Pressing the Button: Passing on Good Advice for Deciding When To Apply and What Program to Pick

To those of you who don’t have it all figured out:

I thought about applying to grad school for three years before I pressed “submit.” I had the GRE scores all ready to go, but I wanted to have a clear vision of exactly what I wanted from life and thus grad school before I applied. I also wanted to have a deep understanding of teaching and learning in a few real world contexts. Secretly, enough people had been skeptical of my plans to teach that I also half-expected to wake up one day done with teaching; grad school would be a pivot to something else. However, neither that perfect clarity nor that frustration with the classroom ever came, and those GRE scores expired and I had to take it again when the moment was right.

Once I did decide to come, my motivations were more questions than preparing for a role; I had to dive deep into the acronym alphabet soup that is the HGSE Master’s Program to figure out which one would best fit what I wanted from my experience here.

I was lucky to have wise counsel along the way, especially from HGSE alums. In particular, I had amazing guidance from my assistant principal, who did an earlier version of the Instructional Leadership strand of the Learning & Teaching (L&T) program in late 1990s. If you’re sitting there debating about whether to actually do it, or still don’t know if you’re more AIE or MBE or TIE, two helpful pieces of advice he told me helped me decide when and what:

#1: Think about the money, but also think about the time. When do you have a “spare year” to do this?

In my case, I’m in my late twenties, and I know my willingness and ability to up and leave goes down every year. I don’t have a ton of “spare years” left. I decided I had hit the sweet spot of professional experience, future direction, and personal ability, even though none of them were as “perfect” as I hoped they’d be when I pressed submit. Doing a full-time masters is both a professional and a personal decision.

#2: When in doubt, choose the more flexible option. 

Obviously, if you want a certification, want to work in higher ed, or look at a program where every requirement fills you with joy from head to toe, you have a clear program choice.

However, I wavered between Education Policy & Management (EPM) and the L&T program because both look at improving student learning through different levers. They’re both very customizable programs, but L&T felt even more open. HGSE is a candy store for education nerds, and I’m appreciating being able to adapt my plan as I discover things I didn’t even know I wanted to do. I could do that with EPM, too, and I think I’d have a very similar experience in practice. However, for me-on-the-fence-a-year-ago, the slightly-more freedom L&T offered offset some of the anxiety I had about having an only 85% clear vision of what I wanted from this experience. 

Bonus piece of advice, from me: if your GRE scores are about to expire, that is not a terrible reason to make this the year you apply. If you thought you hated that test the first time you took it, having to relearn special triangles six years later, again, is even more infuriating.

Good luck with the soul searching, the writing, and the scramble!

Becca Schouvieller is in the Instructional Leadership strand for experienced teachers within the Learning & Teaching program. She taught social studies in Maine for six years and is excited about civic education, rural education, college access and preparation, working within existing schools to improve teaching quality, and finding the best breakfast sandwich in Cambridge.

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