What things were you looking for while searching for a graduate or professional school program?
I was looking for a program with a solid academic reputation that also offered a Nonprofit Management concentration. I was also looking for a program that had personable staff and a more familial feel (very similar to my undergrad program at SPNHA)
What advice might you give to an undergraduate about their graduate or professional school search or application process?
Visit as many schools as you can before making a decision. Understand what is important to you and your success as a student (i.e., what did you like about your undergrad program, what you didn’t like, how you experienced success, what you struggled with, etc.) and then meet with the Director of the Grad program in which you are interested. When preparing for the meeting, treat it like a reverse job interview. Ask questions about the program’s culture.
What opportunities did you take advantage of to help prepare yourself for graduate or professional school?
I was an active brother of Phi Iota Alpha and I served as President my senior year. I was also part of the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance (called American Humanics during my time at GVSU). Lastly, I was also fortunate to work with Amanda Cuevas, who was the Director of Frederick Meijer Office of Student Fellowships, as a Truman Fellowship finalist. That process was so challenging but helped prepare me for the Graduate School admission process.
How did you distinguish yourself from other candidates applying?
I spoke with the Directors of the programs to which I was applying. I either visited the school and met with them in person (which I tried to do to all the schools that were interesting to me) or took the time to email and set up a call to be able to tell my story. I wanted the people making the decisions to understand my whole story, not just my academic story, so that they could understand how hard I was working to fulfill my mission of becoming the first in my family to graduate from college and to also earn a post-graduate degree. While my academics were strong, I felt that the other factors in my life (work, family, etc.) would help me stand apart from other applicants.
What were the main factors you considered important when comparing grad/professional schools?
The academic reputation of the school and program, the availability of scholarships and fellowships, and the “feel” of the program. I was really looking for that family feel that was key for my success at GVSU.
Was there a process or strategy that you used to narrow down your top schools of choice?
The first thing we did was consider where we would be willing to live. Just because a school had a great reputation, if my wife wasn’t willing to live there, I no longer considered that school. Then, we visited as many of the schools that were in the geographic area where we wanted to live. I emailed the directors and began to judge based on the speed and quality of the response. If the response seemed canned, I figured they weren’t interested or wouldn’t offer enough financial support to attend (one school told me they didn’t offer scholarships to Master’s level students…so I crossed them off my list). Lastly, if there was no way that I could visit the campus before the application deadline, I made sure to speak to as many people in the department as possible to ascertain the culture of the department. I had one school invite me to apply for a fellowship but the deadline was two months from me finding out, I was in my final semester of my undergrad degree, and the school was in the southwest, so there was no way I was going to be able to visit before applying. I made sure to talk to at least three people on the phone before deciding to apply.
What approaches and techniques did you use to prepare for a standardized test? How often? Did you find that successful?
I bought the Kaplan GRE test prep book. One of the Directors had advised me to study the book instead of taking the prep course. That saved me money and time. I probably should have given myself more time to study but I thought the book was helpful and I got a decent score on my GRE, so I can’t complain. If I had to do it again, I would give myself a couple of months studying and going through the book but I still wouldn’t spend the money on the course.