While it seems a daunting task, the reality of applying to even higher education seems to be on the horizon for many a student at Kenyon. There are many roads one can take after a liberal arts education, but a masters or doctorate in the humanities, a STEM field, law, medicine, or business is a step that many students in our position choose to take. Each discipline has different requirements for the application process that are specific to the field, but this is meant to be a helpful guide for thinking about the application process, and whether or not graduate school is in your immediate future.
Research schools and programs. Each graduate program is different, and in order to be a qualified candidate, you have to fit what that program is looking for–especially in the humanities and sciences. Look at the professors and the research they’re doing. Are you a fit for their school and program? A big part of the application is the personal statement, where you explain why you should be accepted into a program. The earlier you get a sense of where you want to go, why you want to go there, and who you want to work with, the easier it will be to write your personal statement.
Be flexible and know your options. Unlike undergrad, a lot of grad school is arbitrary. Something as simple as a professor being on sabbatical could mean that you aren’t offered a place at a school. And while some schools are moving away from the GRE, there are still schools that use that score as a weeding tool. Realizing that your Elle Woods dreams of walking into Harvard Law may not happen, and having plenty of back-up plans can save you heartbreak later. Sometimes a gap year can be the difference in an acceptance and rejection from a program you really care about; in 2015 you may be 11th out of 10 spots. In 2016 you may get in.
Start talking to professors. You’ll need around three great recommendations from professors you’ve had at Kenyon, or from your off-campus experiences. Ask them early on if they’d be comfortable writing you letters, and don’t forget to ask them for advice. Professors–and Maureen Tobin at the CDO–are great resources. They may help you find programs you hadn’t previously thought of, and make sure you’re on track with your personal statement. If you’re close enough, ask them about life as an academic–and think about whether or not that’s a life you want to live.
Think hard. Graduate school is a commitment, and it’s difficult. And while dreaming of programs and future professorships can be fun, it can also mean rough times, fatigue, debt, and loneliness. It could also be the best time of your life. But if you’re on the fence about grad school, there’s no shame in taking a year or two off, to explore options and see if there’s something else you’d like to do before dedicating yourself to a five-to-seven year program.