BY MARIE VEILLETTE
The graduate and law school panel held in the CMU last Friday had a wealth of advice and personal experiences to offer.
The panel consisted of 4 people; each one having a strong connection to MSUM. Professor Steve Bolduc of the Economics department, who holds a Ph.D in his field, offered his advice on graduate school. Also a professor at MSUM, Tracy Gompf of the Paralegal department was present to offer his experience with law school.
Complementing the two professors, two alumni of the University, Jena and Joseph Bottrell provided their advice and shared their experience of graduate school and law school respectively. Jena currently works at Cargill in Minneapolis after graduating with her master’s degree in agricultural and applied economics from Purdue University. Joseph is currently attending law school at St. Thomas University.
All four had useful information to share, covering everything from when to begin the application process to how to survive the challenges graduate and law school pose.
There was discussion on the application process itself. All four panelists agreed that the sooner an interested student begins the application process, the better. The timeline for the whole process was about a year, though Gompf stressed that it can be done in a shorter amount of time if a student is committed to applying.
When applying, students have to take into get the required amount of recommendation letters and take the LSAT or GRE tests before the application deadline. Jena added it is a good idea to take tests as soon as possible to allow for retaking if the score is not what the student was hoping to get.
Bolduc recommended taking the deadlines for the prospective schools and subtracting three to four months to have adequate time to submit a good application.
“The higher the standards, the earlier you should start the process,” Gompf said. He added that though some schools do allow applications to be submitted to a late selection deadline, it is always better to be in the early selection because late selection applications must appear more attractive to admissions officers than ones submitted to early selection.
How do students make their applications stand out from all the rest? All four panelists had good insight. Bolduc said that having recommendation letters that show the student had a personal relationship with the professor is a key part of a good application. “Knowing your professors allows them to write about you, not a generic letter,” Bolduc stated.
Jena commented on the importance of work experience during undergraduate years. Having something to show, or a recommendation from an employer is very helpful for boosting an application, she said.
Joseph simply said that being involved was attractive to schools. “Don’t be boring. Work, volunteer, reflect on what you’re doing. Read something other than your textbooks,” he said.
An obvious, yet very important point Gompf brought up was being able to communicate well.
Most applications require a personal statement. The most stressed pointer about this piece of the application was “edit, edit, edit,” as Joseph summed up neatly. He added his four steps for writing the best personal statement possible. He also said that finding someone to read it who will be blunt is the best way to improve the writing.
No one on the panel could definitively say what part of the application is the most heavily considered by admissions officers, but Bolduc stressed that the universities are looking for “students who are going to be successful and reflect well on the school.”
Sometimes, the hardest part of the graduate and law school application process is simply deciding witch schools to apply to. The choice can be easy if there is a specific professor that an applicant wants to study with, but not everyone knows of a particular professor that shares his or her academic interests.
Gompf suggested “picking a school that is a little above reach … Pick a ‘safety’ school and maybe a few in between.”
Joseph suggested getting in contact with students who currently attend or graduated from the university of interest. Jena agreed and added that doing campus visits is a great way to get a feel for the campus and the area in general. She said she was offered travel vouchers to go see many of the schools she was interested in attending
Though the funding and scholarship situation is different between graduate school and law school, all four panelists agreed that the amount of money available to those looking to further their education is not lacking, but it might take some time to research and find it.
Bolduc shared, “I’ve dropped out of college twice, and now I have a PhD.” All agreed that furthering a degree is something anyone can do if they have the determination.
All four panelists encouraged students to contact them with any further questions.