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How To Get Into Graduate School: Umbra’s MPP and FSE’s Holistic Curricular Concentrations Promote Professional Prospects

Workshop Introduction 

In response to the numerous questions surrounding the process of getting into grad school, Umbra’s MPP chair, Dr. John Dennis, and Umbra’s director, Dr. Zachary Nowak, hosted a workshop in the last week of the program before students’ departures. Participants, particularly those in programs like the Multicultural Psychology Program (MPP) and the program in Food, Sustainability, & Environment (FSE), expressed strong interest in pursuing graduate studies. Key topics addressed during the workshop included the impact of adding study abroad experience to one’s CV, the significance of strong references, and connecting with professors well before application deadlines. This workshop aimed to provide valuable insights and guidance to students as they navigate the complexities of graduate school applications.

Addressing the Realities of Grad School

While reflecting on the lack of useful advice they received about grad school, Dennis and Nowak organized a workshop to give insider tips and reveal the “hidden curriculum” of gaining admission to grad school. Despite the workshop’s title–“How To Get Into Grad School”–their initial focus was on presenting the downside of pursuing advanced degrees. That downside includes things like enduring financial constraints for about five years, balancing the demands of academic writing with teaching responsibilities, possible accumulation of additional debt, and modest job prospects. This approach prompted students to carefully evaluate their desire and necessity for further education. From there, Nowak and Dennis delved into the differences between Master’s and PhD programs, outlining the various stages of each degree, and elucidating the practical strategies for gaining admission to graduate school. 

Shifting the Focus in Application Essays

Rather than advocating another version of the typical college entrance essay–often characterized by biographical elements and a heavy emphasis on the applicant’s passionate feelings–Nowak and Dennis counseled against focusing solely on passion. They emphasized the importance of establishing a strong alignment between the prospective graduate student’s intended dissertation project and the professor’s research interests, while stressing the importance of cultivating relationships with professors before one applied. 

Evaluating the Cost of Higher Education

In a climate where student loan debt is a prevalent concern, students were challenged to consider its true value about their career goals and were encouraged to proactively work towards debt reduction. The workshop concluded with some advice about securing letters of recommendation, followed by a round of Q&A.

Umbra Institute’s Educational Goals

The workshop aligns with Umbra Institute’s larger objective: transforming its curricular concentrations into holistic programs. The MPP and FSE use an active learning approach in the classroom, coupled with integrative community engagement experiences, while providing students with the knowledge that they can use in the future as they contemplate graduate school. 

Additional Resources and Contacts

Looking for a study abroad opportunity with your career goals in mind? Click here to check out Umbra’s academic offerings or contact an admissions advisor today!

Already an Umbra alum heading to grad school soon? Nowak and Dennis recommend this article, “What I Wish I Knew Before Starting Grad School,” which picks up the insider tips where this workshop left off. 




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