At first glance, most of the students meeting yesterday afternoon in a Bowld Commons classroom seemed to have few commonalities. They represented diverse majors, interests and academic years. However, they all shared one important trait: a desire to pursue a graduate degree after their time at Union.
These students gathered Tuesday, Sept. 29, for the first session of the Hundley Center’s two-day Grad School Prep Series, featuring guest speaker Michelle Heck, a former Union University graduate and the current Director of Law School Admissions at the University of Missouri. While students’ interests ranged from medical school to studying medieval literature abroad, Heck offered advice for all.
“This program is paramount to aiding in the student’s successfully creating a compelling admission package, depicting a top, competitive applicant, and understanding fully the totality of the application process,” said Renee Jones, director of the Hundley Center for Academic Enrichment, who previously spent 14 years helping students in Union University’s Vocatio Center for Life Calling and Career.
During yesterday’s session, Heck spoke about the graduate admissions process as a whole, offering both discipline-specific counsel and general suggestions. She focused on practical advice for students who are currently in the midst of the often complicated admissions process, especially emphasizing the importance of organization in their graduate school search and application.
For students interested in pursuing graduate degrees, she encouraged that it is never too early to begin looking. Heck suggested starting an Excel spreadsheet to organize the schools a student is considering, then spending time on the websites for each of them. She also emphasized the importance of knowing what an individual student values in a school, both academically and in terms of environment and location.
However, it is senior year when the actual work of applying begins. As the fall semester continues to pass, seniors considering graduate school for next fall need to move forward.
“It is not too late. Now is the time to prepare for the graduate entrance exams and begin the application process,” Jones said. “Visit with your professor, Hundley Center or Vocatio Center to create your timeline and to allow them to assist you in walking through the process. Utilize the resources that you currently have to achieve your goal of successfully entering graduate school.”
One of the key elements of that application process is typically a personal statement. That is why the second and final session of the Prep Series on Wednesday, Sept. 30 will focus on how to write the best statement possible.
Today, Heck will conduct an hour-long workshop on writing a quality personal statement. According to Jones, the personal statement is historically the greatest challenge that Union graduate applicants must address in assembling their application packets.
“Of the various obstacles students face in applying to graduate school, many over the years have expressed the struggle of writing a quality, stand-out personal statement,” Jones said. “These statements play a key role in differentiating the candidate from the pack by highlighting, visions, goals, accomplishments and moments of epiphany and passion for their area of study.”
As the semester continues to progress, graduate school applicants also must keep progressing. Heck encouraged students to set their own deadlines. In the chaos of the semester, time can slip away all too quickly.
The Hundley Center suggests a timeline to keep potential applicants on track. In September, register for the November GRE subject test, Jones said.
“Finalize your list of prospective schools, and familiarize yourself with the professors who share your research interests at each school,” Jones said. “Contact your recommenders. Keep polishing your statement of purpose.”
For October, students should make sure they request official transcripts from their college. It is also important to make sure the people recommending you have enough information, like your resume and personal statement, to use as a reference. If possible, Jones also suggests contacting students and professors at prospective schools and going on campus visits.
By November, Jones recommends that an applicant be ready to allow trusted friends to review and edit their personal statement. Applicants should also be prepared to take and submit scores for the GRE subject test.
Finally, December brings application season to a close, and it is time for actual submissions. When it comes to submitting applications, Jones encouraged students to keep copies of every application they sent to verify that they have been submitted.
While acknowledging that the graduate school application process can be complex and appear daunting, both Heck and Jones emphasized that it is possible to apply for graduate school with an outstanding admissions packet. However, it requires willingness to invest time and effort, they said.
“Be sure to partner with faculty, the Hundley Center and the Vocatio Center to gather necessary materials, services, and resources to assist with your graduate school application process,” Jones said. “Do not wait too late to begin the process. Be sure to create a timeline to keep you focused and productive in your efforts—and research, research, research!”
For students considering graduate school, Michelle Heck’s session on personal statements will be at 3 p.m. today in Bowld 247.
The Vocatio Center and Hundley Center both offer additional resources for graduate school applicants and highly encourage students to take full advantage of their offerings, enabling applicants to produce the superior applications that will equip them to achieve their post-graduate aspirations.