Friday, March 6, 2009

Plan ahead, do your research and be persistent if you want to go to grad school

On Thursday, February 26, a panel of uniquely-qualified graduate school “experts” among Reinhardt’s faculty and staff met with interested students for a Graduate School Workshop. They shared the benefit of their knowledge and experience, giving tips on how to apply to graduate school, how to get accepted, and how to pay for it.
The panel consisted of Financial Aid Director Robert Gregory, Dr. Wayne Glowka (Dean of the School of Arts and Humanities at Reinhardt and former Director of Graduate Studies at Georgia College), Dr. Irma Santoro (Assistant Professor of Biology at Reinhardt and former Graduate Coordinator for the School of Biology at Georgia Tech), Dr. William DeAngelis (Dean of the School of Math and Science at Reinhardt), Janet Rodning (Director of Registration, Records and Advisement at Reinhardt), Assistant Professor of Business Dr. Katherine Hyatt, Dr. Thomas Reed (Professor of Special Education at Reinhardt), Public Services Librarian Karen Preslock and Director of the Center for Student Success Dr. Catherine Emanuel.

They spoke about the stiff competition for slots and for student assistantships, and gave tips on how to improve one’s chances. It seems the first and most important step is to do one’s research. Find the program that is the best fit for your strengths and interests.

“Talk to the professors in the program,” said Dr. Santoro. “See what the program’s strengths are.”

“Go to the Web site,” said Dr. DeAngelis. “Research the facilities, the community. Look at the program! Find programs where you have an interest. The information on the site will tell you what kind of school it is.” The Psychology program at the University of Georgia, for example, places heavy emphasis on research. Dr. DeAngelis suggested checking to see where schools are ranked in different areas, and finding a program with strengths that match yours.

“The faculty is on the Web,” Dr. Santoro said. She emphasized making personal contact with the professors, and making connections.

Library director Michael Martinez agreed with her. “Contact the school at least a year before you apply,” he advised. Write to the faculty and introduce yourself, he suggested, and visit them if possible. Tell the school that you want to attend there because you want to study under a certain professor. “They will see you made the effort. You want to study under the people you admire the most.”

The statement-of-purpose letter, said Dr. Santoro, is a very important part of the application. “A good statement-of-purpose letter shows commitment, why you want to be there, your passion.”

“They want to see what you can do for their program,” said Dr. Emanuel.

Your letters of recommendation from your professors are also important, and it doesn’t hurt to coach them a little. Dr. Emanuel advised reminding your teachers of what you’ve done in their classes and what they should mention in the letters. The graduate programs will be looking to see what kind of experience you have.
Graduate schools are competitive. Dr. DeAngelis recommended applying to a range of schools.

“These days everything is on the Web,” Dr. Glowka said, advising students to check out the program’s criteria for admission. “If there’s no published criteria, know that it’s competitive.”

Certain things can always improve your chances—such as having good grades, for example. Dr. Glowka said applicants were turned down at Georgia College based on GPA alone. Test scores are also important, and not every school requires the same test! Find out which test you need to take--the GRE, the GMAT, the LSAT—then “get the book and study it!!” Dr. Glowka emphasized. Go over the format of the test and prepare for it. Ms. Preslock announced that study guides for the major tests are available in the library on reserve.

There are other ways to help your chances. Ms. Preslock mentioned a book the library recently acquired, called Graduate School: Winning Strategies For Getting In With or Without Excellent Grades by Dave G. Mumby, Ph. D., among other guides. She suggested joining a professional organization to show your commitment, adding that many offer special membership rates to college students. Dr. Hyatt said MBA programs are looking for people with business acumen and experience. Mr. Martinez said a stint in the Peace Corps always looks good on an application! Dr. Glowka said some graduate schools will offer provisional admission to those whose credentials aren’t quite up to their standards; they’ll let you in, but you have to prove yourself once you’re there and make the grade!

Of course, if the application isn’t complete or filed correctly, all of the student’s hard work and research will be for naught. Janet Rodning spoke about obtaining official transcripts, and how the Records office can help in the application process. Know your deadlines, she advised. Know how many transcripts you need and to whom they should be sent. “You need to give us the details,” she said. “Be aware of your deadlines; don’t wait until the last minute.” Undergraduates will need to send two copies of their transcripts: one current one and then a complete one after graduation. “Many schools require two copies of your transcript or more,” she said, “and they have to be official transcripts.” Ms. Rodning encouraged students to be proactive and follow up with the schools to make sure the transcripts have arrived safely. There is a $5 fee for each official transcript, and a handwritten signature is needed to release a transcript.

“We are happy to help you,” Ms. Rodning said. “Just let us know what you need.”

Okay, so after you’re accepted into graduate school, the next question is how to pay for it. The good news is there are several options. Many programs offer teaching assistantships for their graduate students.

“Find someone who wants you enough to pay you,” said Dr. Eddie Robertson, professor of Biology at Reinhardt.

“Apply for fellowships!” urged Mr. Martinez. “They have to give them to someone. “
Some money is available for people who want to work in certain fields. Mr. Gregory said there is money available from HOPE for teachers who want to teach in critical need fields in Georgia. Ms. Preslock said government agencies such as the US Patent Office and Veteran’s Administration will pay their employees for graduate work in hard-to-fill areas. She recommends checking government Web sites.

“Only apply for a loan if that’s all you can get,” said Mr. Martinez.

Of course, not everyone can get an assistantship. The competition for them is even stiffer than for admission to the program. If you do need a loan, “there is money available for grad school,” said Mr. Gregory. “You need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and check that you have received a bachelor’s degree. There are Stafford and Direct Loans available for grad school, and the maximum is higher than for undergrad.” Mr. Gregory added that there is also a fee waiver for the GRA for students who qualified for the Pell Grant their last undergraduate year, and they can talk to the Financial Aid Office for more information.

Dr. Hyatt and Dr. Reed spoke about the graduate programs available at Reinhardt.
Reinhardt’s MBA program is inexpensive and geared toward working adults, said Dr. Hyatt. “We do reserve slots for Reinhardt students.” She said the MBA program is looking for a good GPA and a good score on the GRE. “Any major can get an MBA,” she added.

“We have two graduate programs in Education,” Dr. Reed said, “One for those who have an education background, and one for those who haven’t. “ He added there were many different ways to get your teacher‘s certification.

And if you haven’t decided what kind of a career you want, it is never too early or too late to think about it. Ms. Preslock suggested checking the Web site for the Bureau of Labor Statistics and looking at the Occupational Outlook Handbook to see which careers are expected to see growth in the future.

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