There would be no better way to end this series than with Lauren’s words (who, by the way, was mentioned multiple times throughout the series!) on tips for prospective students. Lauren is the Program Coordinator of IEDP, and she is the person that you’ll likely consult the most both during your application cycle. She has been with the program for six years and seen everything, been there and done all that! She is definitely a tremendous resource for prospective (and current) students.
Some background, when I first applied to college I had no idea what I was doing. As a first generation college student in this country the process largely fell on me and me alone to navigate the application process for myself. I applied to three schools (one I found in a book and two that classmates families took me to visit). I went to the first one I got in (NYU). When I talked about graduate school to my family their initial response was, ‘great, you are on your own’. And so the process started again.
When you are the first in your family to go to school, you learn fairly quickly that there is no really easy way to figure out school bureaucracy in the US. You figure out things by yourself, for yourself. You stand in lines to figure out what aid is available for you and how to appeal yourself. You pick classes based on a sheet and without advisement. You apply blindly to things and hope you did them right. We silo ourselves as fortresses to prove how we too are strong, but it is only in hindsight do we realize how detrimental it can be.
When I started my graduate studies, as a working adult here at GSE, I was mainly interested in exploring access and equity broadly. For first generation students, for minority students, for international students, and for the students who existed in the spaces between all four spaces. One of the most common themes that comes up again and again for these populations is often access to knowledge during the application phase. How to get past the gatekeeper? How to find a gatekeeper? How to self advocate? And what is and isn’t appropriate to question? My role in IEDP is highly administrative and often student centered, but more than anything I like to consider how someone in my position can balance the scales a bit more. How do we take all that accumulated knowledge and give it more freely to those who need it most.
Make sure you ask questions. Clarify as much as you want. Just make sure you ask SPECIFIC questions to the RIGHT person.
During our admissions cycle my email is often filled with emails from applications, accepted students, and prospective students wondering about various things about the program. I see everything from one question in an email to eleven point emails. If you are wondering if you should ask something, it is likely that someone before you has already asked it and others are doing the same. Send the email. Get what you need. Just make sure you do your research before hitting send. I get a large amount of emails that ask simple things like “tell me about your program”. As harsh as it sounds, please consult the website site first. Refine your questions and go from there. Broad emails are difficult to answer because I don’t know exactly what people are asking.
If you are wondering WHO to ask, try and find an admin or program focused individual. Especially for application related questions. Faculty members have busy schedules between class, advisees, research, and travel (this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t reach out to them but do so with care). If you have a question about application materials, ask a staff member.
If you have a specific fellowship/scholarship external to the school and need specific things….start asking questions and advocating for yourself.
I have worked with applicants on every funding source imaginable (Rotary, World Bank, Fulbrights from various countries, Gates Fellows, Bolashak, etc.) Each scholarship/fellowship has different funding stipulations, timelines, and needs. If you have an external fellowship and have specific questions/concerns, start asking questions early to a staff member. Some numbers seem unreachable or not structures appear impossible. Just start asking questions. As I tell our fellowship applicants, start lining up the pieces early. For one student, this meant we worked with her (OVER TWO YEARS) to figure out how to make her Fulbright doable here. For Gates Fellows, how can we highlight opportunities like College House GAships to make something more accessible. Overall, the most common question is about program structure, length, and how does this fit the fellowship stipulations. It can be complicated to answer, so start asking!
Grad school is more than just tuition. Ask to speak with a current student to see what everything from classes to housing is like.
IEDP has a team of Graduate Assistants who help the program during the admissions season. I handle most programmatic level questions and they are available to talk to applicants and especially accepted students. The conversations are one on one with current students and total confidential, so just ask if you want to speak with one.
Application materials are reviewed as pieces of a much larger hole by a faculty member. If I could advise on spending time on piece more than any other, it would be the personal statement.
One of the most common mistakes made during the application phase is often found in the personal statement. Make sure you spend time researching the program, making sure it is the right fit (for you and your goals), and have that come through in the personal statement. We commonly have applicants who get stuck on the term “international”, but miss the “development” portion of the program. There are great programs at GSE for people interested in comparative ed, international student exchange, etc., but they are found in programs like Intercultural Communications.