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Trends and Issues in Higher Ed

February 26, 2016

GRDSCH 200: Preparing for graduate education

When undergraduates are unsure how to choose the right next step, this course guides them on their path

GRDSCH 200 is a course designed to help undergraduate students ask and answer the questions about graduate and professional school that will help them find the path that’s right for them, whether they decide to pursue an advanced degree at the UW or look into other options. It offers an overview of the structure and organization of graduate education, and focuses on helping students learn the skills to find resources, build a network and make decisions about continuing their studies beyond the baccalaureate.

Tylir McKenzie and Katy DeRosier

Tylir McKenzie (left), the program development coordinator, and Katy DeRosier (right), director of program development for the Graduate School, examine course data. Photo: Jill Reddish

“We wanted a course that could help students prepare graduate school application materials as well as help them think through the often mysterious question of whether or not to go, and what to pursue and why,” says Katy DeRosier, director of program development for the Graduate School.

The course originated in 2010 when a Graduate School committee charged by then-Dean Jerry Baldasty identified a need to provide a specific type of guidance at such a critical juncture for students. “We see the entire cycle, and are privy to what works and where there are issues,” says DeRosier. The
course quickly became popular enough to offer it throughout the academic year, and has even been designed for delivery in summer quarter and in online and hybrid formats.

“Our role became helping students develop the skills to find the people and resources that can help them,” says Tylir McKenzie, the program development coordinator who taught the course from 2013-2015. According to McKenzie, certain populations, such as international students and transfer or returning students, can benefit even more from learning about the process and how to talk about themselves and their goals.

A focus on fit sets this program apart

Issa Abdulcadir, pre-doctoral instructor in sociology, teaching a group of undergraduate students

Issa Abdulcadir, a pre-doctoral instructor in sociology, teaches students in GRDSCH 200 how to think about and articulate their goals for graduate studies. Photo: Jill Reddish

Many graduate school prep programs focus on test preparation or how to draft personal statements, but GRDSCH 200 is centered on the idea that students are more likely to be successful if they find the right match in a program.

“We know that being in a program that is a good fit for the student and the department helps with retention and preparation for a career,” explains McKenzie. “We believe we have a conceptual model that is uniquely ours.” This focus sets the program apart from other graduate prep courses in that students learn how to identify and emphasize key points about themselves in an application, highlighting to an admissions committee why they are
a good match for the program in question.

Framing self-discovery through an adaptable schema: Because the course must be flexible enough to cater to students who are all at different points of self-discovery about their individual interests and goals pertaining to graduate study, the course developers designed it around a “Self-Advancement Schema.” This schema has four distinct phases: discovering, identifying, seeking and joining. Phases can be returned to at any point in the process,
and inherently build upon each other. The schema helps students identify and articulate where they are, what they have already done and what still needs to be addressed.

“Of course, these phases can be applied to more than just seeking graduate education — no matter where you are in life, you’re asking these big questions — so it’s helpful here because it gives students the space to sit back and really reflect on what they want,” says McKenzie.

Zhara Rehamani, a senior studying sociology and early childhood and family studies, signed up for GRDSCH 200. “Tylir walked me through asking myself, ‘What’s the big picture? What do you really want?’” she says. When Rehamani graduates in spring 2016, she will be the first in her family to graduate with a bachelor’s degree. Students in similar situations can benefit particularly from GRDSCH 200 programming that explains the subtleties of how to build relationships with faculty and advisors who can guide them through decisions on careers and classes, and ultimately write letters of recommendation.

Education graduate student Jordan Sherry-Wagner is also a first-generation graduate student who was looking for guidance about his decision to pursue a post-baccalaureate degree. For him, GRDSCH 200 offered the right combination of selfassessment sessions that helped his personal statements alongside practical help on applications. “I was still fairly unsure of
my motivation, and the application process seemed complex. Hearing the experiences of others and scaffolding us through the process demystified and humanized it all,” he says.

A hybrid option balances in-class access with in-demand business hours: The course has been offered as in-person only, a hybrid of in-class and online, an intensive summer workshop and a new online-only format, with the hybrid claiming the best feedback for course delivery. McKenzie explains this is likely because offering some content online for students to consume at their own pace frees up time during the day for assignments that involve meetings with professors or interviewing current graduate students. Reserving time for in-class meetings, however, lets students take advantage of special access that the Graduate School can offer, such as panels with admissions officers or graduate students who share their recent experiences. “That’s where we have information that the student may not,” says McKenzie.

Guiding students toward their goals

The course draws on the wide variety of resources the UW has to offer, and it is the combination of deep dives and breadth of access that seems to be paying off. Through self-reported data, student feedback shows that they are leaving the course able to express their goals and make informed decisions — with many being accepted to their graduate programs of choice. Students report acceptance to master’s and doctoral programs at UW, Columbia University, the University of Southern California and more. The course assists students from a variety of academic backgrounds, and the numbers of transfer, international and first-generation college students have also increased.

“There’s something here for everyone, but certain students will benefit more,” says McKenzie. From their personal statement to creating a strong portfolio or learning about research funding, GRDSCH 200 helps students connect the dots between their academic learning and their personal and professional goals to ready them for the next step.

GRDSCH prep graphic for web