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Featuring Jocelyn Blanton '11
Jocelyn Blanton
Graduate School: Boston University
Graduate Program: Reading Education (M.Ed.); pursuing licensure as a reading specialist
Location: Boston, Massachusetts
(Profiled: November 2011)

♦  What influenced your decision to go to graduate school?
♦  How did you explore graduate schools?
♦  Do you have any tips related to the application process?
♦  Did you obtain a Graduate Research/Teaching Assistantship? If so, what was that application process like?

What influenced your decision to go to graduate school?
Since freshmen year I knew that I wanted to go to graduate school, and I originally planned to study special education. At the time, you couldn’t major in special education at GCC, so I knew that I had to go back to graduate school after I obtained my bachelor’s. I also knew that I would need to get my master’s within a few years of teaching in Massachusetts, my home state, so it made sense to get my master’s in special education immediately after I graduated from Grove City. However, during my time at GCC I realized that I was more interested in reading and literacy than special education. My field experiences taught me that I find pleasure in providing academic support to struggling students and that I am less interested in the behavioral component of special education. The area of reading education became more attractive because it would still allow me to support struggling students, but there would be greater emphasis to provide direct academic instruction.  My interest in literacy education was affirmed when I took Primary Literacy Methods and found it the most stimulating of all my literacy classes.

The fall of my senior year, I did an independent study with Dr. Culbertson, which was a fantastic opportunity for me to explore my interest in literacy. As part of my coursework, I read research articles by literacy professors at Boston University, the University of Pittsburgh, and SUNY-Albany (the three schools to which I was planning on applying). To my surprise, I found the scholarly and professional literature exciting and stimulating; my interest in literacy research helped to affirm that I wanted to go to graduate school. My interest in scholarship was also confirmed through my experience as a research assistant for Dr. Scheffler. I tremendously enjoyed my work with her, and one of the main reasons why I wanted to enroll in graduate school fulltime was so I could gain more research experience.

How did you explore graduate schools?
I started by looking very casually and browsing the internet. I am a person who likes a lot of time to think over things, and as early as the summer before my junior year I was browsing for programs online. I also looked at lists that ranked universities by the quality of their schools of education. This list was only somewhat helpful as school of education rankings do not necessarily correlate with the quality of a particular program. Eventually I took a long list of grad schools to Dr. Nichols who helped me narrow down the list. I then created a spreadsheet and used it to compare the schools on the list. During my search, I learned that there are two graduate tracks related to literacy. The first prepares you to be a licensed reading specialist and the second focuses more on literacy research and does not result in licensure. Once I realized that this distinction existed, I was able to further narrow my list of potential schools. Late in my search, I realized that not every state has reciprocity with Massachusetts (my home state) for specialists licensures (as opposed to more general teaching licensures), and as a result some universities came off my list.

By fall of my senior year, I focused my search on three schools: University of Pittsburgh (Pitt), University at Albany-SUNY, and Boston University (BU), though eventually I zeroed in on Pitt and BU. As I looked into each program, I realized more and more that BU’s program matched my interests. BU’s program is small, which I liked because I wanted to attend a program where I would really get to know the faculty. I talked with professors at both BU and Pitt, which was incredibly informative and gave me a feel for the programs. When I spoke with the program director at BU, I was impressed by the faculty’s desire for the students to gain a firm grounding in literacy research before they explore which methods should be used. As the director described the rigor of BU’s program, I was reminded of Grove City, which was exciting, because I knew that I wanted to attend a scholastically-challenging program. BU was also attractive to me because there were research assistantships available to master’s students; this is not true of all programs.

Do you have any tips related to the application process?
In sequential order:
♦  Give yourself time to casually browse through programs so you can familiarize yourself with common program components and identify program idiosyncrasies. I also met with Mrs. Snyder, and she helped me to refine my search by helping me to consider what type of program interested me and giving me a list of questions to ask the schools. Mrs. Snyder provided great advice about applying to graduate school, such as the value of making a faculty “ally” at each university and explaining different types of financial aid.
♦  I recommend reading articles by the professors in the program to which you are considering applying. Doing this provides you with a point of connection when you talk to faculty about their university’s program. The program director at BU seemed impressed that I was able to reference an article by one of her colleagues in a discussion about program characteristics that were important to me. Talk with your professors to identify key articles by the faculty in your prospective programs.
♦  Schedule an informational interview with the program director or other faculty members. Both of my interviews were done over the phone. This was one of the most critical steps in my graduate school search, as it gave me unique insights into BU and Pitt. Both universities have wonderful programs, but if I hadn’t spoken with the directors at both programs, I never would have known how different the programs are, or how much more BU is suited to my interests.
♦  Look at what entrance exams they require. Pitt and SUNY didn’t require an exam, but BU required either the GRE or the Miller Analogies Test (MAT). After doing some research, I realized the Miller Analogies was a better fit for me than the GRE.

Did you obtain a Graduate Research/Teaching Assistantship? If so, what was that application process like?
Typically, there’s an application process but it can take different forms. At BU, once you are accepted into a program, you can look on the school’s website where professors post information about research and teaching assistantships. Some are paid, some unpaid, and some are for doctoral students only. I came by my position in a rather unusual way. At BU’s admitted student day, I asked a student panel about research assistantships, and I was told by the moderator to talk with the professors in my program (reading education). A professor from the early childhood department happened to be in the audience, and after my question she spoke up and mentioned that she was looking for research assistants. We connected after the panel and exchanged information, and then I contacted her to set up an informational interview. Prior to the interview, I looked her up on Google scholar in order to familiarize myself with her research interests. I was even able to read some of her shorter articles. As a result of my research, I discovered that she was interested in preschoolers’ vocabulary development. I have a strong interest in vocabulary instruction and I had some experience in early childhood research through my work with Dr. Scheffler. During my interview, I made a point of weaving in my relevant interests and experiences into the conversations, but I wouldn’t have known to do this if I hadn’t done my research. After the interview, I sent the professor a thank-you note in which I expressed my gratitude and rearticulated my interest in her current work. I was hired a week after I interviewed.

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