Speaker advises students to apply to graduate school

Erin Mahany

Advanced preparation is the key to admission to competitive graduate school programs, according to author and speaker Donald Asher, who visited campus on Oct. 21.

Asher stressed the importance of advanced preparation and thorough research into the different programs, requirements and sources of funding available.

Asher told the audience of about 50, ranging from freshmen to graduate students, that although applying to a master’s or doctorate program can be a lengthy and complex process, it is ultimately one that pays off.

In general, people who have graduate degrees have lower unemployment rates and higher annual incomes than those who do not, he said.

Particularly, a dearth of people with doctorates in the fields of engineering, business, economics and nursing bodes well for the availability of jobs in those areas, he said.

Given the current economic climate, it may be better for students to “ride out the recession in grad school” rather than face the bleak job market, he added.

Even students unsure about pursuing a higher degree should still apply, according to Asher.

“Perfect certainty never comes,” he said.

For students who love a particular subject, graduate school is an obvious choice.

“Obsessive people belong in grad school,” Asher said. “People who are passionate about a subject belong in grad school.”

There is one instance when a student should not pursue an advanced degree.

“Do not go to grad school to please a parent,” he said.

He advised that students first narrow their desired field of study.  Using that specific topic, they should search for a program with multiple faculty members who share this research interest.

He also suggested that students talk to the programs’ current students as well as their own undergraduate faculty to learn what these programs are like.

“One of the best ways to get an idea of a program’s reputation is gossip,” he said.

When it comes to taking the GRE, Asher suggested that students follow the “Four Saturdays” model.  Students should take a full length practice test for three Saturdays in a row, taking the actual exam on the fourth Saturday.

Unless a student falls a few points shy of a program’s cutoff score, Asher said that retaking the exam is unnecessary.

Application essays should be examples of graduate-level writing and focus on academics.

“An essay should not be so much about you as it is about your discipline,” he said.

Specifically, applicants should focus on why the faculty, curriculum and location of the program are of interest.

He advised students to stay away from writing about stories of personal hardship unless they explain a period of poor academic performance. Instead, students should focus on experiences that have molded their academic interests. Overall, essays should be upbeat and focused on the future.

Many students who asked questions were curious about how to fund their graduate studies. According to Asher, graduate funding comes in four forms: assistantships, fellowships, waivers and loans.

Students have no way of knowing what kind of funding they will receive before they apply and are accepted to a program.

“Because of that, a leap of faith is required,” Asher said.