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
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
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
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
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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