By: EVA MONHAUT
Graduate school is not for everyone, but for individuals considering life after receiving an undergraduate degree, it is important to know what potentially comes next. Dr. Neovi Karakatsanis, the director of the Honors Program at IU South Bend, believes it is crucial that students considering grad school are prepared for the long but fruitful road ahead of them.
Therefore, the Honors Program is hosting a mini series of talks focusing on graduate school. On February 17 in the River Cross Community Housing Building, Karakatsanis and assistant director of the Honors Program, Dr. Catherine Borshuk, gave students helpful tips for applying to grad school.
On Monday, February 24, representatives from across several universities shared information about various grad school opportunities for students.
For current undergraduate students that are interested in graduate school, even if just beginning to consider it, it is important to learn as much as possible about the process early on.
Karakatsanis recommended beginning with extensive research on the type of programs students may want to attend and keeping a keen eye on the faculty members research that is of interest.
“Grad school is not for those who are unsure of what they want to do….so if you are not quite sure yet, maybe explore some programs, take some time off to gain experience in the workforce, and then return to seriously exploring grad school,” recommended Karakatsanis.
This also means that graduate school, unlike undergraduate school, is not about exploring different options or being able to change degrees halfway through; that rarely happens. Students should be ready to commit because most Master’s programs are at least two years and most Doctorate’s Programs are at least 3 to 4 years.
Focus and precision are important when considering which program to attend, and for those who are not sure grad school is right, it is often better to wait.
Of course, many are deterred from grad school because of funding. Paying for any type of school is always daunting, and many students are afraid of incurring large sums of debt. However, there are many feasible ways to pay for grad school depending on what different programs offer.
“You want to look for a program that will pay for part of your studies through working with them, such as an assistantship or research assistant position,” said Karakatsanis.
Many of these assistantships will cover tuition cost as well as provide students with a monthly stipend to live off of in exchange for the help.
However, it is also suggested to be cautious and speak directly with students in those positions in the program. Different programs will demand varying levels of commitment and time.
“I also advise students to be very careful because there is a long history of people who get mistreated in these positions, as well as issues of sexism in the workforce. These programs can be great, but learn as much as you can because they can also be dangerous and toxic environments. You want to make sure you will be safe and happy in your program,” advised Borshuk.
Grad school can also be funded by receiving grants, fellowships, or taking out loans. However, Karakatsanis warns that loans should be a last stitch effort, except for individuals who are going into the medical or law field where they should be able to pay back loans quickly after graduation.
The admissions process is also something that requires a lot of thought. Applications often include a hefty packet including a personal statement, letters of recommendation as well as official transcripts and test scores. One small detail could make the difference between rejection and acceptance.
“Your personal statement should be about 1-2 pages, and include information on work you have done in the field and how you got into the field in the first place. It should be specific. You want to present yourself in a way that makes you stand out in the minds of the committee without appearing over the top or flaky. It is a delicate balance,” said Karakatsanis.
No matter what, applicants do not want to touch on controversial topics, appear negative, or fail to explain any gaps in transcripts. For example, if the applicant had a low GPA one semester because of family issues, use the statement to explain that.
Another important element is test scores. For most people, this will mean the GRE, but other grad programs require additional tests such as the MCAT for medical school or the LSAT for law school.
Along those same lines, it is important to think seriously about who to ask for a letter of recommendation.
“You want someone that is your field, who you have worked with closely, and who knows you very well to write these letters,” affirmed Karakatsanis and Borshuk.
One last, but very crucial aspect is to make visits to the schools. On these visits, it is recommended to talk to as many people as possible about the atmosphere of the program, the work ethic and environment of the school as well. Speaking directly with faculty within the field of interest and doing research ahead of time will also be beneficial.
The more preparation that takes place, the better the chance of being accepted.