do graduate programs care about?
o        Find out what are their values, what scholarship or internship do they seem to reward or promote, etc. Do your homework on the programs you are thinking about – faculty scholarship, activity, Linked In profiles and even Facebook pages of faculty and graduate students. Keep a document / file with all this information.
o        Graduate programs ultimately want to know that you can finish their program successfully.

What can you do while you are an undergraduate student?
o        Get experience in your target graduate schools’ areas (e.g., research, hospital, children, labs)
§     Try to present your research or do write up reports
o        Tell your professors that you are interested in graduate school and follow up on any suggestions that they offer you
o        Maintain near perfect grades or as best as you can – 3.0 to 3.5 minimum for some schools for MA level programs; closer to 4.0 will be the most competitive applicants (see contradiction from above about grades!)
o        Make your college papers “count” for exploring aspects of your graduate school interests
o        Make meaningful connections with faculty
§     Not all your professors may have (recent or any) experience with doctoral or professional programs
§     Be aware of “mentors” and “tor-mentors”
§     Volunteer to help professor, assist with conferences, literature reviews and even library runs

What can you do if you have already graduated?
o        Reconnect with your former professors
o        Find (new) faculty in your area of interest and try to connect with them
o        Take a class in your target area or sit in on classes – be aware of pricing and policies for this
o        If appropriate, go for a certificate as a way to get re-engaged in your target field
o        Use “Google scholar” and set up an alert system for your topic
o        Volunteer or work in your area of interest
o        Participate in national and regional conferences in your field – it will update you on your field and connect you with interesting faculty members and advanced graduate students
o        Join associations related to your field(s)

How much should I reveal about my immigration status?
o        In your personal statement, if there is a place to describe your personal journey, this is ideal IF you want
o        Your research or professional motivation might also be tied to your immigration status (or not!)
o        Be ready to “educate” administrative and faculty folks about undocumented issues: websites, policies, etc.
o        Depends on your comfort level
§     a mentor can inquire about immigration issues or attitudes on behalf of “a student”
§     a key contact in the various graduate programs can also help

What is the role of letters of recommendation?
o        Crucial! This is why your connection to others – faculty, supervisors – is essential to being competitive
o        Give your recommenders your statement of purpose, a copy of your transcript (highlight classes you took with her/him), bring any course work you had with her/him, copies of your notes about the programs you are applying to, email reminders for due dates
o        Your recommenders do not have page limits – can elaborate more in-depth or explain aspects of your life/work 

How can I improve my writing samples?
o        Crucial for academic programs – take the BEST analytical / research paper(s) you wrote in college and revise it
§     Most graduate programs do not want to see a marked up version of a paper in an application
o        Perfect writing is expected for your sample – find an editor, friend, or professor to help you! 
o        If you don’t have a college paper, you need to write one; you will truly need help from a professor or an advanced graduate student for this. Form a collective ~ I can help!
o        For last desperate measure, do an annotated bibliography on your topic of interested; email me for materials

What do I include about myself, in general, to present a strong application / statement of purpose?
o        Clean up your online profile – “manage” your graduate school identity before you get there
o        Activist identity – how to manage or present your work in the community
o        Undocumented status – see above – it’s your choice. Faculty and administrators must follow FERPA (student privacy and confidentiality law), which protects your personal information.
o        Other personal information about your journey through education and personal tragedies can be mentioned. I usually advise students to discuss them in a framework that explains specifically how has it shaped you in term of your current goals and aspirations.

Discussion / More Questions?

[1] Concurrent sessions are about mentoring, statement of purpose, and funding. I can help answer questions about these issues and will include these topics in my session.

Presented at: 
UndocuGrads Conference
Saturday, June 7, 2014
Panel III 1:00-1:50pm 
Room A - West Earl Warren Room
UCSD Price Center

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