Selecting a Graduate School

Julie Rowse

Julie RowseAfter teaching high school for six years, I was restless. Still single, I was irritated with myself that I had chosen teaching because I thought it would be easy to leave once I found a spouse. I wanted something different, with more clout. I had written a curriculum for a media literacy class, which piqued my interest in cultural studies, so I started looking for graduate schools with those programs.

BYU was always in the back of my mind, mostly because I was 33 and unmarried, but then I stumbled on Bowling Green State University. At other universities I could cobble together the degree I wanted, but BGSU housed the only actual department in the country dedicated to Popular Culture. So I applied.

BGSU offered me full tuition and an assistantship. However, I still felt some guilt about leaving my students. I remember praying one night, looking for divine direction, and instead came this impression: you can choose for yourself. I’d always thought major decisions like these required validation from God–it never occurred to me that He trusted my judgment with major life decisions.

I accepted the spot at BGSU without visiting the college or talking to any faculty. It ended up being the two best years of my life. The opportunities for research, for publication, and for presenting at conferences completely changed the trajectory of my career.

I chose to return to teaching high school, but after grad school, it felt more like a choice than a “Plan B,” something to do until I got married (which never happened).

I still experience frustrations in my career. Most people do. But now, I approach those frustrations as problems to be solved, not just endured. And I know part of that new approach is because this time, the choice to teach is not a backup plan. It is the plan.

Kellyanne Ure

KellyanneMy journey to attend graduate school at Texas Tech University began when I received my Patriarchal Blessing at the age of 14. A line in my blessing says I’ll be blessed to receive any degree or level of education I choose, and I sought for and obtained that blessing. When I began my bachelor’s degree at BYU, I was going to teach high school English, but a series of setbacks and impressions guided me to graduate school. After a brief one-year break, when I worked full time as an editor, I returned to BYU for my master’s degree with the goal to teach at the college level. I had in the back of my mind that I might get a PhD, but it wasn’t until I fell in love with literary research while writing my thesis that I made the decision to get a PhD. As I began the process of applying to graduate programs, I looked for programs outside of Utah because I wanted an out-of-Utah experience (I grew up in northern Utah). That year was a rough year for getting into graduate school: it was just as the recession was starting, and graduate programs were flooded as students chose to stay in school rather than try to enter a troubled workforce (I would be lying if I said this didn’t influence my own decision to stay in school). At the same time, a lot of programs were cutting back the number of students admitted because of funding issues. In the end, I applied to the eight most appealing English PhD programs across the country.

I didn’t get into my top choices, but I was accepted and recruited by Texas Tech. They even flew me down for a weekend at the school before I made my decision. I was lucky to be admitted to one program, but it wasn’t my dream school. I considered waiting a year and trying again or perhaps pursuing a career with a master’s degree. I won’t go into all the details, but in the end I made the uncertain decision to attend Texas Tech. I did not receive immediate confirmation from the Lord that my decision was right, and that greatly troubled me. I learned a valuable lesson: Boyd K. Packer said (quoting Harold B. Lee), “You must learn to walk to the edge of the light, and then a few steps into the darkness; then the light will appear.” Looking back, of course, it was the natural decision, and the Lord laid out everything just right, but at the time I didn’t really know. I took comfort from my Patriarchal Blessing; I sensed a PhD was the right thing to get, but I didn’t know if it was the right time or the right school. It wasn’t until after I moved halfway across the country to live alone in a strange place with no one I knew within a thousand miles that I had this confirmation: I was in the right place doing the right thing for the right reason. With the benefit of six years of hindsight, I know that it was the right decision, even if I didn’t graduate from the most prestigious school in my field. I learned profound things about myself and about the Lord, and that is the best education anyone can ask for.

Gina Strack

edit_Gina_0058One of the first ideas I ever heard about graduate school was that it was beneficial to get out into the real-world before trying it, say about five years least. Somehow I ended having exactly five years between finishing college and becoming a library school student.

I had earned a B.A. in history mostly out of pure enjoyment of the subject. I love teachers, but no, I didn’t want to be one. I eventually focused on the idea of “public history” which is using education in institutions like libraries, archives, and museums. An internship in an archives my last semester went very well, leading to another part-time job/internship with an historical society. Eventually just over one year from graduation, I was hired in a permanent position as a professional archivist.

Archivists continue their education generally in one of two ways: a master’s in library science or a master’s in history. I still love history, but was not interested in continuing an academic path. That left library science. As I learned my new job, I explored the available accredited options. There were none in Utah where I lived, and I could hardly imagine giving up my job to move. BYU used to have a program, but it had closed long ago in the early 1990s. I next looked into the newer online options, but some required travel across the country, or only took new students every three years. I finally decided the University of Washington in Seattle would be a good choice. Any travel would be not quite as far, the program had a long history, and the online “distance” program was growing rapidly.

I prepared to apply by studying for and taking the GRE, and submitting the application materials in the spring. It took so long to receive the acceptance! Finally in August I flew to Seattle for the first of seven times for a week-long residency (the remaining ones would be just a weekend). After I arrived back home, classwork like lectures, discussions, and papers were online. The first quarter was the most difficult, both adjusting to life with graduate school plus working full time, and the classes themselves. I was incredibly fortunate to have partial tuition support from my employer and great support from family. I graduated 2.5 years later in the early spring with an online portfolio and a head full of useful theories and practices. I still use plenty that I learned in graduate school on my job, so it was definitely a great investment to become a Master of Library and Information Science.

2 Comments on “Selecting a Graduate School

  1. Julie, that was EXACTLY my experience and answer when I decided to leave my teaching career. I am now in my 2nd year of and MBA and realize that it’s the best professional decision I’ve ever made.

    I also appreciate your “plan B” statement. The fact is that our lives, though not traditional are still “plan A.” God knows us; He is not surprised. He knew we needed to grown into our personal path.
    Thanks for sharing!

  2. What Kellyanne didn’t mention is that those of us privileged to know her here in windy West Texas learned profound truths about ourselves and the Lord from her, as well. I’m glad you chose Texas Tech!

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