This post is part two in our three part series on the #SAGrad search for #CSAM18. Check out last week’s installment “Finding Your Fit” here. Join us next Wednesday for part three in our series: “Belonging and Evolving as a Black Grad in Vermont.”
Attending the University of Southern California has been a decision I have been proud of since I submitted by intent to register. However, my decision was quite the process, as I had many things to consider before picking what graduate program I would enroll in. I will discuss some of the aspects I paid attention to when deciding which of the schools I applied to I would ultimately choose.
When I applied to graduate school, I did so somewhat blindly. I did not take into consideration the many things my peers did prior to submitting their applications. What I initially looked for were schools that had education programs and that were local to my hometown. Once I received my interview and acceptance letters, I started to pay attention to the differences and similarities between programs, and what best fit my needs.
Even if two programs have a similar title or emphasis, the graduation requirements may be different. Most programs will require students to gain experience in the field and log their hours–but the number of hours or the way this requirement is fulfilled may be different. I remember at one institution they referred to this requirement as “fieldwork” and at another one as “practicum”. More personally, I wanted to make sure that the institution I chose would allow me to complete this requirement during the summer and at a location out of state. Luckily, I was able to complete all of my 210 hours at the NASPA office this past summer!
On top of completing graduation requirements and finishing the core classes needed, most programs have a culminating course that sums up what the student has learned throughout the program. I knew that I wanted to conduct research, but what I didn’t know is that not every graduate program offers this option. There were some programs that offered a thesis as an option. (A thesis is an original research project that is conducted by the student under the supervision of faculty.) Others had a capstone or seminar that allows student to synthesize the theories they have learned to analyze an issue in higher education and create possible solutions to address that issue. Two years ago, I was not sure if I was going to take on the challenge of writing a thesis, but what I did know is that I wanted to attend an institution where that option would be there for me.
I was also sure that I did not want to go to school full time. I wanted to take graduate school slow because I wanted to focus on potential research opportunities, but also because I wanted to gain as much work experience along the way. I quickly found out that not every graduate program allows students to go part-time–many require full-time status throughout the entire program. Some program’s definition of part-time is the equivalent of being full-time in another program. Units per course also vary between institutions and that may influence your decision to be a part-time or full-time student as it did for me.
Lastly, and most importantly: cost. Each institution has its own way of helping graduate students with funding. Some offer graduate assistantships, which are part-time jobs that reduce the cost of tuition and may have a stipend included. However, not every institution offers these. There are also possibilities of working on campus and receiving tuition remission, meaning all or part of units being taken are financially waived.
Additionally, it is always encouraged to apply for any and all scholarships you may qualify for. Scholarships are awarded to students and can be based on merit, need, or a combination of both. There are scholarships that are offered exclusively by the institution for university students and there are also private scholarships that are awarded outside the university. You can always reach out to the financial aid department or your program director to inquire about available scholarship applications.
I made my financial decision based on the fact that choosing my graduate program allowed me to move back in with my parent, thus would offset the cost of living and travelling expenses. I also am not ashamed that I have taken out loans to pay for the remaining costs of tuition my scholarships do not cover.
These are only a few of the factors that I took into consideration when choosing a graduate program, but there are many more that can be discussed. Ultimately, I would advise to pick a program and institution that feels like home, that you can see yourself thriving at, and that fulfills all your needs.