I took the path less traveled.
Actually, I am not sure about the statistics on that so maybe I didn’t. But, the path I did take led me to Cambridge University, and here’s how I did it.
I majored in Anthropology at the Ohio State University. Very exciting, great school, super awesome memories. But what was I going to do with my degree? Most people I talk to have absolutely no idea what Anthropology is. The closest most people come is, “Like Ross from friends!!”…no, nothing like Ross from friends. He is a Paleontologist who studies dinosaurs. Anthropologists study people, humankind, its history and its future. For me, I have always been fascinated by museums, especially natural history ones. So, I decided to pursue a career in the museum field, which means I have to go to grad school.
The Road to Grad School:
1. Research Programs
In order to know which schools to apply to, you need to know what program you want to pursue. That’s the first step. Sit down and think about the career you want and then do some research on people in that career. Do they have higher degrees? What are their degrees in? Does that interest you?
2. Research Schools
Now that you know which program you want to pursue, you can begin looking for schools that have that program. There are different search engines you can use for this, but I started with a quick Google search. This led me down a rabbit hole of how many different schools offer anthropology grad degrees. I narrowed my search because there were specific schools I had in mind. I made a list of reach schools and safety schools, both domestic and abroad. For each school, I marked down deadlines, unique qualities, faculty I could work with, cost, and duration. I narrowed my list down to twelve schools. There is no right or wrong number of schools to apply to, it depends entirely upon you.
3. Take the GRE
For US schools, almost all will require GRE scores. For universities abroad, in my experience, none required GRE scores. This is something to take into account when researching schools and applying to schools, since the GRE is expensive. However, your GRE test scores are good for ten years, so if you think you will be doing a PhD or another master’s program after this one, it might be useful to take the GRE when you still have most of that information in your head. I have another post of prepping for and taking the GRE, check that out for more information.
4. Apply to Schools
Applying to grad school is b*tch.
First you will need recommendation letters from people who can speak to your ability to complete the coursework, such as a professor or research advisor. You will want to ask for these letters with ample time before the deadline, at least three weeks. Also, it is helpful to provide the referee with a word document outlining the list of the schools, their programs, the deadline, and where to send the letter.
Next, the actual application. There will be essays. Sometimes multiple for one application. For example, the Cambridge application has six short essays I had to provide. Definitely get a head start on the applications, like two to three months before they are due. You will have time to write, and rewrite, your essays, have them revised by a professor, and finalized well before the due date. You may also need samples of work. I used past class assignments and also wrote new samples for applications, it just depends on whether you think you already have something worthy or need something new. I would seek advice from a professor on your sample of work.
The applications can seem daunting, time-consuming, stressful, and, well, a lot. That’s because they are. But, with preparation and planning, you can nail them and be accepted to the school of your dreams! The final downside to applications, money. Each application will cost you at least an arm, if not also a leg. This is why I narrowed down my school list and applied to my top schools first. While I started with a list of twelve, I only ended up applying to four because one of my top choices got back to me in the beginning of November, so I didn’t need to apply to other school that I wasn’t in love with. If your applications have a rolling deadline, apply early for the schools that you LOVE and dream about going to. That way, if you hear back soon, you won’t need to submit other applications, most of which are due early January up to May.
5. Apply for Funding
This one is HUGE. I cannot stress this enough, research as many funding opportunities as you possibly can, and apply to ALL of them. I researched funding from every single organization and club I have ever been a part of. I researched local scholarships in my hometown. National scholarships from large corporations and charities. National and International fellowships, like the Fulbright and Rhodes. The funding process is stressful and long and daunting, but in the end it will pay off! Imagine having your entire course funded! That would be the dream. For me, I applied to everything under the sun, won a couple, and am still taking out big loans (not fun). Master’s funding is more limited than undergraduate and PhD funding, so apply for anything you can, even if you think its too competitive or you don’t quite fit the qualifications. The worst that can happen is you get rejected, but you don’t even have the opportunity to win anything if you don’t apply. So apply!
6. Making the Decision
By now, you have submitted your applications and have heard back from some or all of your schools. Make sure you note the deadline for accepting an offer so you don’t miss it. But also take your time in making your decision. By the end of my process, I had been accepted to Cambridge University, Oxford, Columbia, and the University of Sydney. Each of them had their pros and cons, and it took me months to finally choose (some of this time due to waiting to hear on funding). This decision is your’s. Not your parents’, not your professors’ decision. Your’s. You are the one who has to live in the town/city, read the material, work in that field. So do yourself a favor, and take your time.
I had always dreamed of going abroad for school, which knocked Columbia out (they also don’t offer postgraduate financial aid). The University of Sydney is where I applied for the Fulbright, which I didn’t win, so that was out. It came down to Oxford and Cambridge, how does one choose between the two? It took me four months to decide and be firm in my decision. I looked at the universities and what they offer, which, unhelpfully, are basically the same. So for me, it came down to the program, which one I wanted to be in more. The one at Oxford was tailored specifically to museums, whereas the one at Cambridge is a broad anthropology degree. I chose Cambridge for the flexibility the degree gives me in future decisions. And now, I am one month away from flying across the pond on a one way ticket to the rest of my life 🙂
This is my path, I hope you find, and follow, your’s.