Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Getting into Graduate School for Speech-Language Pathology.

Note: if you have zero interest in speech-language pathology/getting into graduate school for said field, this might not be the most interesting post for you!

When I made the decision to apply for graduate school (in a field that was 100% different from my initial degree), I knew that quitting my job and going back to serving wasn’t going to be the only difficult part of the journey.

If you’re familiar with speech-language pathology as a field, you know that getting into graduate school is notoriously difficult. Hundreds of students apply for just 20-60 spots, and a good majority of them have phenomenal GPAs. 

Now that I've officially (and miraculously) been accepted to school, I thought I'd put together a list of tips that I believe helped me secure my spot in a great program:

Don’t blow off the GRE. No matter what your friends tell you, spend some time studying for the GRE. For one, it’s a really expensive test to just throw your hands up and see how things go. Learn the strategies, memorize the vocabulary, and take practice tests. I will be the first one to tell you that it’s a stupid test that in no way actually determines how you will perform in grad school. Having said that, it’s a stupid test that will either make or break your application. TIP: Spend a couple hours looking at sample analytical writing essays and prompts. My verbal and quantitative scores were above what I needed when I took the test my first time…and then my analytical writing score came back 12 days later 0.5 points below what I needed. It matters.

Personally, I loved using Magoosh for my studies. I could take full practice exams, and I had access to hundreds of verbal and quant questions. Every single practice question gave a 1-3 minute explanation for the answer, so it was like having my own personal tutor. Definitely worth the money, and it’s considerably cheaper than many other programs.

Immerse yourself in the field. I spent the summer before applying to schools emailing local private practices and hospitals about shadowing their SLPs. I managed to secure a volunteer position at a major hospital here in Tampa for my spring semester (just finishing up my 80 hours this month!), and I formed a great relationship with an SLP practicing at a local school (who ended up writing me a letter of recommendation!). Plus, I spent a couple half days shadowing my friend at the private practice she works at. Not only was I buffing up my grad school application, but I learned so much over the year while getting to work in different settings. 

Get personal with your letter of intent. Even though I’m pretty comfortable with writing, drafting my letter of intent was intimidating. It’s your only opportunity to tell the admission committees exactly why and how you’re different from other applicants…especially if you’re coming from another major or acknowledging a low GPA. I used my background in professional sales and recent observation hours to explain why I decided to pursue speech pathology, and why I felt I would be a perfect fit for the program. Get creative! I also made sure to send drafts to friends and family for review, and quadruple checked for spelling and grammatical errors. In a nutshell – sell yourself, but tastefully!
Reach out early for letters of recommendation. And don’t feel weird about asking for them! Writing letters of recommendation is literally in a professor’s job description. Having said that, reaching out early is key. Again, as a post-bacc, I was in a weird position. Thus, I had to reach out to professors after hardly getting to know them at all. If at all possible, don’t do this. Get involved in research or attend office hours. BUT, do know that it’s completely possible to get a good letter from a professor you don’t have a close relationship with, so long as you’re in good academic standing in the class.

Let them know you’re thinking about them, in a non-suffocating kind of way. As soon as I heard USF was sending out waitlist notifications (in addition to acceptances), I called the graduate school advisor to check in on the status of my application. While talking on the phone can seem scary, it really is so much more personal than an email. Later that week, I was waitlisted. I made sure to reply to the email expressing my continued interest in the school, and then sent an updated resume the following week. I maxed myself out at three separate points of contact, and from there, I [im]patiently waited for my future to unfold…into an acceptance! Of course, there’s no guarantee that reaching out here and there will make a definite difference, but it felt good to know that there was nothing more I could have done to make myself stand out.

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