Archive for the ‘graduate degree’ Tag

Patience is not my middle name

My grad school applications were completed weeks ago and the schools that I have applied to have logged the information into their respective system. I am relieved; well, I should be relieved. Unfortunately, I can’t help panicking a little about what the results will be. I went through the same stress while I waiting for college acceptance letters. Was my essay boring? Do I have the experience they are looking for? Will they all reject me?

The worst part is that I have a couple months of waiting ahead of me. Luckily my job promises to fill my schedule, blocking out future worrying time. How do you pass the time while waiting for results of major decisions?


Recommendations make me nervous

Recommendations are the one part of the application process where you are truly at the mercy of individual schedules. The control freak part of me panics at having to rely on others until the application process is complete. The best thing that you can do for your peace of mind is to 1) ask early and 2) remind often. Even though I requested mine a month ago, I am still waiting on a few letters because schedules fill up quickly and tend to change at a moment’s notice. Luckily, my earliest deadline is still a month away.

To avoid a midnight dash to the post office, allow at least a month for your references to complete your letters. Also, make sure to have at least one backup reference in mind in case one does not have enough time in their schedules. If your reference says that they are too busy to write a letter, if it is someone you know really well, you might want to think about offering to write the letter and asking them to review and sign it. Terrified about writing your own letter? Not everyone is a self-promotion guru. Check out your recommendations on LinkedIn to get a better feel for the tone of a recommendation.

Do your references a favor and provide them with your personal press kit. Send a draft of your admissions essay, most current resume, and other documents that might me pertinent. If your degree has a research focus, it might be good to send an abstract of a published paper.

I’m trying to take my own advice and remember that most people want to help other people. The logistics of getting recommendations might be troublesome, but people like supporting other’s endeavors.

This only a test: Tackling the GRE

Standardized tests may be your forte or your weakest link but they will be part of any application for graduate school. I know after taking the SAT for admission to college that I had hoped to never see another standardized test again. Unfortunately, that simply was not possible.

The GRE, or Graduate Record Examination, is basically a grown up version of the SAT. The test includes the same sections: Verbal, Analytical and Writing. As before, expanding your vocabulary can only help you with the verbal section. I know that many people often use flashcards to learn hundreds of the most frequently used words. For me, it was more useful to learn to recognize word roots because I have a hard time with rote memorization. This test will require you to brush off those rusty math skills that you likely have not used for years. I didn’t find anything too complicated, but preparing for the test will allow you to be comfortable on test day.

I found the biggest adjustment was becoming accustomed to a computer-administered test. You can’t make notes beside the reading passages. Knowing the computer actually increases the difficulty of each test item following every correct answer until you miss an answer. I personally think this is ETS’ way of playing mind games with test takers. The key to avoiding a whirlwind of worry about the correctness of your answers is learning how to pace yourself before taking the real test. While practice tests will not exactly capture the testing experience, you can follow the same rules as the real exam.

Keep in mind that your test scores are valid for five years. Even if you are not sure that you want to go to grad school soon, you can save yourself some trouble by taking the GRE sooner rather than later. Because you can schedule the test on your own schedule, you can choose how much time you will need to prepare even if you are working fulltime. For those still in college, the summer months are perfect for preparing and then taking the GRE since there is more free time. While it’s no picnic, The GRE may be as close as you can get to having a stress-free testing experience.

Selecting a school of public health

How do you whittle down over 40 schools of public health to a reasonable list of schools to apply to? Everyone has a different approach. I am sort of a spreadsheet queen, so I keep everything in a single Excel workbook and each school has an individual worksheet. I considered about 25 factors when looking at schools; here are my top four most important things to look at for selecting a school in no particular order.

1. Location, location, location.

Focusing on location is more important than your tendency to be snow averse or a ski bunny. Certain cities such as Atlanta will offer numerous public health internship and practicum opportunities. Obviously, having greater work experience upon graduation is a good position to find yourself in. Internships can also increase your chances of finding fulltime work soon after graduation.

2. Let your passions be your guide.

First and foremost, you need to look at the degree offerings of the schools. The most common credential for graduate-level public health study is the master of public health (MPH). Some schools offer other master’s-level degrees such as the master of health science (MHS) or the master of science in public health (MSPH). Consider the career path that you hope to take when choosing the degree you would like to pursue as some may have a more academic focus with an emphasis on research while others may be more professional in nature, targeted to teach specialized skills. Other degree options include doctorate-level study and joint degrees.

The next consideration should be the area of study that you would like to focus on, if any. Some areas of study, such as epidemiology and health care management will be available at almost every school of public health. My particular area of interest, global or international health, is not available at all schools of public health. Even when global health is available, it may not be an academic department, but rather an interdepartmental specialization or certificate. The academic structure of your area of study has an impact on research and practicum opportunities.

3. Bills, bills, bills.

It has always been important to weigh how to pay for graduate school. It has taken on a new level of importance with the credit crunch as student loans are harder to obtain. Let’s be honest; being a full-time student is far from a lucrative profession. This does not mean that you have to eat bread and water for two years. Most schools offer some merit-based grants to prospective and current students. Often, students apply for these scholarships with submission of their application. Location does play a role in your finances as a graduate student. Attending school in an area with a relatively low cost of living can go a long way to keeping costs down. Applicants should also consider the availability of part-time work if desired or required. Larger universities tend to have more teaching and research assistant positions available for graduate students.

4. Inside and outside the ivory tower.

A school’s research centers and institutes mean more than extra classroom reading. For students interested in a more academic focus, the more research, the better. For students wanting to work in the field, research centers represent opportunities to apply theories and methodologies in the classroom to real-world situations. Some universities give back to their surrounding communities by using the expertise of faculty and enthusiasm of students to improve conditions and outcomes. Even for international health, research institutes such as Columbia’s Millennium Villages Project offer students privileged access to putting their academic lessons  to the test through university-supported affiliates and organizations.

Check out these resources for more information for your select-a-school search:

US News and World Reports Best Graduate Schools in Public Health Public Service Graduate Education Resource Center
Your friends and acquaintances (look at educational history through a social networking site such as Linked In)

photo courtesy of S.C. Asher