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Guest Post: My Transition From Undergraduate to Graduate School

Updated: May 2, 2021

Guest Writer: Leslie Owens

After graduating with my bachelor’s degree, I always knew that I wanted to further my education. For my undergrad, I majored in psychology and minored in criminology. I remember being a senior and researching salaries that jobs in my area were offering—it was disgraceful and insulting, to be honest. Then again, it could have been me being just another entitled millennial.

Nevertheless, that was when I knew I would have to go back to school. received immediate pushback from many people when I told them that I was not planning to get a full-time job immediately after graduating.

Some family members said, “If you want to get your master’s degree and a doctorate’s degree you need to get a job and save money.” Many people doubted me and my capabilities. While it seemed hurtful at the time, I came to realize that no one else in my family has ever gone straight through school so it probably seemed unrealistic for me to have this “grand idea”. I didn't let those doubts discourage me. Instead, I used them as motivation for me to continue achieving my goals. This blog will serve as a timeline so you can go through the experience with me. You’ll know what I was thinking, and how I was feeling throughout the process of applying to graduate school.

October 2018. I made the decision that I was going to go straight to graduate school immediately after earning my undergraduate. This was absolutely frightening for me because I had no money saved and I had no plan for how I was going to pay for graduate school. All I knew was that I wanted to further my education in the Spring. I started looking at graduate programs based in NJ because I did not want to accumulate more expenses for myself by leaving the state. I finally found a program that met my criteria and would help me reach my ultimate goal of becoming a doctoral level therapist. I familiarized myself with all of the admission requirements and realized that I would need three recommendation letters from professionals in the mental health field.

Now, this was a challenge for me because I mainly keep to myself and really did not feel comfortable asking people to write a letter on my behalf. Thankfully, I had three great options that I was open to. I decided to ask a psychology professor on campus who I had a close relationship with and the director of the special needs/mental health program at a facility I had volunteered with throughout my undergraduate career. I also asked my mentor, another psychology professor I worked with while writing my senior thesis.

November 2018. Commencement was in May 2019, and I knew that I needed to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) before I could apply to any master’s program. The GRE is a standardized test that is used to determine and predict if a student will succeed academically in a graduate program. These tests come in various forms, for example, the LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, etc. Similarly, the SAT and ACT are commonly known as the standardized tests used for entry into undergraduate programs. Side note: I absolutely dread standardized tests and feel that they no longer serve the purpose they once served. I still had to follow the rules and check the boxes if I wanted to get into any masters programs.

I visited the educational testing service website to find out about testing dates and locations and paid $205 to register for the exam. Yes, standardized tests ARE costly, but waivers are available if you qualify. I spent three months studying for the GRE which was a challenge itself because as a senior, I was in the honors program on campus and was required to write an honors thesis that was due in April 2019, which was five months away. At this point, I had been working on my thesis for months and was stressed beyond belief. In general, the final year for a senior in undergrad was always strenuous because we have to make life-altering decisions in such a short time period.

February 2019. I vividly remember the day I took the GRE in February. It was cold, there was snow on the ground, and I was a nervous wreck. The testing site was in Hamilton, NJ, about 40 minutes from where I live. The rules at the site were routine. No phones, pocketbooks, or water bottles; and if you showed up without a proper ID, you would not be allowed in the testing room. After staring at a computer for about three hour, I’m sure you can imagine I was drained. However, I had to keep the ball rolling since the master’s program had a priority deadline of March 1st. I had all three of my recommendation letters submitted. The recommendation letters were probably the most challenging admission requirement because I had to rely on other people (which is something I generally don’t like doing). I definitely made sure to ask for them all in advance.

March 2019. So many things happened this month. Thankfully, I had everything submitted by the deadline or more specifically, on the day it was DUE! (Yes, procrastination is one of my many vices.) I also filled out a separate application for graduate assistantship positions. The following week, someone from the master’s program emailed me to request an interview. I immediately visited the career development center on campus and they helped me edit my resume, gave tips on my attire, and did multiple mock interviews with me. Overall, they were very helpful!

I was offered admission to the master’s program the week after my interview and was offered the graduate assistantship position the week after. HALLELUJAH! I remember jumping out of bed after reading the email and running to my mom with happy tears flowing. This meant that I could go straight to graduate school AND my tuition would be completely waived! My 22nd birthday was also at the end of the month so I was able to celebrate after realizing how blessed I really was?

January 2021: Fast forward to my final year of my master’s program and preparing for graduation in May. Even though graduate school is only two years, its much different than undergrad. Some main differences include having a cohort. Admission was selective so my cohort consisted of just fifteen people. We’d been working side by side for the entire program and they quickly became a part of my support system as well as my future colleagues. Unlike undergrad, we didn't have smaller assignments. Instead, we had exams that covered a large amount of material and/or lengthy papers that were typically due at the end of the semester.

We grew to develop close relationships with our professors. They were all experienced psychologists and we aspired to be where they are in the future. The classes I took were especially meaningful because they focus solely on the work I hope to do, professionally. Whereas, in undergrad, many of the courses I took had nothing to do with my future career.

Currently, I am in the process of preparing for the spring semester. I have also started job searching and preparing to take ANOTHER standardized test. This test, the National Counselor’s Examination (NCE), is a test that I must pass after completing my master’s degree in order to obtain my license to practice clinical therapy in the state of NJ.

Of course this isn't the end of my journey to my goal but it brings me to the end of my story transitioning from undergrad to graduate school. If you remember one thing from this blog, please remember that anything is possible and never allow naysayers to dictate the decisions you make. It’s your life. Live it however you please because your happiness is the only thing that really matters. Thank you so much for reading about my journey! There's so much more to come!

Leslie Owens

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Jan 23, 2021

Looking forward. I like it.

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