Don't Get a Real Job...Yet - What Grad School is Like
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I am entering the halfway point in my senior year, marking the final stretch before I get to wear that funny cap and look back at undergrad as “the best four years of my life.” What happens after graduation? No, we don’t fly off to jobland where jobs grow on jobbies. Some of us sit around for a while figuring it out. Some of us are the lucky (or ambitious) ones who catch one of those elusive entry-level openings. Others still continue their education.
Those are the people we’ll talk about here.
Since I attend Tufts University, it only makes sense that I would check up on a couple of former Tufts students who have now made their way to a graduate education. Both are fine people—honestly a couple of the best I’ve met up here in Medford—but their stories provide two different perspectives on the same process. Each talks about their own experience and what has been important and interesting to them.
Since my mom taught me well, ladies first.
Carolyn Pruitt is currently in the first year of the Master of Entertainment Industry Management program at the Heinz College of Carnegie Mellon University. As a history major at Tufts, Pruitt had a lot of experience in film analysis, but not a whole lot in business. In her first year of the program at Carnegie Mellon, she is being taught those general management and financial courses that stress the professional side of the field.
“Taking the time in year one to round out my education in those areas will help me be able to put my best self forward with this thorough education when I get to Los Angeles and start working on getting my career off the ground,” Pruitt said.
Her interests were not always so focused, however. During the application process, Pruitt was not sure if she wanted to pursue an entertainment industry track or a non-profit/public sector media-related path, so she applied to programs for each. She now feels the decision she made was the right one.
“I ended up going with Carnegie Mellon because the program sounded the most appealing to me,” Pruitt said. “I ultimately decided that I would always regret it if I didn’t try to pursue my entertainment industry dreams.”
She went on to say that what made her especially attracted to Carnegie Mellon’s program was the clear sense of community, high degree of engagement with the program director and an established network among alumni. Pruitt admitted that although such factors were important to her, they may not be for others. Instead, she advised those interested to take the time to choose a program that fits.
“Some people want to go into film marketing, others want to do film distribution and acquisitions, or music supervision in video games, or production development, etc.,” she said. “My program is pretty great about giving us exposure to many different facets of the industry and helping us to really figure out what we want to do, which is great for me and my career goals because I’m getting to know about a lot of different options that I may not have previously considered.”
“My advice to undergrads applying to grad school is to really try to find out as much information as you can on your options,” Pruitt continued. “Go to the prospective student weekends and talk to people for sure, but also look online for blogs or twitter accounts of current or former students and try to get a picture for what your life will actually be like.”
The life of a graduate student, Pruitt mentioned, is fairly different from that of an undergrad’s.
“There are some adjustments that I didn’t expect, like trying to figure out a new university’s registration and scheduling system…which can be a bit frustrating,” she said. “But, I’m older and wiser than I was when I was an undergrad. I actually don’t think I realized how much I had grown and changed through college until I left Tufts and was thrown into a totally new environment.”
For Pruitt, graduate school was the right choice. She has enjoyed exploring a new city (Pittsburgh) and meeting new people. Our other contributing first year graduate student, Devin Merullo, has similar sentiments, but has his own unique insights as well.
Merullo is a first-year Zoology Ph.D. student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He had some interesting things to say about graduate school admissions.
“Applying to graduate school is entirely different from applying as an undergraduate,” he stressed. “Individual departments handle graduate school admissions, not a general admissions committee. This means that instead of applying to a school that fits you, as an undergraduate would do, you instead need to find a program that fits you.”
Merullo suggests asking yourself a lot of questions leading up to application time. These questions, he feels, will help you better hone in on which program specifically speaks to your interests. It will also help when it comes time to talking with professors within that program.
“Once you find some programs that interest you, contact professors at these schools to learn more,” Merullo said. “You will eventually work with one of these professors, so the earlier you can get to know them, the better. Send out some emails, written politely and professionally, briefly introducing yourself, your research experience and why you are interested in their lab and the department’s program. If you’re lucky, some may even want to speak you to on the phone.”
It is one thing to woo admissions directors and future professors with talks of hard work and maximum levels of interest, but as Merullo explained, it is essential to really mean it, or else graduate school may not be for you.
“If you are a current undergraduate considering graduate school, I recommend that you genuinely think about why you want to get a graduate degree in the first place,” Merullo said. “Don’t do it just to get a better job someday or because you want people to call you “Doctor.” Go to graduate school if you are genuinely interested in furthering your education in that field, because that’s what graduate school is all about.”
Graduate school brings with it an increased amount of stress and work, but the key is to be excited about what you are doing. Merullo has found that passion makes graduate school much more manageable. He looks to become a professor at a research university, but that was not his goal when he applied.
“I applied to graduate school because I loved doing research,” he said. “I’ve found that the academic path is the best option for me, but I knew this could change. It’s important to keep an open mind in graduate school; you never know what opportunities could arise!”
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