Graduate School Application Advice: My Journey to Getting Over the Sticker Shock

Ah, yes. This time last year I was gathering up all of the bits and pieces of my many graduate school applications. I have serious “fear of missing out,” so I had a hard time deciding what schools I wanted to apply to, terrified I’d miss a great opportunity if I narrowed my list. If you’re anything like me, I highly suggest that you first do a self-audit—where are you right now, where do you want to be, and what do you need in order to get from point A to point B. Additionally, keep in mind that when you’re applying to schools you want to show them that you’re a good fit for the program, so if you’re not even sure what you want from a graduate program, that can come through in your materials. This auditing process helped me sort out what I truly needed and wanted in a program rather than getting caught up in all these programs that sounded cool.

After I decided what I wanted my academic experience to look like, I started thinking about other factors that were important to me. For example, as you’re making your own decisions, think about how important geography, financial aid, internships, faculty, etc. are to you. Make sure you do your research on the institutions you’re applying to so that you don’t spend hours and an application fee on a program that doesn’t attend to what’s most important to you outside of the classroom and program title.

For me, I knew I really cared about networks and cost. I wanted to go to an institution that had strong connections with the community, the alumni, and research in the field. I found that network at Harvard, which is one of the reasons I chose this program. Flash forward to half way through my first semester here and I’m already pleasantly overwhelmed with the many opportunities I’ve been able to take advantage of as an HGSE student. The connections, relationships, and multiplicity of outlets for practice and new experiences in the field are beyond what I expected.

Cost, on the other hand, was trickier to work out for me, even in deciding to apply to HGSE. In all honesty, I applied to HGSE on a whim—I loved the programs and the school, but the sticker shock was so real. I remember the day I told my mom I was applying to HGSE (her face could’ve been a meme); I assured her I wouldn’t actually go and that it was just to see if it was even a possibility for me. I’m a first generation college student, and as far as I knew, families like mine didn’t go to Harvard and could never pay for it. Additionally, I was already in student loan debt up to my eyeballs from my state-school undergraduate experience. When I was accepted I had already made up my mind to attend elsewhere, but every time I went to decline my admission, I just couldn’t shake that I would regret not taking the leap.

Not to downplay the cost of living here or the tuition (it definitely costs), but it isn’t as impossible as that initial sticker shock makes you believe. First, there are so many options for funding, including HGSE financial aid, outside scholarships, loans, on and off campus jobs, and paid internships. After exploring my options, I was able to engineer a financial situation that was doable for me, which included a myriad of these resources. Moreover, although cost is critical, examine the return on your investment for each of your options.

What I’ve gotten out of this program already is well worth the cost and the sacrifices I’ve made. While HGSE and the Boston area may look impossibly expensive on paper, it is possible to navigate. I took a financial leap of faith in this decision despite the chagrin of well-meaning family, and although money is tight sometimes, it is so worth it. All in all, stay within your means, but don’t count yourself out of something beautiful before you begin to reach for it.

Kaci McClure is a Master’s of Education candidate in the Language and Literacy program. Her primary passions are increasing literacy skills among high school students; addressing inequity in low-income, largely minority schools; and culturally responsive teaching. A transplant out of Louisiana who originally hails from Texas, Kaci has an affinity for sweet tea, spicy food, and the word “y’all.” She’s also an avid supporter of conscious rap and frybread, neither correlated to the other but both very powerful.