More degrees of education

by Deborah Bernstein | 11/17/98 6:00am

For many seniors, it seems like just yesterday that they were crafting the perfect college essay, getting together transcripts and being on good behavior around those teachers they asked to write them recommendations.

And for those seniors who plan to go to graduate school next year, it was yesterday and today and everyday for the next few months.

Rupa Mukherjee '99 realizes that right now. Applying to 21 medical schools and for two graduate scholarships, the Rhodes and the Marshall, Mukherjee has been preparing essays, interviewing and soul-searching about her future along with studying and being with friends during her last terms at Dartmouth.

"It's a little overwhelming," Mukherjee said. "I'm gone every weekend on med school interviews, and juggling that with classes and work can be pretty demanding."

Mukherjee said she hopes to be studying somewhere next year, either in medical school or on a fellowship in England.

Senior Laura Poplawski considers graduate school just a possibility in the year ahead.

"I've started looking," said Poplawski, who is considering law school or graduate school in mathematics for sometime in the future. "I'm not positive I want to spend four years doing research or what I'd do with the degree."

Many Dartmouth students apply and then defer admission to schools, take several years off before applying, apply for grants to study or research in this country or abroad or wait several years to apply for these grants.

In 1996, of the almost 900 students who answered the College survey, 73 percent said they planned to attend graduate school. Only 25 percent of those were going right away. Another 48 percent intended to defer enrollment anywhere from one to five years.

Statistics for the class of 1998 have not been released publicly. Only 50 percent of the class of 1997 responded to the survey their year.

Director of Career Services Skip Sturman said he feels Career Services' job is to help students "piece together the puzzle of their lives."

Career Services Assistant Director Daryl Gehman said the office can be very helpful to students planning to continue their education after Dartmouth. "We can help with the whole process," he said. "We can help you determine reasons to go to grad school or not, set timelines and strategy, help you research with alumni and professors."

Choosing graduate school

Career Services' packet "Applying to Graduate School" tells students that "careful reflection on your reasons for wanting to continue your education is necessary to ensure a sound decision."

The packet offers several questions to ask oneself: "What kind of professional training do I need? Is the timing right? Do I want to immerse myself fully in this field purely for the love of it? Am I good at it?"

In 1996, of the 222 graduates directly entering graduate school, 26.6 percent enrolled in law school and 25.7 percent enrolled in medicine. Thirty percent said they were entering graduate study in the arts or sciences.

The top non-professional graduate study area by 1996 graduates was a Master's in Public Policy, Public Administration.

Gehman said the people who apply to law or medical school outnumber the people who apply to smaller graduate programs and that students should be aware of the great variety of study options available to them.

Law and medical schools are a bigger presence on campus because often they have the resources and staff to send people to visit schools, Gehman said, comparing those schools to investment banks and consulting firms in the job market.

While nationally these schools have thousands of applicants, they also have bigger classes and programs than a film studies master's program, he said.

Like job seekers perceiving consulting as the only option, Gehman said students often only consider law and medical schools. Plus, he said he thinks parental and media pressure encourage students into entering certain professional schools.

"Students are inundated on TV -- 'ER,' 'LA Law,' 'Chicago Hope,'" he said. "You don't see a show about an architectural firm."

Gehman said Career Services actively tries to expose students to as many options as possible. This year there were two campus visits by religious schools and an international relations programs panel, both of which were new to the campus, he said.

Kevin Findlan '99 hopes to earn a Ph.D. in musicology and has applied to programs at Harvard, Princeton and Columbia Universities. Findlan said he was looking for academic atmospheres similar to Dartmouth, as well as programs where he might know a specific professor.

"Applying to graduate programs isn't like college. You don't just send in applications and hopes," Findlan said. "You really have to pursue it and get to know the program really well."

"You have to make contacts with professors so they know you're someone worth investing time in," he said.

When choosing graduate schools, Career Services advises consulting books like Peterson's Annual Guide to Graduate Study, visiting several schools if possible, and consulting with faculty members who have specialized in the academic discipline of choice.

Applying to graduate school

Career Services recommends sending for program catalogues and application forms early Fall term. Students should also request information about specific departments, major faculty research interests and financial aid.

Students ask their professors to send the required faculty letters of recommendation, a critical part of the application, directly to the schools.

Gehman emphasized the importance of gathering letters of recommendation early, even when deciding to take time off before applying to programs.

Professors remember returning alumni, he said, but they might not remember the "heart and soul" of the student -- an essential part of a strong recommendation.

Letters of recommendation for alumni remain on file in Career Services for 10 years.

Other important elements of the application include the students' academic record, scores on standardized entrance exams and personal statements.

These essays, or series of essays, discuss prior experiences in the specific field of study, personal experiences and levels of academic achievement.

Students have varying levels of expectations and concerns about where they want to apply when they begin the process.

Daniel Rygorsky '99 said he went to Career Services with a set idea of where he wanted to apply to law school. He said he has limited his search to the southeast, where he is from originally.

Mukherjee's 21 applications went mainly to schools in the northeast, but she said there are some southern schools she is interested in. Geographic location wasn't a consideration in the beginning of her search. "I tried to find schools where I could see myself -- schools with strong programs," she said.

Gehman said the majority of students apply to many medical schools, usually a number in the high teens. For law schools the number is slightly lower, since decreasing numbers of students are applying to law schools.

Gehman said Career Services hopes to help students look at themselves objectively as a candidate.

Students have to ask themselves, "What can I achieve, what do I offer to the school, what can I contribute?" Gehman said.

"Graduate programs are looking for what you are bringing into the school," he said.

Mukherjee is applying to the Dartmouth Medical School. An interest in Dartmouth's graduate programs by Dartmouth undergraduates is not unusual, Gehman said.

Dartmouth graduate schools might already be familiar with a Dartmouth student, he said, and there is a loyalty to taking College students. However, they are looking for the really qualified applicants from all over the country. Last year the Medical School comprised its first-year class by 75 of its 6,700 applicants.

"Going to Dartmouth is not a guarantee," Assistant Director of Career Services Ursula Hibbert-Olender said. "It's still a competitive process."

Funding options

Equally competitive, if not more competitive, than applying to graduate school is the process of applying for graduate scholarships and fellowships.

Well-known and respected scholarships, like the Rhodes, for two-years study at Oxford University, the Marshall, for two years at any British University, and the Fulbright, for study abroad in 50 countries, draw student applications every year.

Former Associate Director of Career Services Susan Wright said these scholarships seek to recognize individuals who have found a real passion for some element of learning or research.

"They pick people they think will excel in whatever field they end up in and a track record of contribution to the broader community," she said.

"Being a campus leader is almost a prerequisite," Wright said.

Scholarships look for specific qualities in candidates as well. The Rhodes asks for proof of "physical vigor," while the St. Andrew's Society Graduate Scholarships provides money for students of Scottish descent to study in Scotland.

Candidates for these scholarships, the College-given Reynolds Scholarship for a one-year study abroad, and the College General, money based on need for U.S. or international study, work closely with Career Services, the Committee on Graduate Fellowships and professors to prepare their application materials.

Students submit applications to the Committee on Graduate Fellowships. The committee reads the applications and pairs students with faculty advisors, who work with applicants on their personal statements.

The committee also conducts mock interviews with the candidates.

For some national scholarships, like the Rhodes, the committee submits a letter of recommendation, which can vary in level of endorsement. For Dartmouth scholarships, like the Reynolds, the committee decides the actual recipients.

It can be difficult to decide Reynolds recipients, Committee on Graduate Fellowships Chairman Monika Otter said.

"There are very different applications," Otter said, ranging from research proposals to the chance to study in foreign universities. "We look for cogency and preparation. Does it make sense? Does it make a good case for what he or she wants to do? Does it seem feasible?"

For all scholarships, "We try to make the best matches between our candidates and the institutions," she said.

Dartmouth: 1, Harvard: 5

Compared to some other Ivy League schools like Harvard University, fewer Dartmouth students receive prestigious scholarships.

Dartmouth's last two Rhodes Scholars were Suzanne Lambert '97 and Diana Sabot '95. Dartmouth's last Marshall Scholar was in 1993.

However, Dartmouth has had four Truman Scholars in four years. Truman scholarships are graduate fellowships awarded to sophomores and juniors. Chris Nybo '99 is this year's Truman Scholar winner.

This year, Dartmouth has 12 students applying for the Rhodes scholarship, seven for the Marshall and 16 for the Fulbright. Wright said generally many students apply for the Reynolds.

Rhodes Scholarships are awarded to 32 students out of over 1,200 applicants nationally.

Wright told the Dartmouth in 1997 that the College produces just one Rhodes Scholar every two years. She pointed out that the Rhodes is extremely competitive since so few students are chosen.

In contrast to Dartmouth, Harvard produces an average of 5.2 Rhodes winners a year, and 100 students there usually apply annually.

Harvard also produced eight out of 30 Marshall Scholarship winners in 1997.

Dartmouth community members attribute Dartmouth's lower application numbers to various reasons.

Wright said because Dartmouth is a small college, "there are not enough graduates here on campus who have been on these scholarships and can say first-hand why it's a wonderful opportunity."

It is challenging to inform students about what the programs are, when they have to apply and how to go about doing it. Information sessions are held about the program, but Wright said it is really because of encouragement by a particular professor that individual students get excited about applying.

Mukherjee is an example. She said after a summer of backpacking in Europe, she was eager to go back and study in Europe. English Professor Linda Boose encouraged her to consider returning through a fellowship.

Findlan made a lasting tie with a professor he met on his London music FSP last Spring term. Through e-mail and phone communications, the professor encouraged him to apply for scholarships.

In addition, his thesis advisor suggested living in the United Kingdom, something he had always wanted to do.

Wright said programs like the First-Year Summer Research Projects and the Presidential Scholars program help foster student interest in applying for scholarships. They give underclassmen chances early in their Dartmouth careers to explore research and make faculty connections.

Otter said she feels "it's not for lack of getting the word out" about these programs, but the "lack of a connection students feel to the process."

She said she would "very much like to increase participation" in the application process.

Wright said students have to realize graduate scholarships of all kinds "give students an incredible transition from college to professional life."

The D-Plan -- a disadvantage?

Dartmouth's unique quarter system also adds an additional challenge to applying for these scholarships, Wright said.

On one hand, the D-Plan encourages the types of students who should apply for grants, Wright said.

"Our students are by definition more independent -- they're taking initiative for their own educational program. Through LSAs and FSPs, they've seen the world," she said.

However, the timing of the D-Plan, and the freedom to travel it allows, can complicate applying.

"Junior winter is the time students should be starting to prepare," she said. "But where are our students then? They're in Africa. They're all over the globe."

Findlan's experience abroad through the D-Plan cemented his desire to study abroad. "The FSP and the LSA ... changed my life views -- my views of college and what I want to do with my life," he said.

Hibbert-Olender said the dates of Dartmouth's quarters make it difficult to apply for scholarships. Applications are due the first week back on campus for seniors' Fall term, she said.

The quarter system makes applying to graduate school a process that requires much thought, as well.

The lack of midterm breaks during Dartmouth quarters make travel to potential graduate schools for interviews quite challenging, Findlan said.

Rygorsky said the Law School Admissions Test was held during one of the first weekends of Fall term. "I had all the stuff that comes with moving in to deal with and then the test," he said.

Gehman says other dates the test is offered coincide with Winter term midterms and finals and the Monday after graduation in June.

Mukherjee and Rhodes applicant Emily Hodgson '98 said they readied materials for their scholarship applications during summer off-terms and knew what they were ready for the process to begin in fall.

Hodgson said Career Services helped them a great deal in the process. "Career Services made sure all the materials were organized and ready," she said. "They provided me with a checklist of what to do."

Although Hodgson is an alumna, Career Services continued to help her. "Throughout everything they've been extremely helpful and willing to answer questions," she said.

Common graduate school deadlines fall between Jan. 1 and Feb. 1. Deadlines for national scholarships are in November, with students being notified in February. The Reynolds are announced in January.

Challenging but rewarding

Findlan, who is applying for the Rhodes, Marshall and Fulbright scholarships, said deciding to apply was the best decision he ever made.

"It forced me right at the beginning of senior fall to focus on what my goals are," he said.

Findlan hopes to study music or history somewhere in the United Kingdom.

Getting to meet new professors through the application process allowed him to get impartial views about how he measures up as a student, he said.

In addition, through preparing his scholarship essays, he now knows what he will write for his graduate school applications.

Mukherjee, a double major in biogenetics and religion, hopes studying the philosophy of science in England will provide an interesting sequel to her Dartmouth studies.

"Right now it's just a challenge to be able to juggle everything," Mukherjee said of the application process.

This fall, Hodgson submitted her second Rhodes scholarship application. Last year, she was shortlisted for the honor. She turned down the Reynolds grant.

Hodgson is currently teaching English at Choate-Rosemary Hall boarding school, and said she is very different than who she was when she applied a year ago.

"This year I realized a lot more where the focus of my education and career will lie," she said. A Dartmouth English major, Hodgson hopes to obtain a master's at Oxford and eventually teach at the college level.

Although the process is not as overwhelming this year, Hodgson said she still thinks about it a great deal. "I remember thinking, 'oh, if I reapply I won't be nervous at all,' but regardless of how you go into it, it does matter, and it's always in the back of my mind," she said.

Findlan said he can't allow himself to take the scholarship application process too seriously. "I haven't really been too nervous," he said. "When you apply, you can't always expect to get it. For me, it's more about the process of preparing and getting together all the application materials."