After a challenging year spent searching for the right graduate program, I finally sent in my letter of intent. In the fall of 2012, I will begin my pursuit of a Master of Arts in Rhetoric & Writing Studies with a Professional Writing concentration.
During the past year I learned that there are several parts of the graduate school application process, such as finding programs and preparing for the GRE, that present unique challenges. During my various successes (and failures) I was able to identify some simple, effective strategies that might help you to answer an important question: A master of what?
Here is Part I of my unofficial guide to making graduate school a reality.
Mindset moving forward
There is a wide variety of graduate programs out there, from medical research to creative writing, so I’ve chosen to include strategies for the fundamental steps that nearly every prospective graduate student will take toward realizing his dream.
It’s on you to actively fulfill the niche expectations specific to your program.
Remember! Inasmuch as your life is yours to live, so too is your decision about graduate school. Graduate school admissions can be quite competitive, so you should ask yourself a few important questions when identifying a program:
In which field will my passion, knowledge and past achievements be best applied?
Answering this question honestly will give you a better chance of being happy with your choice and, subsequently, gaining admission to your program.
Remember! Your love for a subject—or your romantic ideas about pursuing a career in a certain field—is not enough to get you into a program. Be realistic and practical about your choices. Be frank with yourself!
What programs do people in my field recommend?
As a technical writer, I’m surrounded by many bright minds (including a Paris Review contest-winner) that are currently pursuing higher education. As I searched for a graduate program, a colleague of mine who is currently enrolled in a technical communications program affirmed the strength and scope of the Rhetoric & Writing Studies program at SDSU. In fact, he considered this program for himself.
Real-world input is invaluable; go find some.
Is it a good fit?
When I first considered graduate school, I had my heart set on the GSPIA Program at the University of Pittsburgh. I have an international studies background, speak Slovak and Russian, and saw this program as the best fit for my skillset.
Then life stepped in and I took a position as a technical writer in Southern California. I was then forced to ask myself some revealing questions about my plans for graduate school:
- Do I really want to apply to a school (GSPIA) that would require me to quit my job and move to a new city?
- Would this be prudent, financially or otherwise?
- Is a Master’s degree in International Affairs still relevant to my path in life?
- Given my current job, will an MA in Professional Writing put me on a better path toward a fulfilling career?
When I began to face the answers to these questions, my approach to looking for grad programs became clearer. The job market is rough, especially with little professional experience, so I decided to keep my job and stay in San Diego. So, I needed to find a program in the area that would allow me to attend part-time while still keeping my job.
For the working professional interested in going to graduate school, achieving a balance between work, school and life is key. The program at SDSU offers me this while also accommodating my passion for the written word, in all its forms.
I urge you to take the time to ask yourself the questions above. The answers might help to guide you in the right direction. Once you have found your direction, you’ll be better prepared to put together a solid application.
**Now you’re ready to check out Part II: Applying**