Many potential student affairs graduate students are gearing up for application season! This week marked the first deadline for some graduate programs in higher education and student affairs with many more deadlines forthcoming. For those who feel as though they are behind in the game, have no fear! There is still time to put together a winning application for your top programs! What does it take to apply for a graduate program in higher education or student affairs? What are the steps to take to be successful in your search? There are many paths to take, but the following were my steps to success:
1. Research, research, and some more research
When I began the search for my perfect program, I began by using GradSchools.com. This was a great tool to start with, but looking back, it was a huge pain. I tried every combination of higher education, student affairs, college student personnel, student affairs counseling imaginable to find every program. I then went to the website of every. single. program I found. This may seem excessive to most, but I wanted to make sure that I made the best possible choice for me given all of the information.
I then discovered the greatest tool available: The NASPA Graduate School Search. This search tool did exactly what I wanted from gradschools.com, but it already listed every program I could ever hope for. It was a one stop shop without having to try every combination of keywords. The great thing about this search tool is that you can filter by things like GRE requirement, thesis or comprehensive exams, location, and program emphasis. I highly highly recommend this tool to anyone on the search.
What do you do with all of this information? Well, I am an organization freak. I make spreadsheets for just about anything imaginable. It should come as no surprise that I made the most intense spreadsheets for my search. Spreadsheets aren’t everyone’s thing, but find what organization strategy works best for you and stick to it.
2. Keep an open mind
Research, administration, counseling? Which is the best focus? The
great news is that it’s entirely up to you! You can get the same general education from each type of program. When I went into my search, I was strictly looking at counseling based programs. And yet, I ended up at UND — an administration based program. I realized that many of the courses at each school were very similar with some slight differences. Some of the schools I originally looked at had a counseling class or an extra theory course, but in general, they were very similar to the program I ended up in. Think about what is most important to you in a program. If that counseling class or extra research class sets that program above the rest, then go for it. Just be sure to explore all of your options and keep an open mind. The schools that were originally at the top of your list may fall to the bottom for a variety of reasons.
3. Prepare your documents
Résumé, personal statement, cover letters for assistantships. These are all essential documents required of most graduate programs. Make sure you prepare your documents with enough time to give them a second look. And a third. And have someone else look at them. The most important advice I can give on this topic is to reach out to others. For me, it was especially helpful to reach out to people who do not know me. My supervisors and friends knew enough about me that if I left out important details in my personal statement, they would still see the overall picture. By sending my documents to a total stranger, I was able to get the same type of opinions and feedback that an institution looking at my documents would have. Where do you find these strangers? The Future Student Affairs Grad Students Facebook page is a great place to start! (I also love reviewing personal statements and résumés, so feel free to reach out to me!)
4. Make your lists, and check them twice
Each school will require different things to be submitted for your application. I found that it was helpful to make my own list of requirements for each school and check them off as I submitted different pieces. You don’t want to be out of consideration for your favorite program because you somehow managed to forget to submit an important piece of your application.
5. Give yourself time
Applying to graduate programs might as well be a full-time job. It is a lot of work and can be taxing. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time before a deadline to gather your required materials, write personal statements and cover letters, update your résumé, and contact your references. If you are using a faculty member as a reference (which I would highly recommend), give them plenty of notice before you need that letter of recommendation. They may be writing letters for a number of people on top of their own courseload and additional responsibilites. Also, make sure to ask your references if they can give you a positive recommendation.
If you are already panicking about your graduate school applications, don’t. While I don’t believe in the phrase “trust the process,” I do believe that everything happens for a reason. Put your best effort into your applications and you will end up exactly where you are meant to be. Don’t let the perceived prestige of programs fog your decision. There are hundreds of great programs out there! Keep an open mind and apply to the programs that are best suited for you, not just the ones that appear to be the more popular choices. Good luck!
> BONUS <
Podcast With Craig Bidiman on Supporting #SAGrad Success