How to Evaluate Graduate School and Job Offers

When graduation is staring you down, it’s easy to feel panic.  Should you go to grad school? Should you enter the workforce? Should you sit in your parents’ basement and play video games?

Part of the problem is that you just don’t know what’s next.  In all honesty, you can’t know.  Your college classes and professors and mentors and friends have done their best to prepare you, but the whole point of graduation is that you are now on your own.  ”Real life” has commenced, and that can be simply terrifying.  You don’t know whether you’ll like your job, or whether you’ll really connect with your course of graduate studies, and you won’t until you actually start.

So how do you make a decision when you can’t know the right answer?  You make the best decision from the options available. 

Judge your opportunities across three criteria:  Power, Potential, and Planning.

Grad School

You’ve decided you need more preparation to enter the workforce.  Depending on your chosen career path, this can be a great choice.  I do strongly advise, however, that you not close your eyes to taking a gap year.  Always leave that option on the table. Evaluate whether you would gain more from a gap year than from going straight to graduate school. If you do choose to take a gap year and work, you may find that you are far more prepared and far more effective when you come back to school.

Take my situation as an example.  Just about a year ago, I was trying to decide between two law schools.  Both schools were great, and both schools had given me the option to defer my enrollment for a year.  Deciding to take advantage of that deferment was the best choice I could have made; I’m now starting law school with a wealth of new skills, experience, and knowledge, including, quite simply, a better understanding of being an adult.

“But, MJ,” you might ask, “how did you then choose between the two schools?”  Let’s look at these three criteria to find out.

  • Power:  What comparative advantage does one school have over the other?  Both schools will give me a J.D., and the same basic skills as a lawyer, but does one school have a better job placement percentage?  Does one school have greater prestige? Have you researched the prestige and experience of the professors in your field at each school? What is the average incoming GPA/LSAT/MCAT/GRE scores? How selective is the school - what is their acceptance rate? Who has a greater alumni network which will open doors and qualify me for opportunities that the other just can’t?  Does one school have a better percentage of graduating qualified students who can pass their professional exams?  Does one school have a better academic reputation than the other? Does one school send graduates onto the type of employment I am considering?

You choose a graduate school in order to position yourself better for your chosen career.  If you aren’t choosing the school which gives you the best position upon graduation, you’re wasting your time.

  • Potential:  What are the median salaries of graduates from the two schools?  Does one school graduate students with far higher debt levels than the other?  If so, is this balanced by a commensurately higher salary?  If one school offers you way more money than the other, it can be easy to be persuaded by the zeroes at the end of the scholarship offer.  But will that be worth it over a thirty or forty year career? 

Choose the school that will give you the best position ten, twenty, thirty years down the road.  Don’t be seduced by short-term gain; your career lasts your whole life, not just the remainder of your twenties.

  • Planning:  Your choice of graduate school will likely determine your future.  The location of your school determines your immediate job prospects and the debt load you’ll shoulder will affect your finances for years, so it’s crucial to pick the school that’s the best fit for how you want your life to play out.  Now, will everything work out exactly the way you want?  Of course not.  Choosing the school that ticks the checkboxes you need, though, puts you in a far better position to be prepared for both immediate job prospects and the debt load you’ll shoulder going right and the potential for circumstances which deviate from your plan. 

Sit down and sketch out a rough outline of the start of your career.  Where do you want to be immediately after graduation?  Where do you want to be in three years? In ten?  Which school gets you to your checkpoints? Check out the Graduate School Guide on the Career Services Website to help you evaluate your decision. 

For me, then, it came down to Notre Dame Law and Michigan Law.  Two great schools.  Two great scholarship offers.  I can’t say a bad thing about either school or either admissions process.  When I evaluated the two schools across the three criteria, however, the answer about which was the right school for me quickly became clear.

Attending Michigan Law was the right choice for me because it positions me better immediately upon graduation for the initial job that I want to launch my career to get me where I want to be in ten years.  I want to be the best lawyer in Detroit; attending Michigan Law is the best way to prepare for that.

Entering the Workforce

Let’s say Grad School is definitely not for you.  You’re so fed up with writing never-ending essays, answering pointless questions on tests, and sitting in boring lectures. You just need to get out, find a job, and spend your time writing never-ending emails, answering the same pointless questions from your clients, and sitting in boring meetings that really didn’t need to happen. Aren’t you glad to know there’s light at the end of the tunnel?

In all seriousness, the work that you do is enriching and should be chosen carefully. Just like you want to have multiple grad school options, you’ll want to have multiple job offers to ensure you make the right choice. Let’s look at the questions you should be asking:

  • Power:  What comparative advantage does one job have over the other?  Will one job give you better training, or let you take on more responsibilities?  Which job will make your head hurt less?  If you’re going to spend all your time at this place, who are the people with whom you’ll be working?  What’s the culture like at the company?  Which supervisor will you have a better relationship with? Studies show that the number one reason people leave a job is because they don’t get along with their boss; will that be you in six months?

You choose your first job in order to position yourself better for your chosen career.  The first position leads to the next one, whether that is internal to your first company or a lateral movement to another company.  Which job kicks your career into gear? 

  • Potential:  What potential for advancement will you have?  Do people often spend multiple years and receive multiple promotions at the company?  What’s your starting salary going to be?  What does the system for pay increases look like?  Are there opportunities for continuing education?  

Choose the job that will position you best to be where you want to be in ten years.  It’s easy to be lured by zeroes at the end of a signing bonus.  Are you trading long-term success for short-term gain? Your career is your life, not just a new car or a slightly nicer apartment.

  • Planning:  Your first job determines so much about the initial course of your adult life.  It, and every job you take over the course of your career, will determine so much about who you are.  Your future starts now.  What choice will you make?  What will prepare you to take advantage of the things that go well, and what will protect you when things inevitably go wrong?

Sit down and sketch out a rough outline of the start of your career.  Where do you want to be one year into your first job?  Where do you want to be in three years? In ten?  Those answers will tell you which job offer to accept.

Make good decisions based on the criterion we’ve established and the insights they provide. Be willing to take chances and strive after something daring. Don’t miss out on something that could make your life better.  Breathe, focus, plan, evaluate.  Talk your thoughts out with your friends, your family, and your God.  Trust your gut, and, whatever you decide, attack each new day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind.  I can’t wait to see what great things you can accomplish.  If I can ever help, just let me know.

Conquering the GRE: 4 Tips for Preparing for the Revised General Test

A typical mistake that many students make when approaching the GRE Revised General Test, or other graduate admissions tests, is to compare them to the SAT exam. The GRE is designed to measure and evaluate undergraduate students from various backgrounds, both academically and geographically, on an even playing field. 

It is important to approach this test with an open mind and to apply the skills learned throughout the whole of one’s undergraduate studies. The GRE is meant to evaluate a student’s academic performance beyond GPA average, so it is necessary to take the preparation for this test seriously if you want to outshine your GPA.

Be strategic when you choose to take the test so that you meet the deadlines for the graduate schools you are trying to apply for. Make sure to give yourself enough time to prepare for the test based upon these deadlines. 

The GRE revised General Exam allows you to take the test up to 5 times and send your best score to your schools of choice. However, keep in mind that each exam costs $200 so it is becoming to do well on your first or second try. 

Here are four practical tips to help you study for the GRE that may provide an enlightening perspective as you approach this important stepping stone in your academic career. 

1. Dominate the Structure

This is not the SAT! One way to feel confident about taking this test is to know what to expect on the day of the exam. 

It is important to be very familiar with the logistical structure of the test, as well as to know what the objective is for each section. Be aware of which version of the GRE you are going to register for, whether it be the computer-based exam or the Paper-based exam. 

The GRE is divided into three main sections: 1) Analytical Writing, 2) Verbal Ability, and 3) Quantitative Ability. The computer-based and paper-based differ in the questions numbers and the sections that these are broken into. However, each version has multiple questions for the verbal ability and quantitative ability and two essay parts for the analytical writing section. 

Mastering the basic structure of this test will help you to focus on the material of the test, rather than stressing about the layout. The best way to complete this step is to research about the test by visiting the revised GRE General Test official website, or viewing The Official Guide to the GRE revised General Test. 

2. Strategize your Study Sessions

Trying to recap all that you’ve learned in college can seem overwhelming. This being said, you don’t have to remember everything to pass the GRE. This is why step 1 is so important. The GRE looks for specific objectives, so by reviewing these sections, you can see which areas you need to focus on. 

A great way to see where you stand in your preparedness is to take a practice test offered by the GRE revised General Test official website. Barron’s New GRE: Graduate Record Examination 19th edition also offers a “diagnostic” test to help students identify specific struggles. 

These resources can help you to confirm in which areas you are strong, and which topics need to be studied more. 

3. Simulate the Test

One of the best ways to prepare for the GRE is to simulate the test to evaluate your performance under the same type of conditions as the actual test. Part of the challenge of graduate admission tests is the time limit that is placed on each section.

It is important to schedule practice test dates for yourself where you are able to simulate these conditions to the fullness of your ability.

Choose a quiet spot, like a library, empty classroom, or the actual location of the test if possible, to conduct these practice tests. Put your phone on airplane mode and follow the time limits and break times exactly as the real test will. This will give you an idea of the way you will perform on the test day and allow you to change your habits before the day of the test, if necessary. 

Familiarizing yourself with these conditions will give you a sense of self-assurance on the test day and put you at ease knowing that you have concrete memories of experiencing the same testing conditions. 

Here’s a tip: the best breakfast to eat before a lengthy exam consists of a doughnut, bacon, and eggs. The sugar in the doughnut provides a burst of quick energy, while the protein and fat in the bacon and eggs metabolizes slowly to provide brain power for the duration of the exam.

4. Utilize the resources available

Each year, hundreds of students take the GRE; you are not alone in trying to figure out how to prepare for this test. Take advantage of the resources available to help you in this process. 

Here are a few of the resources available at your fingertips: 

 -Book an appointment with Career Services on campus at Ave Maria University to help you with planning and studying for the GRE.

-Participate in a webinar the Official website for the GRE revised General Test offers various webinars throughout the year offering tips and tools for students for successful test taking with an interactive question and answer opportunities. 

-View the online tools the official website for the GRE offers. 

-Invest in the Official Guide to the GRE® revised General Test, or Barron’s New GRE: Graduate Record Examination

By putting these tips into practice and challenging yourself to master the material, you will be confident walking into the room on the day of your test knowing that you did everything you could to prepare!

Student Profile: Victoria Antram

The first part of our weekly series to highlight students on campus focuses on Victoria Antram, a senior graduating in May with a degree in Theology and Political Economy and Government. Victoria is well-known among her peers for her cheerful presence, academic excellence, and active involvement on campus. But best of all, she is an introspective person who thoughtfully answers each question. We'll let her tell it in her own words.

What did you do last summer?

This past summer I interned for the Sisters of Life for a second year. It’s a development and marketing internship that’s coordinated through the university. We help the sisters to fundraise and get their order out there since they’re only really well known in the New England area. We also worked on their donor database, made prospective donor portfolios, helped them in trying to discern if they should have an intern do social media for them—things like that.

I also went to Washington D.C. for a conference with the American Enterprise Institute called “Values and Capitalism”. There we had a seminar-style conference on faith and politics. They also gave us opportunities to meet with different fields, like career fields that we’re thinking about going into, so I met with their development officers and talked about that. They also gave us resume advice, so it was really beneficial.

What do you want to do when you graduate?

Currently, I’m applying to graduate school. In fact, I just took the GRE (Graduate Record Examination Test) on Monday. I’m applying to programs in public policy—specifically on social and urban issues—and my dream would be to go to Hilsdale College in Michigan to get a Master’s in Statesmanship. Then, hopefully, I’ll work my way up researching for different think tanks at universities. My ultimate goal is to work for the American Enterprise Institute in Washington D.C.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

I’ll be 27, so I hope I am married and I hope I have two (and a half) kids—I think it’s very important to balance vocation and work. I hope that I will be 3 years out of grad school—if I go to grad school—and hopefully in the D.C. area raising a family at the same time as researching and all that fun stuff. My dream is to be like Dr. Catherine Pakaluk.

What are you plans for this year to get closer to your goal?

I’m going to apply for a few fellowships this summer. The Koch fellowship is an internship where you work at a liberty-minded organization, non-profit. You can either do a public policy internship or the development internship. I’m also going to apply to the Hertog fellowship and different programs like that to get better skills in researching and to build experience because I still don’t have very much skill in that.

Which do you think you have the most of: talent, intelligence, education, or persistence? How has it helped you in your life?

I would say persistence. I actually don’t think I’m that smart. I’m definitely not common sense smart—“street smart,” as they say. I get good grades, but it’s only because I try very hard. Talent-wise I think there are a lot more talented people in the world than me, so I think persistence would be the answer.

It has helped me because I’ve never given up on anything that I wanted. For example, I was President of Students for Life my sophomore year. I really wanted Abby Johnson to come speak, so all summer I worked on making sure that she could come and—since it would cost a lot of money to bring her—that we were still able to raise the amount of money we needed to, and it all worked out!

What do you think are your three best qualities?

I think I am very analytical, so I’m good at connecting points—I connect a lot of dots and I’m very good a drawing conclusions. I love to write. I use a lot of metaphors and I think I can make words come to life, especially in academic writing, which normally isn’t the case. Academic writing is boring for the most part. I think that my temperament is also good because I’m quiet and I’m a good listener. I like to ask questions and get people to talk and think about why they think the things that they do.

What about your three worst?

I would say I am poor at small talk, like that networking thing—I’m not very good at it because…too much small talk. I am very detail-oriented so sometimes I get lost in details, which usually means I take longer to finish a project than I should. I will also get distracted and really excited about something else and sometimes I run out of steam before I can finish the project.

What’s the best compliment you ever received?

The Students for Life President position belonged to a gentleman who didn’t return the following year, so he emailed me saying, “I’m not returning. You’re the Vice President, so you’re going to be the President.” In the email, he told me that I had a gentle way of leading and I thought that was a good feminine trait to have. I like to lead but I don’t want to be bossy or be like, “I’m trying to play with the boys!” I want to hold on to my femininity and be able to lead at the same time.

What’s your typical day like now? How is it different from your daily routines in the past?

I have to wake up early, now. I try to go to Mass, eat breakfast (most important meal of the day), and then I go to work and I work until I go to class. Then, in the afternoon after my classes finish, I try to get as much work done as possible between then and dinner, especially since dinner can sometimes take a long time. After that, there are usually events at nighttime that I may have to help out with or that I may want to go to. So, waking up early and getting my work done in the morning or in the afternoon is how I adapted to being really busy.

When you look in the mirror what do you see?

Actually, when I look in the mirror in my dormitory, I have a picture of Mother Teresa right behind me, so when I’m getting ready in the morning and I’m putting on my makeup thinking, “Ah, I’ve got to look good!” I look at Mother Teresa and think, “You know what? She didn’t even care and she got so much good done in this world.” So, I try to remember that even though there’s this culture of perfection in appearance, I don’t need to play into that; there are greater things. Even though we fall into terrible things—like vanity and things like that—I see Mother Teresa in the mirror, in that picture behind me, and I remember that there are more important things to worry about.