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“What comes next?” The Arduous Process of Applying for Graduate School

December 1, 2017

Brian Cabral '18

“What comes next?” I cringe every time someone asks me some version of this question. For those in your fourth and final year, I’m sure you can relate. When I hear this question tossed around, I wonder, “where did time go?” The past three and a half years at Oberlin have flown by, and the next couple weeks of this fall semester will pass by and before you know it, many of us will be back home for the holidays.

Side note: As of today, graduation for many of us is 177 days away!

After the initial cringe when I am asked what comes after Oberlin and the realization of how quickly time has passed by, I tell people that my plan is to go straight into graduate school. Then I follow with, “If grad school doesn’t work out, I’ll enter the job market in the spring.” I say it with confidence, but know that there is so much uncertainty in both of my plans. But, I am currently undergoing the arduous application process for doctoral programs in Sociology and Education. This post will reflect some of the things I’ve learned throughout the process as I finish up the last two schools on my list by December 15th.

Oberlin, as resourceful as it is, provides some fundamental information about applying to graduate school in the college’s website: Deciding to go to Graduate School. In it, they start you off with some advice on deciding whether you want to pursue graduate school post-undergrad. Then there’s information about what you must do and prepare for a successful application. Despite valuable information provided by the college, there is so much you need to know about applying for graduate school (e.g. how to send GRE scores and official transcripts to schools, departmental politics with professors, and gathering all supplemental documents, to name a few).

Here are three things I’ve done that have proved to be useful and beneficial in ensuring that applications for doctoral programs in the social sciences are completed and submitted on time:

1) Create a checklist -

Include every little thing the application requires you to submit or upload. While many requirements will be the same, there are differences you must account for. I bullet-pointed all documents and requirements asked for each school in a Word document and highlighted them once the task was done or the file was uploaded. When I did this, I realized that while all the schools I will be applying to require a statement of purpose, one school in particular asked for a candidate statement instead, along with a project proposal and research experience statement. Doing this also made me realize that one school required official transcripts to be considered a complete application. Best believe I went online to send that official transcript immediately!

2) Consider taking either a half or full private reading -

Applying for graduate school or jobs in general requires a big time commitment. This semester I am taking on a full course load and serving as a Course Writing Associate. I ultimately made the decision to enroll in a half-course private reading with a faculty member at the college to ensure that my application materials are completed on time. This has proved to be extremely helpful for accountability reasons. What I should’ve done is taken a private reading in replacement of one of my classes, but hey, you live and you learn!

3) Email, email, email -

Our quotidian use of email at Oberlin might be annoying, but when it comes to applying for grad school, it is one of the most important things to use. First, your references are to be completed online. Sometimes you’ll have to send them reminders about submitting a letter of recommendation. But I recommend you use your email to reach out to the professors in the department you want to apply to. I emailed at least three faculty members at each institution I am applying for, and had at least two respond to me from each school. By doing this, you familiarize yourself with the culture of the department and it will help you determine whether that program is a good fit for you.

There is so much more that goes into applying for grad school and I am no mastermind of the application process, but these three things I have done helped me complete the applications materials for four schools. If you are thinking about graduate school, feel free to reach out to me so we can talk about it. It is a process that you do not want to go through alone. But it is one that will soon be done for me. I am hopeful that the next time I am asked “what comes next?” in the spring semester, I will cringe less and provide a more concrete answer.

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