Make Sure You Do Your Research to Find the Grad Program that Fits!

Week 9, can you believe it?? The Career Changer is back to tell the penultimate episode of her wavy career path, a career path that continues on in this moment, as I sit here at my desk in Career Services at OSU. But cutting right to it, when I left off last time, I was working as the Director for a nonprofit in Colorado. Yet no matter how much I enjoyed that work, I knew that I wanted to be in higher education, advising students, using some of the administrative, leadership, and team building skills that I was cultivating in my work as an office manager for a real estate agency and a nonprofit administrator, as well as my teaching and tutoring background. I realized, as I was applying for the jobs I really wanted at colleges and universities, that I might not have the degree that most applied to my field of interest. I was definitely competing against applicants who had a degree directly related to advising and educational administration.

I needed one of those degrees if I wanted one of those jobs. So, I began the search for my next graduate school. This time, my process of searching was much more intentional. I took note of the degrees that colleges and universities preferred their applicants to have. For instance, many of the job descriptions I looked at that sounded exciting to me would say, “Preferred Master’s in Higher Education, College Student Personnel, Educational Leadership, College Student Services, or Related”, so I was looking for one of these degrees. To search, I found professional organizations associated with higher education, several of which have databases that list graduate school programs in the field. I examined programs’ courses of study, their placement statistics, their requirements, and their mission statements and values. A priority for me in a school concerned location; I didn’t want to attend a school in a community in which I did not want to live. The opportunity for funding was a huge factor as well, as I did not want to graduate from a program with an enormous amount of debt in my mid-thirties, and I also wanted job experience to help me get my first position out of school. Graduate programs will often offer assistantships, for research, teaching, or administrative work, in exchange for a monthly stipend and a tuition remission. These assistantships are amazing opportunities for students to fund their own education.

In the end, I applied to just four institutions; four schools that I thought would give me the total package to graduate with the experience and knowledge to get the position of my dreams. When you are considering graduate school, it is important to do this level of research. Because graduate programs can last 2, 3, 5, or even 7 years of your life, you want to ensure that you will learn and grow in the ways that you intended and also in ways that may be surprising. Ask yourself what your goals are and how each program will help you achieve those goals. Also, talk to current students and faculty. Do you fit with the program and the campus culture? In my case, it was clear to me after my interviews that I wanted to be at OSU. This worked out well, since here I am, blogging to you all!

Have a great end of the term, and I’ll be back finals week with some closing thoughts about what it means to forge your own wavy path through your vocational life. There isn’t a right way, just a right way for you!

Jessica Baron is currently a Graduate Assistant in Career Services at OSU and a full time student in the College Student Services Administration Program. Before making her way to Oregon State, Jessica worked as an actor, waiter, online tutor, receptionist, college composition instructor, creative writer, gas station attendant, nonprofit program director, writing workshop leader, high school drama coach, Hallmark card straightener, substitute teacher, real estate office manager, and SAT tutor, not necessarily in that order. Her “Confessions of a Career Changer” will focus on her wavy career path and the challenges and joys of wanting to do everything.

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