I have been completely obsessed with the idea of going to graduate school for the past few months. I knew I wanted to pursue a higher degree while I was at university, but I wanted to take a break from academia and get some experience in the real world. I also felt as if there were too many options concerning different graduate degrees and I didn't want to apply until I knew for certain what I wanted. Not even a year after graduating, I have found myself very certain of what I want: a MSc in Biodiversity, Conservation, and Management at the University of Oxford. This is a twelve month long degree with the option to continue onto a PhD. The course consists of three terms: two taught and one devoted to the research and writing of a dissertation. Some of the taught classes include Conservation Biogeography, Species Response to Climate Change, Animal Controversies, and Rewilding and its Place in Future Conservation Strategies. Each of these classes sound incredibly interesting to me and the idea of writing my own dissertation excites instead of frightens me. Of course I would devote my research to the Southern Ground Hornbill.
Although very exciting, there is still much to be done before applying to the course, a college, and the university itself. These things include researching what college I would like to belong to, visiting the school, writing a personal statement, and securing funding. The first is much more confusing than it may sound. There are 22 colleges at Oxford that accept students for the course I am pursing. Three of these colleges are located incredibly close to the department building, one of which is home to a potential dissertation adviser, but others offer other perks such as scholarships and a rich history. I'm sure a visit to the school in October will help me decide which college I will list as my preference. Writing a personal statement causes me some stress, but I have more than enough time to come up with something before the deadline.
The most stressful part of applying to graduate school was something that I didn't even realize was a factor. This, of course, is securing funding prior to beginning the degree. Graduate school costs a whole heck of a lot of money when tuition, housing, food, travel, books, and college fees all come together. Luckily, the course I would love to become a part of is only one year long, and so finding funding for just one year makes life a little easier. I have already made a list of roughly 55 scholarships and grants that I may qualify for, and all that is left to do is to, well, start applying to them. Hopefully I'll be able to secure enough funding to gain a place at Oxford.
The last thing to consider is applying to other graduate schools. Although Oxford is my dream school and I am really loving the idea of this course, there are no guarantees that I will be accepted. The other schools I would love to attend are Imperial College London and the University of Bristol. All three schools are top English schools and are quite difficult to be accepted to. You may notice that all the graduate schools that I am interested in are located in England. This is because it takes one year instead of three to earn a Masters and three years instead of five or more to earn a PhD. Although the international school fees are high, it will be cheaper to attend an English school in the long run as I will earn a degree in far fewer years and thus will enter the work force sooner. The other benefit of attending an English school instead of an American one is no GRE! Standardized tests are no fun and are highly stressful, and avoiding them is something I do intend to do.
I guess the point is, just thinking about graduate school is time consuming. I've found it pretty difficult to figure out what steps to take and what websites to search. I'm hoping to figure out the best websites for scholarship/grant searches, how to email professors you may want to work with, how to write an engaging personal statement, and, overall, how to avoid feeling overwhelmed when applying to graduate schools. In the coming months, I intend to post more blog entries that cover the previously mentioned to make future graduate school applications a whole lot less stressful. I know it will help me to have a step by step guide when it comes to applying for a PhD sometime in the future and I hope it can help others, too.