Graduate studies are one of those endeavours that if you haven’t experienced it yourself, you don’t know what to expect. Graduate school doesn’t have an exact real-world counterpart, unless you are in the sciences, where you may go onto a scientific research career. But for the most part, graduate school is an unknown, where anecdotes from other graduate students or humourous comics are the only window into the illusive world of academia.
Not All Graduate Programs are Alike
Many Bachelor of Arts or Education undergraduate students I speak to often seem to think that all graduate degrees are alike, and the path to finishing the degree looks the same across the board. Yet, in reality, there are various paths that one can take in their graduate degree, and more importantly, many variables that affect the factors that come to play in the course of their graduate studies. For anyone planning to start a graduate degree, and is wondering what to expect during the beginning of their degree, the best analogy I can use to describe starting the graduate school experience is the example of playing the massively multi-player online role-playing game, World of Warcraft. Yes, you heard me, World of Warcraft.
I will explain the initial steps of applying to graduate school in Part 1, and the actual journey of commencing graduate school in Part 2.
Applying to Graduate School versus Starting to Play World of Warcraft
The first step one takes in their graduate studies is to decide to apply to a graduate program, typically a Masters degree. This is in the same line of the thought as World of Warcraft (WoW), as one has to decide to purchase or subscribe to the game.
Next in WoW, one has to download and install the incessant amount of updates and patches that need to be applied to the game on your computer before being able to commence opening the log-in page. Again, graduate studies is similar, as one has to go through the motions of preparing all the paperwork, obtaining reference letters, intended research proposal essays, and other administrative items that need to be attached to each graduate school application one needs to submit to their school(s) of choice.
Important Factor: The Application Fine-details and small updates
Important Factor: Expectations and Due Diligence
Important Choices: Faction/School
World of Warcraft: Choose the faction you want to play – Alliance or Horde. Inevitably, this then influences the type of character you can play, Alliance: Humans, dwarves, gnomes, night elves, dranei and the Horde: Orcs, trolls, tauren, undead, blood elves. Each of these character races holds their own strengths and weaknesses, choose carefully, as this will affect who you are associating with.
Graduate School: Choose the school and department you want to apply to. Inevitably, this then influences the types of opportunities you will have for professors, research opportunities, funding, course offerings and the colleagues you will associate with. You need to choose carefully, as this will follow you along for the rest of your graduate career, and can affect your future job field possibilities. In WoW, choosing your character faction based on being able to play and associate with friends isn’t a bad thing. On the other hand, choosing your graduate program based on where your friends are applying is not recommended.
Important Choices: Character Class/Specialization or Field
Graduate School: Choosing the specialization for your degree affects the types of courses you will take, and ultimately the types of knowledge and skills you will gain from your degree. While changing your specialization after the fact is possible, it is costly (wastes time in your graduate studies) and again, really, just do your research ahead of time, or take a directed/independent readings/studies course if you really wanted to study that topic that isn’t offered as a regular class.