Posts filed under ‘grad school’

Top 30 Grad School Blogs

Both of my kids are entering grad school in the fall.  Although I have a MBA, I feel like a fish out of water when it comes to advising them about grad school, so I was happy to find some resources they might use today:  a list of the Top 30 Grad School Blogs.  The list includes blogs about particular curriculum areas (math, law, science, psychology) and specific universities.  I thought some of the most intriguing ones were focused on the grad school process:

“22. My Graduate School publishes content on successful methods for applying to and preparing for graduate school. Articles range in topics from selecting the perfect school taking both price and quality into consideration, to avoiding major pitfalls that can hurt your chances for acceptance even after you’ve submitted your applications.
Highlight: Letters of Recommendation for Grad School: Beware the Bad Letter-Writer

“21. The Professor is In focuses on helping graduate students make a successful transition from grad student to professor, especially those who are still grad students when they begin taking on teaching responsibilities.
Highlight: Addressing Search Committee Members

Getting What You Came ForThe My Graduate School blog led me to an article I wish my kids had read a year or so ago, on How to Get In to Grad School.   Oh well, at least I had purchased them a copy of Getting What You Came For several years ago, which is recommended in that article as being “brutally honest”.

March 16, 2013 at 3:15 pm Leave a comment

Early Birds Win

Pardon me while I brag on my daughter.  She requested an appointment this week with the grad school advisor, even though her application isn’t due for 5 months.  His reaction: “This is why I teach at Clark University, so I can have students like you!”

He says he gets inundated with calls and emails the week before grad school applications are due.  Funny how we worry about our students stressing out about their applications, but never think about what it is like for the people who receive the applications.

I’m betting my early bird daughter gets accepted.

October 29, 2011 at 12:22 pm 1 comment

Buyer Beware on Fifth Year Free

My daughter’s college, Clark University, offers a “fifth year free” program. (My alma mater, Stephens College, used to do this, too, and there are probably other schools that do it to entice their best students to continue on to graduate school.)  No, it doesn’t mean that, if a student fails to graduate in 4 years, he can keep trying to graduate free of charge.  It means that a successful undergraduate may be able to get a Masters degree by staying for one additional year.

But, we’re finding out that there are some tricky requirements.  Sometimes I feel like the admissions department was writing blank checks that the finance office or the faculty don’t want to cash.

  1. You must have a certain (high) undergraduate GPA.  That makes sense as it is an indicator of how well you will do in grad school.
  2. You must major in certain areas for a certain Masters program.  That makes sense, too.   You can’t shorten a Masters program if you don’t have the foundational courses.
  3. You must finish your undergraduate degree in 4 years.  At first blush, that makes sense, too.  If you can’t finish in 4 years, you probably dropped classes you were failing and therefore are not the caliber of student who will do well in the more difficult graduate level courses.  However, here comes the first big caveat:  you also cannot graduate in less than 4 years.  This happened to one of my daughter’s friends.  She came to college with a bunch of Advanced Placement credit and got a full semester of classes waived.  She planned to spend four full years taking undergraduate classes, but she met all the requirements for general education courses and for her first major within 3-1/2 years.   When they found out she wanted to get her fifth year free, they made her graduate in 3-1/2 years, which meant she had not met the requirement of spending 4 years in the undergraduate program, so she couldn’t get the fifth year free.   Ouch!  I could maybe understand if a college said “you chose to graduate early, therefore we didn’t get 4 full years of tuition from you, therefore you can’t get the fifth year free”, but it seems harsh to say we want to make you graduate early so we don’t have to give you the fifth year free.
  4. You must take certain prerequisites for the graduate program, above and beyond the requirements for your major.  In other words, you’re starting the graduate program before you finish the undergraduate program.  This requires good planning in course selection so you can fit everything into 4 years.
  5. You must have a good answer for the question, “What makes you think you can succeed in graduate level courses?”  Luckily, my daughter had been invited by one of her freshman professors to take a Ph.D. level seminar class from her and she took that class in sophomore year.  If she hadn’t taken a graduate level course by fall of her junior year, this would be a tough question to answer convincingly on the grad school application, which is due in spring of junior year, long before most graduate school applications are due.

Her advice:

  • Ask “what if I…” questions about the requirements for the fifth year free program not only of the admissions department but also of the faculty in that department.
  • Don’t fulfill all of your undergraduate requirements until spring of senior year.
  • Take a graduate level course midway through your undergraduate program…and do well in it.

Caveat emptor.  Let the buyer beware.

October 23, 2011 at 7:07 am 1 comment

So You Want to Be a Doctor

Does your student really want to be a doctor?  I”m not talking about someone who wants to be McDreamy or McSteamy on Grey’s Anatomy, or whose parents want her to be a doctor for the money or the prestige, but a student who truly is ready to head down the med school track.

Several of the schools we have visited – Washington University in St. Louis, Northwestern University, and CalTech/UC San Diego come to mind – offer programs for students who are sure they want to go on to medical school.  Usually these are highly competitive programs in that they only admit a handful of students.

What do they offer:

  • Guaranteed admission to the university’s school of medicine (assuming grades, etc., stay up to par).  In other words, you won’t have to sweat out med school admission…assuming that’s still your med school of choice 4 years from now.
  • A little extra handholding, attention, lectures, mentoring, shadowing, or other opportunities that you might or might not get if you were not in that program.
  • At some schools (such as Northwestern), save an entire year of college, because they condense the curriculum.  This could save you $50,000.
  • Bragging rights, which might help a student get other fellowships or scholarships or research opportunities along the way.
  • The opportunity to start a longitudinal research project as an undergrad and continue work on it through med school.

Drawbacks:

  • Will a student feel locked into that medical school or not explore other options that might have been a better fit or enabled exposure to a wider variety of professors, more ways of doing things, more challenges – simply because she doesn’t want to hassle with the med school application process?
  • Worse, will a student feel pressure to become a doctor when that’s really not the best fit?  They won’t force a student to go to med school, but I suspect there would be some serious “convincing” going on if a student wanted to drop out of the program.

Note that those drawbacks are things the student can control, so they aren’t real big issues.  I was really reaching to come up with some drawbacks.

Northwestern’s program also offers the option of becoming an MD/PhD and, in general, the program is geared toward more gifted students than the general NU student body, with accelerated courses in the science curriculum.

December 10, 2009 at 7:38 pm Leave a comment

Book Review: Early thinking about grad school

My son wants to major in some aspect of science.  There’s a good chance that he’ll end up wanting and/or needing to go to grad school.  I earned an MBA, but that’s sort of a different animal, so I feel inadequate advising him about grad school.

Getting What You Came ForThen a book caught my eye:  Getting What You Came For: The Smart Student’s Guide to Earning a Master’s or Ph.D.    It was written by a Ph.D. in biology from Stanford who was frustrated at how long it took him and his friends to earn their graduate degrees, due to missteps along the way.

I found the book very helpful in enabling me to understand the process, and I plan to try to get my son to read the first half of the book before he goes off to college.   It deals with topics like:

  • Do you need a Ph.D., a master’s degree, or neither?
  • Should you work first?
  • What is grad school like?  How does it differ from undergrad school?
  • How do you select a grad school and what can you do to improve your admission chances?
  • What constitutes a good advisor, how do you get one, and how do you dump a bad one without sabotaging yourself?
  • How do you work the grad school politics, even if politicking isn’t your thing?
  • How do you pick a good research topic, one that will be manageable, yet lead to results, and result in getting interim papers published so you build a track record?
  • Should you pursue opportunities as a teaching assistant or a research assistant?

Some of the advice – like how to select and use an advisor or what to pick for a research topic – is very apropos for undergrads, too.  But more importantly, an undergrad should be contemplating the grad school decision much earlier than senior year.  To borrow advice from Stephen Covey, “Start with the end in mind”.

The book also helped me rethink my bias towards sending my son to an liberal arts college rather than a research university.  I now think it would be good for him to get to know grad students informally and see what is expected of them, before he makes up his mind about grad school.  But I think this book will help him get a bigger picture than what he might get in casual conversation with grad students, who might be tired, discouraged or lonely at any given point in their long slog towards their Ph.Ds. and who therefore might discourage him in an off-hand conversation.

The book is thick, which can be daunting.  It’s helpful to know that (a) you can skim or peruse much of the first half and (b) you really don’t need the second half until you are actually starting thesis research.

August 6, 2009 at 11:56 am Leave a comment

Info Session: 2 Ivies + 3 nearly Ivies

5 colleges are hosting the “Exploring College Options” college tour this spring: Duke, Georgetown, Penn, Harvard & Stanford. My son and I attended the presentations in Dallas. Afterwards, we concluded that he was still interested in Harvard and Stanford, admittedly in large part because of their reputation and financial aid offers (plus the California sunshine), but the presentations didn’t get him to add any new colleges to his list or provide any more compelling information about Harvard or Stanford that he didn’t already know, perhaps because they really did not address any majors that are of interest to him.

Here are the key points they covered in their 10-15 minutes presentations:

Continue Reading May 15, 2009 at 12:52 pm Leave a comment

Prestigious undergrad or prestigious grad school?

If you can get more financial aid for grad school and it is easier to get into a prestigious grad school if you go to a prestigious undergrad school, why would you scrimp on spending for undergrad?

Continue Reading April 7, 2009 at 11:14 am 1 comment


Insights and advice from a parent of two gifted teenagers

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