By Jessica Casebolt
It’s never too early to start planning those long-term goals. You know how they said high school would go by in a flash and you didn’t believe them and then it did? Well, let me tell you, undergrad is the same. All of the sudden you’re in your senior year saying “what now?!”
Among the many options available to you at that point is graduate school. It always seemed to me, though, that even with a great adviser, details on how to get there can be spotty. I’ve reached out to a few of my friends who are currently in graduate programs, and they agreed to give us a look behind the curtain. As you’re planning for the long term, keep their advice in mind!
Molly Bates is a graduate of Eastern Kentucky University. She is currently in her first year of medical school at the University of Kentucky. Lucas Taulbee, also an EKU graduate, is working on his master’s degree in Economics at Western Kentucky University.
I first asked Molly and Lucas what made them choose their respective program. They had this to say:
Molly: “The in-state tuition was reasonable. It was close enough to home (being near family is still important to many graduate students including myself). It was the most highly-ranked school to which I applied and was accepted. Finally, I felt a personal connection with the faculty and students there when I visited and interviewed. Why did I choose medical school in general? Because I think doctors have the best job in the world.”
Lucas: “I chose to pursue an M.A. in Applied Economics at Western Kentucky University because I wanted to deepen my understanding of economics and improve my research skills. The program helps prepare students for careers in data-analysis or for further graduate study in economics. The faculty members in WKU’s economics department are very accessible and are always willing to help students.”
I also wondered what had been the most challenging part of their programs:
Molly: “I think it’s a challenge for every person in a graduate program to adjust to the transition into a professional life on top of the academic demands of school. I also have to say that medical school, in itself, is a challenge because it changes every aspect of your life. It’s what medical school is: lots and lots of growing pains.”
Lucas: “The most challenging aspect of graduate work (and college in general) for me has been keeping an open mind. This often requires us to forget about what we think we know and accept new information, which is not always easy.”
Molly: “You don’t have to love every single minute of your life. I don’t buy into the whole ‘do something you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.’ When we let go of the sense of entitlement that makes us believe that we’re supposed to be happy and entertained all of the time, a deeper sense of peace sets in that lets us be happy in the moment and accomplish bigger goals in the future. If you want to become a doctor, you have to study, and studying is work.”
Lucas: “Be flexible. Don’t settle on a particular life-path too early without knowing what other options are available. As far as college goes, I highly recommend taking classes in as many different fields as possible. It’s normal to be clueless about what you want to do with your life at age 18 and taking intro-level classes in different fields may help you to discover something that you are truly passionate about.”
More graduate school perspectives
Sarah Blackburn studied at the University of Pikeville for her undergraduate degree. She is now completing her master’s program at the University of the Cumberlands while she teaches 7th grade science at Pikeville Independent High School full time. Paula Jo Roberts is a graduate of Morehead State University and attends the University of Richmond School of Law.
Picking a school, a program, and a plan can be tough. This is how Sarah and Paula made their decisions:
Sarah: “I chose University of the Cumberlands because I could finish my Master’s all online while I worked full-time. I also chose the program because I had heard a lot of good things about it.”
Paula: “The University of Richmond has a great reputation in the northeast for turning out ready-to-practice attorneys who excel in legal writing and argument. The university also has a wonderful alumni network which really helps students transition into careers across the country. I was also attracted to this program because the generous scholarships that the school makes available every admissions cycle.”
Going to college as a freshman can seem daunting enough, let alone imagining doing enough work for someone to call you ‘Doctor.’ People do it all the time though! It’s not a bad idea to know some of the challenges up front, though. Here’s what these guys had to say:
Sarah: “The most challenging part of my graduate experience was trying to juggle working full-time, having a family on top of taking graduate courses. I had to be very careful in how I prioritized my time.”
Paula: “The most challenging aspect of law school is learning how to manage time at a new level of demand. There is always more to do than I think is possible, particularly because I’ve begun working remotely in my second year for a firm nearby.”
Finally, I asked for their best piece of advice, just for you all!
Sarah: “I would tell high school students to try to choose a college and a major that will allow them as many opportunities as possible. In other words, don’t paint yourself in the corner by choosing a major that would only allow you to do one thing.”
Paula: “High school students should realize how helpful their experience in high school can be to their long term goals. Take the harder classes to challenge yourself. If you have the opportunity to be involved in a program designed to promote a field that interests you, be involved. The biggest piece of advice I would give high school students is to job-shadow early and often. Being exposed to the daily activities of a field before you start taking classes in college to enter that field will help you know if it’s really the right career for you. The experience will also help you get internships and scholarships.”
You can do what you put your mind to. Notice none of these students mentioned graduate school being too difficult or not worth it. If your long-term goals include grad school, I hope you think about the advice given by Molly, Lucas, Sarah and Paula. When you’re a senior in college, I guarantee when someone asks you what you’re going to do when you graduate, you’ll have a really great answer.
I hope this gives you some insight into life after undergraduate degrees. Be sure to check back soon to hear about online master’s degrees and law school. Everyone has a different experience, but there is something really unique to learn from their perspectives, as well.
Jessica Casebolt, a former Miss Kentucky, is a correspondent for the The Lane Report. You can reach her at [email protected]