Saturday, September 7, 2013

How to Find Inspiration, Guidance, and Motivation for Graduate School

This may be one of the most important posts I will write on this blog.  This is in part my story about the experiences I have been through and learned from. For students of color, we know that we are among the smaller percentages of individuals attending university, and many of us are the first in our families to attend higher education.

Family As Motivation:
It is possible that you were raised in a family that valued education, and encouraged you to go this far into your academic career. Even though you may be the first in your family to attend college, you may have had much motivation and guidance along the way. This is a great situation to be in, and I hope that you were able to make the most of your undergraduate experience and are now academically prepared for graduate school. From many stories and situations, your parents can be a strong motivator for pursuing university education.

Or Not:
There are also others who were not raised in a family that valued education. Perhaps culturally -because you are female, or financially - due to the cost of college, your family discouraged you from attending university. This was my situation. But my love of learning and understanding of the new horizons it could bring really motivated me to do well in school and apply to college.

Financial Considerations: 
I grew up in a blue and "pink" collar family (mechanic and secretary parents), and university was not seen as necessary. My dad, a Mexican American, did well finding work after high school, and college sounded pretty much like a waste of money. Finding funding for college was basically going to be a matter of student loans. Not only that, but finding guidance and mentoring was also going to be a huge obstacle. I still can't get my mind around the idea of funding a child's college education -- Who does that?

The good news is that there are many ways to manage your student loan debt. Unfortunately, at this time, bankruptcy is not an option for student loans, but there are other programs. There are income based repayment plans through the federal government, and also the Public Service Forgiveness Loan (you need to know about this!!!), which removes your remaining debt after 10 yrs of payments as a full time employee of a nonprofit or government agency.

Networking Considerations:
For students of color there are some great programs as you enter university, such as Upward Bound, etc. But it may not be easy to locate these programs if you do not have friends in college, or if you are multicultural and do not look like someone from an underrepresented group. Being multicultural (and multiracial), I often have to explain myself before being welcomed into some groups. (For example I received cold, unfriendly looks when I visited a MEChA meeting in college and never went back -- but that's another story!) I did my first college degree before the age of the internet, and in terms of finding resources or even knowing what to look for, I was lost.

Thanks so much to the internet, you can find these resources on your campus or in your community. There are some great mentoring programs for students of color, and also some national networks. The internet is a great place to start, and from there, joining campus cultural organizations will also bring you mentoring, guidance, and networking for academic success.

Pursuing Graduate School and Perhaps the PhD
At some time in the far away past I dreamed about having a PhD. But as student debt accrued and the work world demanded my time, I kind of stopped thinking about it. However, one day while I was a masters student, at an academic conference I met a professor who suggested the idea of a PhD to me. I will not forget this moment. Having a mentor encourage me to pursue the PhD made all the difference in the world to me.

If you are interested in pursuing graduate school, attend academic conferences in the fields you are interested in, even while you are not yet in school. Get to know people at these conferences (attend the small meeting sessions at conferences). Meeting professors and other students will likely propel you to take those first steps in applying to schools! Maintain contact with your new acquaintances. All of this matters.

These are the basic tips I have for now on finding your inspiration, guidance, and motivation for graduate school. I hope this information has helped you.

(photo credit: Aristocrats-hat via

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