I am back for the third instalment of my T.A.G.S series! If you’ve just stumbled across my little corner of the internet, click here to catch up with our story thus far.
And the story begins with a plan. Oddly enough, though I consider myself a very laid-back person, I love having a plan. I know, I’m an enigma of contradiction. Therefore, much like anything else in my life, I need my goal of getting into graduate school required a solid plan.
It’s not hard to sit down and write out the steps you need to accomplish your goals, but it can be challenging to decipher how many steps you’ll need to take and who can help you along the way. So, I present to you, a simple three pronged outline of the steps I took towards crafting my master ‘get-into-grad-school’ plan
Step 1: Actually Make a Plan
Okay, I think I’ve got this to stick in your head by now. Sitting down with a pen and paper is the easiest way to start brainstorming any plan. That way you can see all your ideas and goals in one place.
To get the ball rolling, try asking yourself some basic questions:
What program am I interested in applying for?
What schools offer the program I’m interested in?
Who are the academic professionals at the institution who you would be working along side?
What is the funding situation at the institution you’re considering? Are there any scholarship opportunities?
How long is my program? Should I go full-time or part-time?
Step 2: Do Your Research!
Whatever it may be that your program requires, make sure you know about it. Missing documents in your application or courses from yesteryear your should have taken can be easily avoided if you stay organized.
Understandably you might decide you want to go to graduate school later in your undergraduate years or even after working for a number of years, so there will inevitably be some moments of flustered panic. That’s when you take a breath and write down any questions you have. I can’t stress how important it is to contact the correct people at your chosen institution if you have a question. It doesn’t matter if you feel like you’re emailing too much because you need your questions to be answered. (Just use your common sense and don’t send 20 emails when 5 will do!) People who work in admissions offices are there to answer your questions about, you guessed it, admissions. That way you go right to the source for your answer and don’t receive any second-hand incorrect information.
I knew that if I had a shot at getting into any grad school program, my grades would not be the only element of my academic portfolio which would be considered. Most schools need letters of reference and to achieve strong (‘strong’ is very key here) letters requires good connections with your professors. I’ll be tackling the task of talking to your professor in a later post in more detail. Some schools may even have volunteer or workplace experience as a requirement (depending on your program of choice). Even if the application doesn’t explicitly say so, any experience is going to help you stand out from your peers.
Step 3: Seek Out Opportunities
To get into a museum studies program, experience in a museum was going to be key for my graduate school journey. The only museum experience I had was visiting museums and that was definitely not going to cut it.
But I couldn’t sit on my hands. So I started contacting local museums and some big city ones as well to see if their were any volunteer opportunities. The summer between my third year and fourth year was fast approaching and if I could swing a summer volunteer opportunity it would be perfect to help build my portfolio. Honestly, there were a lot of unreturned emails but that is to be expected. I kept at it in my spare time, regardless!
Finally, I heard back from a museum seeking summer volunteers and they asked me to come in for an orientation day. I wasn’t going to be giving tours or helping with collections right off. I was mainly going to help with children’s summer camps at the museum. Though it wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, any experience is good experience. I took the opportunity happily.
One day at lunch while talking with my coworker, my boss at time came up to me and told me she was impressed with how I was doing. She asked me if I had interest in museums to which I replied I did and she asked that if I was ever interested in doing anything more at the museum, feel free to ask. What a great stroke of luck! I proved myself and now more opportunities were presenting themselves.
Within a month, I was training to be a volunteer museum interpreter. By the end of the summer, they offered me a paid position as an interpreter. I took the offer. I still work their part-time while I continue my studies and I absolutely love it!
I accomplished two things. First, I received the volunteer experience I needed for my resume. Yay, check! And I also managed to get a job! If I had never reached out to the museum, I may not have received the experience I needed. Plus, I fulfilled and am fulfilling my dream of working in a museum. What could be better than that.
Of course, every situation is different. I feel like I write that a lot but it’s so true it needs to be highlighted as much as possible. Though I have seen friends’ lives slow to a halt because they had the opportunity to do something and they froze. Then the opportunity was gone as quick as it came. Without sounding like a complete cliche, take every opportunity by the hand and jump in. That way, at least, there will be no regrets when it comes to submission day.
In my next instalment, I’ll be taking on the complicated road of getting your professors to like you and how you can stand out in a sea of endless students.