How to Master Getting Your Masters
...or How to Get Through the Application Process
By Marissa Nadeau
So you’re thinking of going to Graduate School… CONGRATS! You’re one of the many brave people who have decided to dig deeper into academics and even deeper into your pockets (to find that extra change to pay for the next round of tuition).
Before getting started, let me just remind y’all that I’m not an expert on this topic, and the application process is different for everyone. But there are a few things I wish I had done or known before I started my own journey through the process.
So here’s a little background on how I decided to pursue my Masters: I received my Bachelor’s degree in Art History with a double minor in Creative Writing and Italian from New York University. I didn’t start at NYU; it took me a couple of tries to land in the Big Apple. My freshmen year was spent at Furman University in South Carolina (see: “y’all” above), and then I transferred back home to Western Connecticut State University for the fall semester of my sophomore year--where I made some crazy good lattes at Starbucks while stress editing my application to NYU. I transferred (for a final time) to NYU in spring semester of my sophomore year, where I got the chance to carry out the rest of my undergrad in one of the greatest cities in the world.
I’ve always been a consistently good student, pulling in good grades and working hard. By the end of my senior year of college, though? I was done. While the majority of my classmates in the Art History department were talking about what grad schools they were applying to in the Fall of 2015, I swore I would never want to pursue a higher degree. At that point, I had no interest in teaching or writing papers to be published, so why waste the money and time to get another piece of paper stating my academic competence? After I graduated in May 2016, and I was facing my first year without a syllabus, I felt nervous for what was to come. It is completely reasonable to feel anxious as you launch yourself into post-grad life after spending 18ish years in a classroom.
I didn’t get a job in my field of study. Instead, I worked 2 part-time jobs, waking up every day at 4:30am and getting home by 10:30pm. After a while, I began to feel uninspired and stuck. I didn’t feel like I was learning anything new. And two things became pretty clear to me: 1) I needed surround myself with the same kind of creative energy I had had in a classroom setting. 2) Nowadays, graduating from college is the equivalent to graduating from high school when our parents were our age. If I was ever going to stand out and pursue a career in the arts, graduate school was the perfect first step for me.
Now unfortunately (for you) I did not take the GRE. I wish I could give you the low-down on the souped-up-SAT-for-college-grads, but I don’t have the knowledge to do so. My biggest advice?
In fact, there’s no better time to start than after reading this article! Maybe it was my own naivete about the whole process, but I never looked into the standard procedure of applying to graduate programs. I thought, It’s probably just like applying to college *insert shrugging girl emoji here.* There were definitely similarities, especially when it came to filling out endless empty boxes with information about myself. I had to write essays for each program I applied to (three) and they were all geared towards the area of study I was applying to (Museum Studies). In some sense, the essay portion was much easier than applying to undergrad; I already had a clear sense of what I wanted and how passionate I was about the program, unlike 18-year-old me, who had not a clue what she wanted to study when she was filling out college apps.
Where I would suggest you start is to nail down your references - that was the most difficult part for me. One of my recommenders took too long to respond and made me miss one of the school’s deadlines. Schools can require 2-3 references, academic or professional, so that means start thinking about the connections you made with professors or bosses. Two of the programs I applied to required two academic and one professional, and I had different people in mind as references for each program. So cater your recommenders to the program you are applying for. Yes, this might seem like extra work, but for me having a recommendation from a professor I worked with in Italy, for the program that is based in Florence, was a no brainer. Same goes for a recommendation from my boss at a curatorial internship for a grad program that allows you more freedom to focus on a specific area.
What I want to leave you with, whether you’re about to embark on the application process within the next month, or are considering graduate school as the next step in your career, is this: think about the professors who have inspired you and the ones who have pushed you past your limits. Those are the ones who will want to write a recommendation for you, because they’ve seen how much potential you have, and have witnessed how passionate you are about your field of study. And that is exactly what you want a graduate program to know about you.
...But now let’s get to the fun stuff: YOU GOT IN! MAYBE TO MULTIPLE INSTITUTIONS! What now? How do you choose?!
-Grocery lists (for when you need to stress eat).
Seriously. Lists on lists on lists. I think I made about 10… definitely more. And everyone knew about them. I mean everyone. I took tallies, I took votes, I asked anyone who would listen where they thought I should go. In the end, though? It hit me one night while my roommate and I were watching TV, drinking wine, and all of a sudden, the decision seemed obvious. I just knew where I wanted to be. At the end of the day, it’s where you’ll have to be for however long the program lasts. Who knows, you might end up living in that new place after it ends! All of my lists and all of the opinions I collected didn’t impact my decision, but they steered me to choosing the best option for me and I couldn’t be more excited to be moving to San Francisco next month to attend the University of San Francisco.
Looking back on the past nine months, it occurred to me that in terms of how I approached the application, I was rather lax when it came to the formality of my writing. The older I get, the more I realize that telling people what they want to hear doesn’t always conform to how I actually feel. I spoke my mind in my application essays and showed how interested I was in the programs. And I truly feel that being honest, and authentic in my writing helped the admissions counsel get to know me (who I am and what I want) through my application.
Now...go on with your bad self and whoop some graduate school butt!