By Dawson Heath
As Professional Writing students nearing graduation, we often have to balance finding a good internship and developing skills for the workplace with explaining to the ever-asking family members that no, our degree is not about writing the next great American novel. In this sense, graduate school can seem like another hurdle delaying our entry into the job market. Some of us may even think that graduate school is not for writers interested in professional and technical writing. As I learned during grad school night on September 17, this isn’t true. Many universities offer Master’s degrees and PhDs in Professional Writing, Rhetoric, or Technical Communication. Although I am unsure about whether or not graduate school is in the cards for me, attending the Writing Department’s Graduate School Info Session helped me to clarify my take on grad school and also corrected some misconceptions I had about it.
The info session was led by Professors Laurence José, Zsuzsanna Palmer, and Kylie Jacobsen who spoke about their experiences and shared information on professional writing programs. In addition, Professor Beth Peterson offered advice from the creative writing realm. Topics ranged from why attend grad school (or not), what are the options, how to choose the right program, how to apply, and where to find resources.
How Do I Decide?
One element that the info session immediately emphasized was the importance of knowing yourself. If you enjoy learning and intellectual challenges, graduate school might be a good fit for you. Being in this type of learning environment gives you more time to read, write, and grow as a professional. Grad school can also be a great way to distinguish yourself from others, demonstrating your commitment to furthering your own education and gaining deeper understanding of whatever you are specializing in.
Know Your Goals
Another key element to consider are your goals. Do you want to work in the industry? Do you want to become a professor? Do you want to deepen your education? Gain more technical skills? What are the requirements for your dream career? A good habit to develop is to list your goals and connect them to a timeline to accomplish them. This requires research, of course. Look up careers. Follow professionals on social media; look up their credentials. If you want to teach, check what terminal degree is required. Read and learn about the developments and trends in the technical communication industry. Even if you decide to apply to grad school, remember that it is okay to take a break from school. Many people do. Gap years can be formative. GoGrad.org has excellent information about gap years, and the pros and cons that come with them. Do what is right for you.
Accept that Maybe Grad School Isn’t for You…
Grad school is not the “logical next step” after earning your undergraduate degree. It is not a big deal, if you feel that it is not for you. The info session emphasized that grad school may not be a good idea if you:
- Are using it solely as a pretext to delay going on the job market.
- Do not enjoy school. (Really, grad school is just more school)
- Do not get an assistantship or scholarship. In other words, do not go if you have to pay for it.
Let’s say you decide that grad school is right for you. The next step is to find a program. For this too, the info session gave us some strategies.
Which School is Right for Me?
Deciding which program is right for you seems like a daunting task. But there are specific steps you can take to help you. At the info session, we were encouraged to:
- Research, research, research—check out the programs’ websites; look at their faculty members’ profiles; talk to the GVSU faculty. Consider also the reputation of the school.
- Be specific with goals—ask yourself “Can I see myself doing this?” Your interests should match the ideals and purposes of the program.
- Make sure the university you are considering is accredited.
Our professors also reminded us that if you are choosing a program only based on its faculty members, you may end up disappointed. Faculty turnover tends to be high in higher education. When looking for schools, many people also have a specific location in mind. However, as I have learned, programs should not necessarily be eliminated based on location. Grad school is only 2-5 years of your life.
Talk to Current GVSU Faculty
For additional help or advice, talk to your professors or other faculty members in your undergraduate program. Professors are meant to be resources for students. If you have questions about graduate school or the application process, remember they have been there and are happy to help.
Before attending graduate school night, I had never really considered grad school as a possibility for Writing majors. Listening to the GVSU Writing Department’s professors share their personal experiences was invaluable and helped me understand that you should only consider applying if you are motivated to further your education. From the perspective of a fellow Writing major, talking to faculty has been the most helpful step in my thought process. They have all been where we are, and they want to help students. So make the time to have a conversation. Even if you are set and have decided to apply, it is always a good idea to explore your options to make sure you take the decision that is right for you. As Professor José said, “Go to grad school if you want to go to grad school, not because someone else tells you to do it.” Sometimes, it is that simple.
Grad School Wiki for GVSU writing students.