My Graduate School Application Experience

I don't really know what the purpose of this post is except for me to write down my experience with grad school so I can look back on it. If anyone does happen to stumble upon this, I hope it can kind of explain the grad school process (particularly for a non-science field!) and what to expect. I applied for higher education and student affairs program, and I feel like when I was looking for information for applying to graduate school a lot of the information was for more academic/research based programs (probably because my program is more along the lines of a professional development program). I know my experience with applying to grad school was pretty different than one of my friends from high school who was applying to chemistry PhD programs because of the nature of the programs. 

For this specific post, I wanted to break it down month by month and share what I did to prepare for grad school applications and how I decided on where to apply/where to go and everything in between. 

August 2019
Since I spent the summer interning in London, I didn't really turn my attention to grad school until I got back. At this point, there were two schools I was definitely applying to, so I started my applications for those, but I still wasn't super sure where else I wanted to apply. Luckily, the honors seminar class I took in the fall was based on Higher Education, so I was hoping that class would kind of help me figure everything out. One of the assignments was actually to create grad school profiles (for any type of program you were interested in), which was so helpful because it killed two birds with one stone. 

September 2019
Once recruitment was over and school officially started back up, this is when I really focused on the grad school grind. I signed up to take the GRE on September 30th since it would give me enough time to retake it if I needed to. I can't give ~amazing~ advice about the GRE because I didn't study as much as I could have. At the bare minimum, I think it's important to look at the type of questions that will be on the test because they are similar to the SAT/ACT but a little more involved, especially in the verbal reasoning section. I did well enough to get into what was my top program at the time, so I decided to only take it that one time, but I also know that I probably could have done better if I studied/practiced more. 

This month was also about figuring out where I was wanted to apply. The GRE allows you to send your scores to four schools for free, so I wanted to figure out where to apply to by the time I took the test. As I said before, one of the assignments I could do for my higher education class was to create grad school profiles. By doing this, I narrowed down where I wanted to apply to to five schools. This is what I used to make my graduate school profiles, but once I decided to apply to the schools I applied to, I didn't look at this again so...but it is nice to be able to compare schools against each other. I deleted all the information I found and added in some example information. 

Also, at this point, I had decided to apply to Indiana University, the University of Georgia, the University of Virginia, Clemson University, and Texas A&M University. 

Side note: In September, I thought applying to five schools was a lot because grad school applications are like ~$60-$80, and for these programs you have to travel to interview for assistantships/internships. When I was on visitation weekends, people applied to like 10. I am not sure if my life would have been better if I applied to more programs, but I am also glad I didn't because visitation weekends killed me, which we will discuss. 

October 2019
This month was personally very busy for me, so I wasn't super concerned about grad school applications at this point. I was working through them and filling out the basic information on the applications. This is where I decided I wasn't going to apply to Texas A&M. Nothing against the university at all, but the ApplyTexas application is used for every school in Texas and is super complicated. It was not one of my top choices, so I decided just not to apply and save some money. (Looking back, I probably should have found a school to replace that since applying for only four grad programs can be kind of a risk...) 

At this point, I also started working on my personal statement. I knew the general idea of what I wanted to write because I had a specific moment when I decided student affairs was the career path for me. However, it took me so long to figure out how to say it. I wanted it to be perfect. In October, I wrote one that I liked, but then my sister read it and I absolutely hated it. It took me a really long time to figure out how I wanted to tell my story. 

This was also the month where I asked for my recommendations! Most of the schools I applied to needed two recommendations, so I asked my advisor and then one of my mentors, who is one of the reasons I wanted to go into higher education. For the school I needed a third recommendation, I asked one of my professors who I had when I was a junior. I just sent an email asking if they would be willing to write a rec and went ahead and attached my resume to make it easier! I always include saying that I am willing to provide more information about myself, which my mentor did ask for! 

November 2019
I gave myself a deadline of actually submitting my applications during Thanksgiving break since 3 out of 4 were due on December 1. At this point, I mostly just needed to work on my personal statements. For the three schools with December deadlines, my personal statement for all of them started out roughy the same way with telling why I wanted to go into student affairs/the moment I realized this is what I wanted to do. Then I transitioned into talking about why I wanted to go to that specific school. For Indiana/Georgia, I focused specifically on the importance they place on assistantships while for UVA, I focused more on its emphasis on diversity in higher education, which is something I am passionate about. I definitely think it's important to figure out why that program because without that, there's no real reason for a school to accept you. 

I submitted my applications for IU, UGA, and UVA on November 27th! 

December 2019
Like I said, IU, UGA, and UVA all had a deadline of December 1st while Clemson had a deadline of January 15th. During December, I pretty much just focused on finishing up my last fall semester at Alabama and working on my Clemson application here and there. Clemson did not require a personal statement and instead required mini essays answering certain questions. So similar but a little different. 

During December, I actually heard back from both IU and UGA, and it was pretty fast. I heard back from IU on December 16th and from UGA on December 18th. For both of these schools, an assistantship is required so I was "conditionally" admitted based on my ability to secure an assistantship and invited to visitation weekends. This is where even more fun started. Now instead of worrying about applying to the programs, I needed to worry about applying to assistantships. (I truly felt like 75% of my senior year was completing applications for grad school.) 

For grad school assistantships, you can kind of apply broadly to everything available, which was so hard for me. Everything someone has ever told you about resumes and cover letters is out the door because you can't tailor it to the assistantship specifically. You submit one resume and one cover letter. I tried to talk about positions I think I would qualified and to talk about where I kind of want to end up working. It was hard. My cover letters for each school were vastly different from each other based on what positions they were offering. I didn't want to talk about my experience in Greek Life if there were no assistantships in Greek Life. 

January 2020
January was truly about getting in my assistantship applications and finishing my Clemson application. For UVA, I found out I was admitted on January 22, and they had a really quick turnaround for everything. I had to submit my internship application by February 2. Thankfully at this point, I had done my IU and UGA (UGA was due January 5) one, so I had a rough idea of wanted to say. 

Clemson on the other hand was a nightmare. Basically, you have to submit all the stuff for your assistantship applications before you find out if you are admitted, and it's a lot you have to do. I needed 4 more recommendations, and I had to do video interviews where you record yourself answering questions in lieu of a cover letter. It was so much work and such a quick turnaround. Then I don't know if it was just bad timing, but on the same day as everything was submitted, I got the email saying I was rejected. (It worked out because I actually got to go to 30A for my senior campaigns class on that weekend instead of interviewing at Clemson! God's timing, y'all.) 

February 2020
Y'all know how I said October was a busy month for me? February takes the cake for busiest month of college. I missed so much school, and it truly never felt like I was in Tuscaloosa anymore (really, really mad about a global pandemic cutting it down even more). The week of my birthday I was gone Friday-Monday for UGA. Tuesday was my 22nd birthday. Wednesday-Friday I was in Bloomington for my IU interviews, and then I flew back on Saturday for my senior year formal. It was hectic to say the least, and interviews are scary!! I was so nervous basically the entire month of February. 

For interview weekends, my biggest piece of advice is to just be yourself because it will work out the way it is supposed to. I could very easily which program was right for me when I look back on it, especially when I was interviewing for my internships/assistantships. For me, UVA had more of the type of internship I wanted since I would most like to go into admissions/recruitment once I am done. That's kind of what I did in undergrad and is what my undergraduate research is based on, and it's the area I see myself most likely going into once this is all over. Plus, when I interviewed with my now employer, it was such a good interview, and I was looking forward to the prospect of potentially working there. 

How the process works (or at least it is how it worked at all three schools I interviewed at) is you are in a big room with everyone interviewing at once, and it is extremely overwhelming but it'll be fine. It reminded me so much of sorority recruitment. We had about 20 minute interviews, and it's like a typical interview but you are just surrounded by people who are also interviewing. Then at the end, you rank the assistantships you applied for (again...sorority recruitment) and the providers end up ranking you in a way (this is where everyone differs on how they exactly do it). And you wait for a phone call! 

March 2020
I got my call from UVA the Thursday the global pandemic hit...So my day started off really great and ended with me packing up to move home for the foreseeable future. But I got an internship with my first pick, which I was really excited about. I officially accepted my offer from UVA and then officially turned down my offers from IU and UGA (which took me way longer to do than it should have...those emails are hard to write).

And here we are! That's how I applied to grad school. I start online classes next month on June 8 and am taking three classes this summer. I am excited to be doing something, especially since I didn't do a ton once undergrad classes went online, but I do wish I was starting in Charlottesville with my actual cohort...Regardless, it will be fun and interesting. 
xx, jKm

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