Josie Hartney, a senior at Ave Maria, is the definition of southern belle. With her contagious laugh and sweet drawl, Josie is a joy to be around. During her time at Ave Maria, Josie has taken the most difficult science classes that are offered, played many intramural sports, participated in a variety of clubs, and devoted her time and talents to the students as a Resident Assistant. This past December, Josie was accepted into Augusta University’s occupational therapy program and plans to begin her studies there, in her home state of Georgia, this fall.
Advice for juniors/seniors applying to graduate school?
For me, getting experience in the field that I was interested in was invaluable in helping me figure out what type of graduate school I wanted to attend. When I was a freshman, I started exploring what was available in the medical field. A family friend advised me to create a master document to keep track of all of the experiences I would have over the upcoming years, both shadowing and working. She told me to note how I felt after each experience, so that a few years down the road, I could remember what I did or did not like about it and the different things I saw. It was really nice to have that record, especially when I was applying for graduate schools and determining my vocation. As someone going into healthcare, it was really important for me to be able to log all of my experience and count the patient care hours that I had completed. Employers and graduate schools want to know if you have seen the broad spectrum of the field that you are going into. By having accumulated experience, it shows them that you have been thinking about your future for a long time.
How did you make the decision that you wanted to go on to graduate school?
I think my field is unique because I knew even before I got to Ave that I wasn't going to stop learning when I got my bachelor's in Biology. I knew that it wouldn't be the finish line, because it is just a stepping stone that is going to get me to where I want to go. I looked at juniors and seniors in my major and got as much as advice from them as I could. I also weighed the options of what I could do with a bachelors degree, versus what I could do if I furthered my degree. The classes you take greatly impact what you are able to do in my particular field, so that had to be thought out. There are so many prerequisites to fulfill if you want to go on in the sciences, and many may not be included in what your major requires that you take. Early on, I looked at the prerequisites required for all of the graduate programs that I was interested in, and took those classes. That is really important to do, otherwise you will graduate and have to enroll in a community college to take a few more courses before being able to start grad school.
What advice do you have for someone that is interested in applying?
Talking to your friends and family is really helpful because they notice things about you that you either do not notice or will not admit about yourself. There really is value to be gained from other people’s opinions. I am lucky to have a family who is medically oriented because they could both speak to my interests and help me throughout the application process. Being self-aware has really helped me to know what I like, what I don't like, and what my weaknesses and strengths are. Recognizing my capabilities allows me to know that I will be able to tackle grad school. I love to learn, and I know I will excel. I am not burnt out quite yet.
Do you think it is advisable to tell people to understand what their goal is in going to graduate school?
I definitely think it is important for people to have a goal going into graduate school, especially because going to grad school is likely going to introduce you to a lot of debt. I would not want to invest years of my life, and thousands of dollars, into something that I was not confident that I wanted to do. When you think about going to grad school, it is not just a program, it is a season of life that you are going to be in. Not only do you have to evaluate the program based on it’s credentials, you are also discerning if you are going to be able to do well with your faith, be in a good community, and be able to live out your vocation while going there. Also, what is going in your immediate family is important. Do you have siblings or family members that you want to be able to watch grow, or are you willing to move far away and miss that? In addition, if you are in a serious relationship and about to get married, that may impact your decision process as well. There are so many non-academic factors that have to be weighed, but for me, the biggest three were faith, finances, and family.
How did you choose Augusta University?
I had to decide how much I wanted to pursue a career in occupational therapy, and how much I would be willing to sacrifice to do that. Personally, my decision was driven by finances. It is so much more expensive to go to school out of state, and right now, I do not have anything that is drawing me out of state worth spending that much more money on. Among the OT programs I have looked into, there are a few great ones close to my hometown, and right now, my family is my base.
What kind of research did you do when you were looking at graduate programs? On what details did you focus your search?
I searched schools in Georgia and found the basic list, then I asked friends of mine who had gone to occupational therapy school about what they knew about those schools and their reputations. I also was interested in knowing about the student body. For example, one of the really good schools I was looking at had a student body entirely made up of girls. That steered me away from that school because I want to be around all kinds of people. I also chose schools in a certain location because I know the kind of area that I want to be living in for the next two years. In addition, of course, I looked into the financial side. For example, of my top schools, one was private, one was public. Those have very different expenses.
Augusta is a really good school with a great program, and a well accredited faculty and staff. I went to an open house there this summer and I learned so much about their values, as well as all of the mission trip fieldwork opportunity that they offer. It is very clear that they have a strong emphasis on service and compassion, which after going to Ave, I found very attractive. I knew that if I went there, I could live at home for free, which would save me from taking out thousands of dollars in loans. I applied to Augusta just because everything was pointing in that direction. For me, it had the best program that I had seen, it was the most affordable, and I would be able to be with my family. I prayed about the decision a lot and I felt like the Lord was opening all these doors for me, leading to Augusta.
If you were to have gone into an academic masters program, for example, a Ph.D in Biochemistry, instead of a professional masters program like you have decided to pursue, how do you think your discernment would have been different?
Dr. Barbosa tried to talk to a few of the people in our Organic Chem class about going on to become biochemists, and I thought about it for a quick second. However, I realized that there is a difference between what you enjoy learning, and what your goals are for the future. For me, I enjoy learning simply for the sake of learning, but my long-term goal is to be able to use what I have learned to help people in the field of medicine.
I think that if I had had the goal of going into an academic masters program, I would have sought out a school with the top professors in the field I was interested in, and looked into the connections that university could have offered me. It would also be very important to know if they had up-to-date labs and equipment for the kind of experience that I needed. Top-of-the-line technology is crucial in the sciences. If you are pursing academia, I do think that you have other things to consider.
Do you have any advice for application process itself?
Check all of the deadlines for the programs that you are interested in. Make sure that you know what standardized tests you need to take, and how far in advance you need to take them in order for them to meet the application deadline of the schools you plan on applying to. You need to think about how long before those dates you need to start studying for the tests as well. Your timeline is huge. Also, if you plan to ask professors for letters of recommendation, you need to ask for those way in advance. You want to be respectful of the people that you are asking and give them plenty of time, because they are all so busy.
What would an ideal application timeline look like?
You should be creating a timeline during your junior year, and making sure that everything you need is going to be accomplished by the deadlines. A huge realization for me, was that you don't have until May of your senior year to decide what you want to be when you grow up. You need to be thinking of that long before, and I think so many people don't realize that. If you are a freshman or a sophomore, you should still be looking into these things and doing everything that you can to prepare. This is not like high school where grades during your freshman and sophomore years don't really matter, everything counts. Get involved! Do some service. Run for SGA. Go on mission trips. Study abroad. We have so many awesome opportunities here at Ave…do not miss out on them.
When you look back on your own experience at Ave Maria, are you happy with the way that you’ve done things?
Yes, but I think I would still change the way I did some things if I could. I did not realize until my senior year that it is okay if you don’t go straight into things. I sort of wish I had cut myself some slack, in all honesty. I think that it is really important to enjoy your college career, and if you get too caught up in getting a 4.0, you’ll let it slip by. I do care a lot about my grades and my involvements, so I am very fortunate that I have friends that call me out when I’m being antisocial. I just trust that where I am right now is where I'm supposed to be, and God is going to use it for the best.
What is your view is on gap years? Do you have a general philosophy as to when to take one?
I think gap years are very situation based. Personally, I think they are abused because many people don’t put in the preparation that they should in order to move on after college, and it is for that reason that they take a gap year. I don't think you need to take a gap year, but you shouldn't write people off as being failures if they take one. There is a lot of wisdom to be gained in a gap year, and in this time of life when we are growing so much, some people can get so much out of one. Having another year of experience isn't a bad thing, and it can help you in the long run. You don’t want to jump into something before you know that it is what you want to do. You don’t need to be a full blown adult when you are 22.
Any final thoughts?
Don’t let fear of the future keep you from living in the present. Satan tries to make us fear to keep us from what we are called to be doing and experiencing. If we let him control our thoughts, we will miss the moment that we are in.