Chapter Seven: Always Remember to Hit Submit!

When we last left our hero, Sir Stu Dent had requested letters of recommendation and sent his official transcripts, via carrier pigeon, to his schools of choice.

His next step was to make sure that he “hit submit” on all of his graduate forms – a very important step if he wanted any of his hard work in the last few months to count. He would also have to pay his application fees, or escape them through a fee waiver.

When all was said and done, Sir Stu was relieved! He had finished his graduate applications!

One last thing that Sir Stu had been doing, which was not mentioned nearly enough in earlier accounts of his tale, was visiting schools by attending their Graduate Open Houses. He found out the dates of these Open Houses by checking the calendar on our website right here, or by checking his prospective schools’ websites. These Open Houses were wonderful, providing him with much information about each school’s program, and sometimes even giving him an application fee waiver.

Now that the applications process was officially over for Sir Stu, and all of the heads on the many-headed graduate school monsters had been fed with their requisite “foods,” Stu would have to wait until late March to April (and perhaps even May?) to receive notice of which beasts he had befriended. Stu had a few that he particularly liked, and hoped to be able to chose among those. But in the meantime, Stu could focus all of his energies on ending his undergraduate education on a high note!

And so, Sir Stu’s journey ends here.

I hope that you’ve enjoyed this little series and found it useful!

Click here to see a color-coded, chronologically-ordered checklist about graduate school applications.

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Chapter Six: Letters of Recommendation and Sending Transcripts

When we last left our hero, Sir Stu had finished drafting and submitting his resume.

Today, Stu wanted to do something very important: ask people for letters of recommendation! But who would Stu ask? And when would he ask them?

“Most graduate programs require two to three letters of recommendation from people who can attest to the student’s potential for success in a graduate program” said Sir Internet, a great friend of Sir Stu. Who could best attest to Stu’s academic potential? Why his professors of course! So he sought out his favorite professors, with whom he had done any of the following things:

  1. Gotten to know well by taking their class, doing well, and going to office hours
  2. Done research for
  3. Been advised by
  4. Took their class, participated, and earned an A

He contacted two of these professors (for schools that required three recommendation letters, he would seek out, if possible, someone whom he had worked under in a professional environment) to ask for a letter of recommendation. He did this as early as possible, at least two months in advance, to ensure that his recommenders had enough time to write him a good letter. He also made sure to tell them by when the letter would be due, and reminded them of this due date a few weeks in advance, if the letter had not been received yet.

Some of these professors and/or employers would ask to read his personal statement or resume (or both!) in order to write him a good letter. They might also have asked to see his transcript, of which Stu had an unofficial copy handy from back when he was filling out his application forms. Stu quickly provided his recommenders with these items.

Next, Stu decided that he would send his official transcripts to his schools. Recall that Rutgers would send two transcripts for free, and each additional transcript would cost him $7 a piece. Although Rutgers mailed out transcripts quite efficiently, Sir Stu decided that he would send them out relatively early, before the end of the fall semester of his senior year, so that they would arrive on time, and so if any issues came up, Sir Stu would have adequate time to address them. He gathered the addresses of his graduate programs’ admissions offices, and sent off his transcripts. He received email alerts when they were sent, and when they were received.

Stu had now fed two more heads on the graduate school many-headed monster.

What would Sir Stu do next?

Read on tomorrow, as the journey continues…

Chapter Five: Creating a Resume, a.k.a “Why I’m Great: A List”

When we last left our hero, Sir Stu had finished his personal statements (statements of purpose, SoPs, essays, or whatever you prefer to call them).

Sir Stu noticed that some of his applications required or recommended a resume, so he set to work creating one. Stu learned from Sir Internet that unlike regular resumes, which mostly list skills and work experience and must be one page in length, graduate school resumes could be more detailed and up to two pages in length. Sir Stu had had many experiences throughout his undergraduate career, but what things should he include on the resume?

“The first thing to include would be any relevant work and/or volunteer experience,” said Sir Internet, and Sir Common Sense. Luckily, Stu had spent his summer and fall (and perhaps year(s) prior) gathering such experience! Stu made sure to emphasize anything that he had done related to working with people, whether it be teaching, tutoring, volunteering in a hospital, being a receptionist in a clinic – even retail work! Basically, anything that showed that Stu had effective people skills was a plus. He also emphasized any work he had done that required a great deal of planning, organization, and critical thinking, such as conducting research, and any leadership positions he had held in clubs or student organizations. For each of these experiences, Stu included a small summary of his work.

On the topic of clubs and organizations, Sir Stu made sure to list any extracurricular activities he participated in, and for how long. He didn’t list that one week he was in jousting club – but everything else that he had done, like the two semesters he spent on the debate team, or the year he was a conversation partner for ESL students, or his membership in NSSLHA (National Student Speech Language Hearing Association) were fair game for his resume.

Sir Stu also made sure to list any awards he had won and any major achievements he had achieved, like the grant he received to conduct his own research, his academic excellence award, and that time he presented at a conference.

Like he would on a typical resume, Sir Stu also included a list of skills that he had acquired throughout the years, such as fluency in a foreign language, ability to use various computer software, knowledge of statistics, and so on.

Even if he didn’t have much to write about in the way of experience or extracurriculars or awards or skills, Sir Stu took what he did have and made the best of it, emphasizing the positives of his experiences and his potential for success in a graduate program.

When Sir Stu had finished writing his resume, he proofread it for any errors. Once it was error-free, he took his resume in hand and went straight to Rutgers Career Services, which had drop-in times for resume critiques and appointments with career counselors who could help him out. He took the advice he received and edited his resume accordingly, until it was the best that it could be.

Stu had finished his resume, saved it in an easily accessible format (like PDF), and submitted it to his schools at last. 

What would Sir Stu do next?
Read on tomorrow, as the journey continues.

Chapter Four: The Essays with Many Names

When we last left our hero, Sir Stu was in the midst of completing his online application forms, the “paperwork” that needed to be filled out as part of an application.

Now if you recall, Sir Stu did not have all the requisite parts of his application yet. Among other things, he still needed to write his essays! After going through all of his applications and writing down the essay topics for each school, Stu began to plan out his personal statements, which were also often referred to as Statements of Purpose, SoPs, or just plain essays.

Most essay topics were quite similar between schools. They asked Stu to write about his interests in the field, why he wanted to become an SLP, what experiences he had had, and what his future plans were. Some schools got creative, and asked questions completely unrelated to this. They wanted Stu to write about a time he had overcome a challenge, to propose an idea for a research project, and so on and so forth.

Stu decided that he would focus first on the topic that most schools wanted him to write about – himself and his interests and goals. So, he began by asking himself the very same questions that the essay topics did. Why did he want to become an SLP? What first sparked his interests? How did his academic, extracurricular, volunteer, and work experiences influence him? What goals did he have for the future? He also asked himself, for each school, why he wanted to go to that school in particular. Did it have unique classes that he liked? An on-campus clinic? A chance to be involved in research?

Once Stu had answered these questions, he began to write an outline for a general personal statement, which he could later edit to address the questions of each school that he was applying to. With great fervor, he wrote his personal statement. When he felt that it was ready to be looked upon by human eyes, he logged onto Rutgers CareerKnight, and made an appointment with a career counselor to specifically discuss his personal statement. This was a  free service that Rutgers offered, and it was very useful indeed! Sir Stu also asked his friends, family, trusted advisers, and current grad students to read his paper and give their opinions as well. With feedback in hand, Stu edited his essay – and sought more feedback, as needed. At last, Sir Stu had completed his personal statement. Next, he adjusted his statement to fit the specific questions and word limits for each program that he was applying to – finally submitting the essays when he felt that they were perfect. 

Sir Stu then moved on to the schools that had specific essay topics that did not ask Stu to write about himself (at this point, Stu was starting to feel like a narcissist, and these other essay topics were frankly a relief)! For each of those essays, he considered the questions carefully, made outlines, and wrote essays within the word limit. He looked for feedback on those essays as well, and soon, they too were ready for submission!

Stu had fed the essay-eating head of the many-headed graduate school monster. However, it had taken him several months to do so. And that was okay. This was one of the most important parts of the application, and as such, required careful consideration and great effort. With this step out of the way, Stu could move on to other parts of the applications process.

What would Sir Stu do next?
Read on tomorrow, as the journey continues…

Chapter Three: Filling Out Many Forms

When we last left our hero, Sir Stu Dent of Rutgers University had just completed his observation hours and taken the GREs.

Several months had passed. Sir Stu spent these months further researching graduate programs, and getting more work and volunteer experience. Now, it was nearly the end of the summer – and that meant that soon, Sir Stu would be filling out a bunch of forms for his graduate applications!

Since the applications process could be fairly expensive, Stu tried to calculate how much money he would spend on each application. He checked with each school’s website to find out their application fees (and looked into getting a fee waiver by visiting the school’s graduate open houses, if such offers existed). He also remembered that sending his official Rutgers transcripts, which all schools required, may cost him money. Although Rutgers kindly agreed to send the first two transcripts he ordered for free, each additional transcript would cost him $7. He added in the cost of sending GRE scores (beyond his four free score reports from test day), which would cost $27 per report. The price quickly grew as Sir Stu went down his list of schools. He thought that perhaps he would consider narrowing down the amount of schools he applied to once more, to exclude schools that he did not truly wish to attend.  

With his expense list out of the way, Stu took his list of schools in hand and went to each school’s website, to make an account and begin his applications.  As he was making his accounts, he made sure to take note of each username and password that he used on a sheet of paper, as it could be overwhelming to memorize all that brand new login information at once. He also noted which schools used CSDCAS, the common application for applying to SLP programs, and signed up for a CSDCAS account as well.

Before he sat down to his forms, Stu first gathered materials which he thought he might need. He went to his myRutgers page, and downloaded his unofficial transcript, for some schools asked that he upload it to their website, or otherwise use it to fill out information about classes that he had taken while an undergraduate. He also made note of Rutgers’ four-digit code, 2765, which some schools asked for on their applications. Then, he began to fill out his forms. Most of them could be finished quickly, as the forms asked for simple information like his name, address, basic demographics, and work/volunteer experience. Stu skipped over questions asking for information or items he did not have yet, like a completed personal statement. He knew that he could always save his progress and come back to finish his forms a little bit later. 

Sir Stu also made sure to take note of the essay questions for each school, and to write them down, so that he had a list of essay topics available to him when he began writing his personal statements. He downloaded a spreadsheet to help him keep track of all of this applications and materials.

Stu had at last begun his applications.

What would Sir Stu do next?
Read on tomorrow, as the journey continues…

Chapter Two: Observation Hours, Experience, and the GREs of Doom

When we last left our hero, Sir Stu Dent had just finished compiling his list of graduate schools that he wished to apply to.

If you recall our analogy from yesterday, a graduate school is a many-headed beast and one must feed each of its heads if one ever hopes to be accepted by it. Stu decided that for the next few months, he would focus on feeding two of the heads, named Observation Hours and GRE Scores. He also decided that he would use this free time to gather magical tools for befriending the monsters in the form of volunteer hours and work experience.

Stu scoured the land far and wide in search of places to observe. He asked schools, both public and private. He asked hospitals, both big and small. He asked rehab centers and private practices and random strangers that Sir Internet had introduced him to. He had many a door slammed in his face, and many people did not even bother coming to the door at all! But at last, Sir Stu found places to observe licensed speech-language pathologists in action. After each observation, he made sure that the kind SLPs filled out his observation log, and before he knew it, Sir Stu had completed the requisite 25 hours! Sir Stu was quite relieved. One head of the monster had been fed. However, he still had many heads to go.

Stu next decided to face a challenge most horrific – an exam known as the GRE. What the GRE stood for, he knew not. He knew only that he had to take it, and take it well. With the help of Sir Internet, Stu contacted the ETS and scheduled a date to take this examination. Upon seeing the price to take this exam, Sir Stu did nearly faint. It was in this moment that he decided it would perhaps be wisest to take the exam only once (in order to save his money), and to study well beforehand. Still, Stu scheduled his exam for rather early in the year, so in case he did not do as well as he hoped, he could take it once more.

To study for the GRE of doom, Sir Stu took it upon himself to seek free resources where he could find them. The ETS offered two free practice exams, which Stu took advantage of. The local library offered Stu free test prep books. And come fall, Stu’s very own Rutgers University typically offered free prep courses, though they filled up quickly, so Stu did not rely on them too much.

Now, Sir Stu knew that he was a decent test taker. He had taken his practice exams and done fairly well. That said, had he done poorly on those practice exams, Stu would have sought out prep courses on his own, though it hurt his wallet deeply to do so.  

Test day had arrived and Sir Stu came prepared. He had studied for weeks, brought his admission ticket, his ID, and a healthy snack to the test center, and sat down to take the dreaded exam. It took him nearly four hours, but at last he was done – and his scores, generated automatically, were perfectly acceptable! He aimed for at least a 150 in both the verbal and quantitative sections, and he had met his goal. His writing scores would come later, but Stu knew that they would be decent enough, as he had prepared for all of the the writing prompts on the exam in advanced (for the prompts for both the Issue and Argument sections  were drawn from a pool, that was available to him via the ETS’s website).

Before Stu left the test center – and believe me, he could not wait to get out – he decided to take advantage of the opportunity to send four score reports to his prospective schools for free. He did so, as sending score reports to his schools after he left the testing center would cost a not-insignificant sum of money.

And with that, Stu had fed yet another head of the many-headed graduate school monster.

What would Sir Stu do next?
Read on tomorrow, as the journey continues…

Chapter One: Choosing Schools to Apply To

As promised, here is the first post in our series of posts about grad school applications!

In the beginning….

It was a warm morning in early May and Sir Stu Dent of Rutgers University was finally free. He had completed his final exams with great success, and now he was officially done with his junior year of undergrad. He had nearly four long months before he was to begin his senior year. He wanted to spend the summer relaxing – but alas, Stu was not an ordinary undergraduate. No, Stu had bigger hopes and dreams. Stu wanted to go to graduate school for speech-language pathology, or maybe audiology if that is your preference, and that meant that he would have a long journey ahead of him.

And so on that warm morning in early May, Sir Stu began to plan.

Now as I’m sure you are all aware, applying to graduate school is like fighting a many-headed monster. Only instead of fighting the monster, you have to feed it to get on its good side, and each of the monster’s heads wants something different for dinner, and you’ll likely be facing multiple monsters at the same time. Oh, and you won’t know if any particular monster has become your ally until months after your final battle, when it mails you a letter with its decision.

Wow, this seems terribly overwhelming thought Sir Stu. And Stu was right. But Stu also knew that with proper planning (and postponed procrastination), he could befriend at least a few of these beasts.

When fighting a formidable foe, one must know their adversary well, so naturally, Sir Stu’s first step was to learn more about the many-headed monsters, who heretofore shall be referred to as “graduate schools.” Stu began by visiting his town’s wise man, a Sir ASHA Edfind. Sir Edfind knew all about graduate schools. He could tell you which programs existed, and in which lands they were located, and how long it would take to graduate from one. He was great!

Stu arrived at Sir Edfind’s home(page) with a notebook and quill in hand, and as Sir Edfind answered Stu’s many questions, Stu began to compose a list of the graduate schools that he found most appealing. When he was done, Stu had many names on his list – far too many to realistically befriend them all – so Sir Stu decided that he must learn even more, in order to narrow his list down to a reasonable amount of schools, perhaps three to nine.

Stu’s quest for knowledge next took him to Sir Internet, who could describe each potential graduate program to him in detail by showing him a window into the monster’s mind known as a “website.” The website allowed Stu to see which kinds of courses were offered, if there was an on-campus clinic, what the cost of tuition was, and other factors that Stu deemed important to him. With this information in hand, Sir Stu proceeded to narrow down his list. With a swish of his quill he crossed out the names of several schools that he felt were not a good fit for him, and circled and starred the schools that he liked best. Stu now had a proper list.

What would Sir Stu do next?
Read on tomorrow, as the journey continues…