3 P’s of Graduate School Applications
By: Xicana Ph.D.
I know I have a lot of my critiques of the academy and elitists and will continue to have them and write about them, but that is precisely why I wanted to go to graduate school to begin with. I wanted to subvert the system. I wasn’t under the false notion that I would be accepted with open arms on the contrary I knew places like I entered were not for me (with the exception of community college). I had subverted the system in many ways and continue to do so, but don’t take me saying that for saying I had experienced feelings of unworthiness for an inequitable and an educational system and institutions that upholds oppression and white supremacy.
Oh no, no, no.
We live in a tiered society and it should be no surprise that in California public colleges and universities are tiered and outlined in the CA Master Plan (1960). I knew community colleges were at the bottom, then came the California State Universities, then the University of California. I knew being a student on academic probation and dismissal my first year of community college I was climbing out of a hole that was deeper than the one I was already in, being ill-prepared to go to college in the first place. I had to learn first how to navigate not just one educational institution, but many. This required information something I still stress to others that we must share. Information should not be hoarded or kept from people as information is critical for us to navigate these spaces and places that weren’t meant for us to begin with.
I was thinking of words that start with P one day in September 2018 while sitting on a break from my day job teaching high school Latinx Studies before I did a presentation at California State University Fullerton that week. I was going to speak to students who wanted to go to graduate school, like me, many of the students had come through a community college first, some were parents and many were working full time. As with any potential grad students and especially when I’m asked to give advice about grad school, I thought carefully about what to say. What would’ve been helpful? I shared my story of course as that usually presents a good space to connect, but then I kept thinking about three things, passion, professors, and purpose.
Those are the three P’s I still come back to and I leave for your consideration as you apply to graduate school or just for life in general.
1) Passion. What is the driving force behind what you want to do? For me it was my experiences in community college. I knew in higher education (my area of specialization in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies) that people like me and my friends I came up with don’t get spoken about. Whatever you do has to not only sustain you, but give you that fuel to keep moving because there will be people who will tell you in subtle and not so subtle ways to change your topic to consider something else, but you have to decide what’s more important to you? I’m not saying people’s passions don’t change, but don’t let Grad School or the institution change you. If it aligns with your purpose (I’ll get to that last) then more power to you. Hold on to your passion. It’ll carry you through.
2) Professor(s). No I’m not just talking about any professor. In an ideal world hopefully you’ll have more than one caring professor, but I can tell you from experience one can change your world and be the reason you stay in school. Professors sometimes shift as to who can not just be a teacher, but a mentor. Think of this as a partnership for seeing that you reach your goals beyond graduation. My professors changed and shifted during graduate school. I felt and still feel left in the cold by the ones I really needed to back me up, but I’m thankful for the ones I had who still do support me and didn’t try to make obstacles for me. Instead of gatekeepers, caring professors care about you. All of you. They will open doors and share information.
3) Purpose. What is the point of grad school for you? Of education and learning? Of what you are studying? What impact do you want to have not just with what you do in the academy, but with your life. That to me was always easy to answer. I went to school to serve my community as I saw and learned that degrees could be tools for that purpose. Now do we need degrees to serve the people? No there are many capacities to do so? Could’ve I have fulfilled my purpose without the degrees? Sure. Did I? Yes.
So what was the point?
In order to serve my community on a larger scale, I knew I needed the degrees. Ever since community college in my essays for scholarships, for school, and other opportunities I would talk/write about inequalities in education, what I had seen and experienced and how I wanted to continue to open doors for those who come next. That’s what I did and I know that is what I still do as an Ethnic Studies High School Teacher. I know I’m fulfilling a purpose. Purpose doesn’t leave you. It’s something greater than yourself and greater than the degrees.
Once your acceptance letters roll in during late winter/early spring or whatever may happen always remember who you are, why you are here, and the work that always needs to be done inside and especially outside the academy to fight inequality in our society.
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