Keeping Graduate School on the Horizon
Wherever you are in the process of thinking about graduate school, whether you're just now realizing that this may be an option, or have always thought you would attend, students who spend the most time on reflection, determining who they are and why they want to take this next step, end up being the strongest applicants.
Your reflections about your educational interests and goals will help you articulate these interests, making it easier to find a right fit program amongst the thousands out there. In your self-reflection, you should consider three very important things. First, consider your values, next, your goals, and third, your potential graduate school options.
For many of you, graduate school may have a role to play in reaching your objectives, but whether or not you see further education in your future, there's value to be found in reflection. Understanding your own values and being able to express them clearly are key steps. Use your time as an undergraduate or as you’re transitioning out of the military to continue to refine and test your values and assumptions. Doing so will help you understand yourself better as you think about your future options.
When developing your goals, it's important to keep your values at the forefront. Your future career should align with your values. If you have something in mind, test your assumptions through internships, jobs, and discussions with professors and career professionals. Once you've spent time thinking about what your long-term goals may look like, start breaking them down into medium and short-term goals. Think about what you can do now to work towards those short, medium, and long-term goals. How do you expect to attain these goals? Do some of your goals require specialized training or practice? Are there different paths you may be able to take to achieve these goals?
The variety of options for graduate school can be quite overwhelming. However, if you've taken the time to focus on your values and goals, you will be able to find the programs that are a right fit for you. Think beyond the programs you may be already aware of. Often, these are in law, business, and medicine. There may be a program that is even more tailored to what you want to do in the future. For example, we’ve worked with veterans who are thinking about law school in order to change government policies. Through further discussion, we find that actually, they are looking to do a policy degree rather than a law degree.
Finally, this is not a process you need to take along, Try to find interlocutors to help you refine your decisions. An interlocutor is someone who knows you well, who has your best interests in mind, and who may know more than you do or something different than you do about the direction you're trying to take. Faculty members often have an excellent perspective on their field and what a successful graduate student looks like in their area. So if you're already in college, take a look at the faculty within your department. You might find some excellent advice and support close to home. Your college career center may be able to connect you to those who have pursued the area you are exploring. Seek out these people, and find out what it really looks like to work in a particular field. If you're already in an undergraduate program, or if you have not yet left active duty, you may have access to career and educational advisors.
And remember, reflection is a continuous process. There is no final answer. You're not painting yourself into a corner. As you go through your undergraduate career or transition process, test your values, goals, and assumptions. You will accomplish some of these goals. Refine others, and yes, occasionally, you may change your direction entirely. That's OK. You should develop positive, reflective habits of mind. It takes a little practice, but trust in yourself. Devoting time and space to your own values and goals is well worth the effort you put into it.
If you want to take a deeper dive into reviewing your values as well as your short, medium, and long-term goals, and learning more about applying to graduate school, check out our resource: Keeping Graduate School on the Horizon