After four weeks off, the expectation is for students to come back refreshed and ready to tackle a new semester. Yet, for seniors who are graduating in May, including myself, there was no break.
Many seniors who are applying to graduate school are spending hundreds — if not thousands — of dollars on application fees, personal statements, statements of purpose, financial aid papers, scholarship essays and the Free Application for Federal Student Aid forms.
There is no Common Application equivalent for most graduate programs, as there was for many undergraduate universities. For my fellow English majors applying to programs in writing and literature, we need to pull together up to 50 pages of our best writing. And for a majority of students, there is a fine balance between an above-average score on the GRE and maintaining one’s sanity while battling test anxiety.
Beyond this, there is another factor at play making a stressful few months additionally complex — intimidation. It’s common for undergraduates to feel intimidated by their graduate teaching assistants (TAs), which can lead to a feeling of not being able to measure up. I’ve heard from friends and peers that their TAs have told them “they are not cut out for grad school,” “won’t make it,” and flat-out laughed at their anxiety surrounding applications. This feeling is the catalyst for a vicious cycle — particularly in students already rendered vulnerable by the surrounding stress.
My current position as a graduate school applicant has altered my mindset — I believe that many graduate students view undergraduates as “grunts, nobodies, bottom of the [surgical] food chain,” as Dr. Bailey refers to the medical residents in season one of “Grey’s Anatomy.” This is not their fault, but rather, it is that of the culture that deems a bachelor’s degree to be not enough.
Personally, I have hoped to obtain a doctoral degree since I was a kid, but this is not the case for everyone. The blame should not be put on an undergraduate for not yet having the chance to obtain a greater education. We should be encouraging them — those who do not feel defeated by the education system.
Perhaps undergraduates, while we still have much to learn, can be carriers of future hope. Perhaps what makes us “less knowledgeable” as young 20-somethings can allow for the integration of an additional perspective. We possess a young energy. In my fellow undergraduates, I see hope in their eyes and excitement for the future when they think about graduating in a few months.
Every graduate and postgraduate student was an undergraduate at some point. This is key to remember. A community of collaboration is what we need at this university — in place of a separation between undergraduates and graduate students, we could form an environment of support and mentorship. I’ve been lucky enough to have graduate students who have reviewed my portfolios, sent letters on my behalf and even given me advice on the best neighborhoods in the city where I hope to be in the fall.
For now, we can thank the graduate students who make an empathetic effort — offering to write recommendation letters for their students, sharing their stories and advice and even reaching out to their alma mater on a student’s behalf. Power to the applicant who persists.
Kara Bilello is a senior double-majoring in English and Spanish.