Applying to Graduate School: M.Ed. Edition

I have spent quite literally the past year prepping to apply to graduate programs and most recently, traveling to those schools for interview weekends. This journey has filled me with anxiety about my future. Applying to graduate programs has so many moving parts that are hard to navigate. Now that I am done applying and have chosen my program, it may be helpful to share some of my experiences and suggestions. I am going to earn a Master’s of Education (M.Ed.) in Student Affairs, so this might not all be applicable to you but take what serves you and leave the rest!

Originally, I went into college hoping to study political science and then possibly teach the subject at the collegiate level. Higher education and the college experience had always been important to me but that passion intensified the more involved I became on NC State’s campus through our University Activities Board, Student Government and my sorority. My advisors in these organizations also played an extremely important role in shaping my outlook on the importance of student development, multiculturalism/social justice, leadership, scholarship and research. So, I changed my life path a little bit and decided to pursue Student Affairs and Higher Education as my career.

Choosing Your List of Schools

Choosing the degree you would like to pursue is obviously the first step in applying to graduate school. Once that decision is made, you can start doing research on schools you would possibly like to attend. There are a lot of ways to consider which school would be your best option but don’t let rankings alone dictate where you want to get your degree.

Personally, I considered the following benefits in no particular order:

  1. Location – I was not a fan of moving too far from my family but I knew that I wanted to get into a bigger city with more opportunity for personal and professional development. Thinking about cost of living, accessibility, and how I could advance my career in that area was definitely a determining factor.
  2. Professors – Considering the faculty’s research interests and how they could contribute to my experience was another key point for me. Based on my experience, I would say it is important to write about this in your personal statement. Sure enough, when I visited my school of choice I was reassured that I wanted to be taught by these faculty members.
  3. Affordability – Tuition remission was another important aspect of my decision. Not all programs/institutions have graduate assistantships, but they can be valuable for easing the financial burden by offering a stipend, professional experience, and sometimes tuition remission. There are also teaching assistantship opportunities that can offer the same benefits if that is more your style. Determining what you can afford is an extremely personal decision but there are plenty of options out there.
  4. The Feel – Everyone kept saying this to me, and I did not really understand what it meant until I visited a few schools. How you feel there is so essential! You can do anything for two years but I am sure most of us would rather be comfortable during that time. Visit the programs if you can, and if you attend a preview/interview weekend, being intentional in your conversations with people.  Their experience can help you navigate if you truly want to attend that program.

 

Application Costs and Materials

Applying to graduate school can cost a pretty penny and requires a lot of planning. This can be a little difficult if you are still in undergrad (like me). Just about every application will cost $75, and the GRE costs $200 for the test alone. Applying to programs and taking the GRE cost me about $700 in total. Whatever your financial situation, this is an important aspect to consider and plan for. There are exemptions for application fees if you live below the poverty line or are an AmeriCorps member   Considering this, your total expenses may look a lot different.

The spring before applications were due, I started researching programs, and in the summer I started my application. There were a lot of aspects to consider: I needed a handful of recommendations, a fine-tuned resume, an eloquent personal statement, and a GRE score. My advice is to get started as early as possible.

 

The GRE

I took the GRE two months before my first deadline. This gave me a small window of opportunity to retake the test if I needed to (which I did). Advice for the GRE is going to vary by institution; some programs don’t put too much emphasis on standardized testing, others may. My advice is to ask around and find out. I asked professionals in my field and other graduate students what their experiences were in applying to schools and what they might know about the application process. Luckily, the GRE was not heavily factored into my admission process so I studied off and on for four months. I’ll be honest, I did average on the GRE and still got accepted into my top choices. How schools value your test scores is completely arbitrary but I still encourage you to try your hardest.

Personal Statement

Personal statements can make or break your application packet. This is one of the only chances you will have to stand apart from the hundreds of other applicants. Each school will have a different prompt, character limit or format, so you will need to tailor your statement to each school.

I started my personal statement writing in July and my first application was due in November. This still did not feel like enough time, but every person will need to set their own pace. You will absolutely have to revise and edit several times.  I found it was best to ask multiple people what their thoughts were on my writing. Some people analyzed content and others looked for grammatical mistakes. While writing, I thought of the following things:

  • What led me to this decision? What could I contribute to the field? What makes me unique?
  • Has something happened to me that led me to this field? How did I overcome or learn from this experience?
  • Why do I want to go to this school? What about their program makes me want to go there?
  • What has academically/professionally prepared me to do well?

The key word here is personal. I wrote my statement almost like a diary entry in hopes that I conveyed myself in the most intimate way possible. My overall advice, get as many eyes on your personal statement as you can, but in the end, go with your gut because the statement is a reflection of you!

Applying to graduate programs is a complex task, and once you have been accepted there are only more questions. However, I found that this task fulfilling. Spending time reflecting on my professional goals, talking to mentors and family about these next steps, and visiting schools has been nothing short of amazing. With all this work behind me, thankfully, in the fall I’ll be attending the University of Maryland, College Park to work on a M.Ed. in Student Affairs. Go Terps!

 

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Photo Highlights of the 2017 Alumni Summit

Photos by Shamera Robinson.  Descriptions by Katie Newton.

1-Erin, Katie N., Tom, Adrianna, Megan S. , Marlena, Paul, Anthony, Katie S., Cody, Melissa, Josh, Mecia, Karl 2- Maria, Kathryn , Shamera, Alexis, Kinza, Megan H., Ashley, Samantha S., Cristi, Kaylan, Kris, Yeralis, Tonia 3- Whitney, Brittany, Samantha B., Kaitlynn, Asia, Brandi, Doug, Carolyn, Trey

Sunday, July 9, 2017:

Our group gathered at the Bradley Airport and traveled by bus to the Guest House Retreat and Conference Center in Chester, Connecticut.  The Guest House had all the charms of a New England country inn and was very welcoming to our group.  The evening was spent re-connecting with friends and getting to know our newest alumni.  Several people also spent time personalizing their validation bags– a place to leave each other notes of encouragement, friendship, thanks, etc.

Monday, July 10, 2017:

For a few of us the day began bright an early with Yoga lead by Kris.  Our first summit session was “Telling Your Story”, lead by Dawn Fraser.  Dawn got us loosened up passing Zap!’s  and Woah!’s around a circle.

Samantha B, Kathryn, Whitney, Kris, Yeralis, and Megan S.

We then discussed the elements of a story and broke into pairs to practice telling a 4-minute story.  We had more than enough volunteers when Dawn asked people to share their story with the larger group.

Shamera and Carolyn

Shamera

Brandi

Dawn Fraser

Trey and Dawn Fraser

In the afternoon Janet Colantuono, Corvias COO and champion of healthy work-places, gave a talk on Work-Life Balance.  Advice on loving the body you have, staying hydrated, and the real challenge of achieving work-life balance were shared.

Samantha S., Janet Colantuono, and Paul

Anthony

Kinza

Tonia, Adrianna, and Samantha B.

Kathryn, Trey, and Brandi

Tom

Whitney’s Dog

The group then hiked to a nearby lake to enjoy some sunshine and a swim.

1- Marlena, Katilynn, Kathryn, Karl, Paul, Tom, Anthony 2- Shamera, Brittany, Megan, Samantha, Katie S., Whitney, Mecia, Marcus, Trey 3- Yeralis, Kris, Christi, Tonia, Kaylan, Maria, Asia

Marcus

Tonia

Marlena

Kris

Mecia

Katie S.

Megan H.

Cristi

Samantha S., Brittany, and Ashley

In the evening we gathered around a bonfire.  The fire was large and warm and had space around it for everybody.  However, as the evening progressed we moved our circle to one side of the fire, and we took turns sharing the stories we had developed this in the morning session.  We shared difficult life lessons, stories of loss, and stories of personal success.  We learned not only about each others’ experiences but also about how each person views and describes their own experience.

Cody, Cristi, and Melissa

Alexis

Kathryn and Yeralis

Josh

Mecia and Asia

Megan S.

Kaylan and Kris

Whitney

Jessica, Maria, and Whitney’s dog

Paul

Kaitlynn and Adrianna

Doug

Katie N.

Carolyn

Samantha B., Samantha S., Ashley, and Brittany

Tuesday, July 11, 2017:

The second full day of the Summit began with rise and shine yoga for a few early birds.  After breakfast, the first Corvias Connects session convened.  In a collective conversation alumni shared their stories of personal and professional connections made through the Corvias Foundation.  We were reminded of the power of our network, especially when we look for ways to give to others and when we ask for help for ourselves.

Samantha B.

Alexis, Whitney, Doug, Anthony, and Ashley

The next session was discussion on practical finance with guest financial planners Chris Bartlett, Ed Pieroni, and Dave Sweeney.  Dealing with debt, preparing for retirement, and understanding taxes were popular topics of discussion.  With only an hour and a half to scratch the surface of these topics, our guests kindly agreed to answer additional individual questions following the discussion.

Kathryn, Katie N., Asia, Mecia

Megan H.

Marcus

The goal of the second Corvias Connects session was to foster connections with alumni in the same geographic regions.  We broke in to smaller groups based on current location (Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, and West/Southwest).  Each group was prompted to discuss ways they could support each other personally, professionally, and philanthropically.

To find out who is in your region, check out the file on our facebook page.

With much of the day spent listening and learning from others, we took a different direction for the next session.  During the self-love session, we turned inward.  Kris led us through a guided meditation.  Then we identified the successes and potential we have as individuals by completing the phrase “I am . . . “.  We filled sheets of paper with words of what we are and what we want to be.  Putting it all in the present tense was a reminder to find and nurture the good things inside of us.

Kinza

Karl

Katie N., Tom, Brandi

Mecia

Marcus

For the last session of the day, it was time for some #CorviasGivesBack.  This year’s on-sight service project was done in partnership with Together We Rise, a national organization that provides “sweet cases” and bicycles to foster children.  Working together, we decorated and filled about 15 sweet cases and assembled about 10 bicycles.

Brittany

Megan H.

1-Ashley, Samantha S., Alexis, Tonia, Kris, Megan 2- Maria, Kinza, Marlena, Brittany, Mecia, Carolyn

Adrianna and Kaitlynn

Yeralis and Katie S.

Kaitlynn

Katie N.

Cristi, Yeralis, and Katie S.

Whitney and Asia

1- Doug, Anthony, Paul, Karl, Josh 2- Kaitlynn, Asia, Kaylan, Megan, Whitney, Marcus, Katie N. 3- Brandi, Katie S., Cristi, Yeralis

Our celebratory dinner was from the Taco Pacifico Food Truck.  Options on tacos, burritos, quesadillas, nachos, and churros.

The rest of the evening was pretty quiet.  Per tradition, we found a puzzle.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017:

The day began with a restorative yoga practice led by Kris.  Following breakfast and check out, we came together for our closing session.  For our last opportunity to form connections in person this year, we went literal.  We attempted what might possibly be the world’s largest human knot.  All 34 alumni present formed a circle and joined hands with two people across the way.  My arm ended up squished through the middle of the circle and after 5 minutes was falling asleep.  It is very hard to make progress when nobody can move so we decided to break into two smaller circles.  Twenty-five minutes later, both knots were unraveled, and it was time to say our good-byes.

Doug, Anthony, Katie N., and Marcus

Adrianna, Ashley, and Samantha S.

Samantha B. and Paul

Yeralis

 

Anthony

Trey

Marcus and Karl

This year’s unofficial theme was “Connecting in Connecticut”.  The Summit planners did our best to make sure each session and activity facilitated forming genuine connections.  Howerver, it was our alumni that made the week a success.  Everybody came with an open heart and an open mind and was willing to share of themselves.  In return, each left with the friendships, a greater network, and the motivation to keep reaching higher.


A special thank you to Shamera for documenting our time together so thoughtfully:

Shamera

Shamera


Thank you to all involved with planning the Summit:

Corvias Foundation- Maria, Melissa, Erin, and Jennifer

Alumni- Cristi, Tonia, Kris, Kaylan, Samantha S., Anthony, Mecia, Brandi, Shamera, and Katie N.


Thank you to our many guest speakers:

Dawn, Janet, Ed, Chris, and Dave

Your contributions made our Summit powerful and educational.  Thank you for your generosity of time, knowledge, and spirit.

Adjusting to College — Military Brats

image3-19.jpeg

From left to right: Omer, Cody, Nancy, Melissa, Samantha, Kinza, Benedikt (me)

I’ve been in college for two years now. I’m finally on my own and have been able to spend my time, energy, and the limited amount of money I have however I choose! This has led to a surprising amount of magical and constructive moments. However, the one experience that surprised me the most, and continues to surprise me, was how long it took to adjust to college — in fact, I’m still not fully accustomed to it. Getting to know and becoming close friends with the other students as a military brat was harder than expected. Traditionally, military brats are infamous for being too good at adjusting from one PCS to another. How come my college transition isn’t going as smoothly? If this school was going to be my home for four years, it shouldn’t take two to get settled.

Last October, Corvias provided the opportunity for 4 other Corvias scholars and me to attend Lead365, a leadership conference in beautiful Orlando! Although we had never met before, the other scholars and I experienced an immediate sense of friendship and the familiar military brat camaraderie that could’ve only been noticed if you’ve been without it for some time. We compared where we’ve been stationed, seeing if we were close to running into each other at some point in our lives and finding seemingly random mutual friends from our pasts. As the conference progressed, the scholars provided an open-environment for emotional conversation and the refreshing feeling of being at home. Although it wasn’t intentional, the most valuable lesson I learned in Orlando was how important it is to be surrounded by students who understand and can relate to your upbringing, and ultimately, your identity.

Since Lead365 I haven’t found many military brats at school, although, I recognize that the close friends I do have are almost identical to one. They grew up going to 5+ schools; they know what it’s like to be the new person in a group. They know how to make the best of a situation, even if that’s not where they want to be. They know that distance isn’t a reason to grow apart from someone, rather, it’s more of a motive to keep in touch. They know that their home is not where they are, but who they’re with. Their friendship has made the world of a difference to my college experience. It has positively influenced my decisions and comfort and I’m indebted to them for making my school, my home.

I say this because most of the schools attended by current scholars, alumni, and military brats have fewer military students than the high schools and/or neighborhoods with which we’re familiar. That means you’ll be part of the 5% instead of the 75%. It means more people will be curious about what USAA is or why you have a separate ID exclusive to the armed forces. It means it might be hard to adjust even though you’re so good at adjusting, because in the real world only 1% of the United States’ population are immediate relatives to the military. If you find yourself in a similar position that I was in, don’t be afraid to reach out to other military brats, international students, nomads, and their families — both at your school and through Corvias. It’s amazing how quickly you’ll become acquainted, and how easy it is for a friendship to blossom. Always remember, home is not where you are but who you’re surrounded with.