By Debbie Mix, Graduate Programs Director
If you’ve ever considered applying to graduate school, you’ve probably heard that it is a worthwhile endeavor, but not without its challenges. Even the beginning of the application process—finding the right programs to apply to—can seem daunting, so if you’re looking at graduate school as the next step in your academic journey, we’re here to help you consider aspects you may not have thought about yet!
We hope that you’ll meet with your professors and our Graduate Programs Director if you have questions about graduate school, but we also wanted to provide the student perspective for you. We spoke with our own graduate English alumni about their best advice for graduate school, both what they would tell someone considering graduate school, and what they wish they’d known during their own programs.
Choosing the Right Program
“So much of your grad school experience comes from the knowledge, experience, and talent of the faculty. I’d recommend researching the specialties of the professors at the schools you’re considering – then compare them to your interests to see where your best fit might be.”
—Jessie Ferree, MA Creative Writing 2021
Indiana Wesleyan University
“Take the time to look into each program you’re interested in applying to. Look at the courses that have been offered in past semesters, look at the professors you’ll be working with and their scholarly interests, and have an idea of what you want to get out of your experience. There are a number of excellent programs, but if they’re not helping you develop as a scholar, then they’re not exactly excellent for you.”
—Tamaya Greenlee, MA Literature 2016, Literature PhD Student 2018-2019
Associate Interpretation Planner
Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields
“Familiarize yourself with the mental health resources both on campus and in the community. Graduate school is very challenging, and I am a big proponent of mental health advocacy.”
—Elisabeth Buck, PhD Rhetoric & Composition 2016
Assistant Professor of English and Communication
Director of the Writing and Multiliteracy Center
University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
“Graduate school can be an anxious and isolating time. I wish I knew that it’s okay to ask for help from your graduate cohort and faculty members.”
—Amory Orchard, MA English Studies 2018
Rhetoric and Composition PhD Candidate
Florida State University
“Graduate school can be very demanding; it requires serious time commitment. At the beginning of my first year, I went all in and forgot about myself…I eventually learned how to manage my time, stay within deadlines, and still take care of myself. It is important to have a social life outside of school life and moments of selfcare. I am better at it now.”
—Justine Waluvengo, MA Literature 2019
English PhD Candidate
“I’m coping with life and teaching abroad (which, let me tell you, is the most stress I’ve ever encountered) much better than I dealt with life and teaching at Ball State, and that’s because I’ve learned more about how I deal with challenges and have developed coping methods. Grad school taught me what I need to do to protect my mental health, and I’ve been able to use those methods here in Poland.”
—Valerie Weingart, MA Creative Writing 2020
Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Koszalin, Poland
Politechnika Koszalińska (Koszalin University of Technology)
“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking time after undergrad to work and save money…I don’t regret how events in my life unfolded, even though I’m absolutely not where I expected to be. Right now, if everything went according to plan, I would still be studying for my PhD. That being said, I wish I had a better understanding of the financial aspect of graduate school.
I wish I understood the financial burden of education, I wish I understood the significance of assistantships. I wish I went into my MA and PhD programs with a solid financial plan for paying for my education and life during my grad school years.”
“Seriously consider your funding opportunities before applying. Don’t go into debt for 2-3 years of a master’s program or 4-6 years of a PhD program if you can help it. Research what kind of assistantships (research, administrative, teaching) are available in the programs you’re interested in applying to and what the estimated yearly stipend is.
Ask the department if you can speak to current grad assistants, then ask them how well they’re able to juggle their GA responsibilities with their studies. If the GA workload is disproportionate to what you’re being paid, you don’t want to be part of a department that doesn’t properly compensate you for the work you’d be doing for them. Also, such opportunities should somehow be helping you towards your short and long-term academic, professional, or personal goals.”
Resources and Building Community
“Find your support system. I know this sounds like such a cliché, but graduate school is a difficult endeavor. The sooner you foster a network of support, the better your experience will likely be. I tend toward introversion so it’s sometimes challenging for me to put myself out there, but I’ve never regretted saying “hi!” and introducing myself to someone at an orientation or event. Developing relationships with the folks in your matriculating cohort (i.e., the people beginning your program with you) is particularly important, as you’ll be reaching the same benchmarks at similar times.”
“I recommend building a support system or connecting with your cohort. I don’t think I would have made it if it wasn’t for my weekly Writing Center appointments, the group chats for each of my classes, or the friend group I was able to make. Grad school was intimidating and exhausting, so it is easy to just go home and crash. However, pushing yourself to talk to your peers or set up study groups goes so far (academically and mentally).”
—Emilie Schiess, MA TESOL & Linguistics 2021
Ball State University
“Establish a relationship with your professors early in the program and create consistent and constructive allies with your colleagues, you cannot do graduate school on your own. Create a support system within and outside the program and even school. These people will make your graduate life much better. The Writing Center is a life saver. Take advantage of that. Be prepared to study a lot and hard. Take responsibility for your success.”
Thank you so much to our alumni who connected with us about their graduate school experiences! This post wouldn’t exist without them or their thoughtful responses.