Dear Ally,

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Paying for it now…literally

Dear Ally,

A lot has happened since I wrote last. First I had part of a tooth break off. My dentist said it was because a filling had become loose and I would need a crown. She made a mold for the permanent crown and put on a temporary one. She calls it a “little hat for your tooth.” If you’ve never had a crown, they grind your tooth down to a little nub (wasn’t much left of mine anyway) and glue a fake tooth over top of it. The good news was I didn’t need a root canal – a least not then. The permanent crown wouldn’t be as strong as possible in case I do need a root canal in the future and, in that case, they’d need to drill through it. My dentist used extra strong glue for the temporary crown because it was going on my trip to New Zealand with me.

The night before I left for New Zealand, the tooth next to the temporary crown had a piece of its filling come out. The friend I was with introduced me to the emergency tooth repair stuff they sell at the drug store. So, if the rest of the filling came out or if my crown came off, I had a plan.

The morning I left for New Zealand my dentist called me and said my permanent crown had come in and they had a 12:30 appointment. Our flight wasn’t until later in the afternoon, but it would be cutting it close, so I didn’t go.

I went to New Zealand for 17 days – chewing carefully all the while with only the occasional feeling like a cold needle was being jabbed in my jaw and a sore tongue from constantly exploring what felt like a gigantic hole. I had no issues with the temporary crown at all, just had to avoid sticky foods.

I got my permanent crown and had the neighboring tooth refilled on my 41st birthday last Tuesday. Fun stuff! It’s a funny thing when you get used to pain and then it’s suddenly gone. I hadn’t realized I’d been chewing differently until I could chew normally again.

Then on Friday I went to the orthodontist and had braces put on my top teeth. I will get the bottom set put on in a little while and the whole process is supposed to take 15-18 months. I paid for the entire treatment up front, emptying the Health Savings Account I’d been contributing to for the past few years. Along with the braces, I received a wooden nickel (for being on time and good behavior) that I can save towards various gift cards, as well as a balloon and a See’s Candy gift card since that week was my birthday.

Why am I telling you all of this and what does it have to do with college?

I am acutely regretting several things these days: 1) I didn’t get my retainers replaced when they broke while I was in college, 2) I didn’t floss much when I had braces, and 3) I didn’t have a good dentist to go to while I was in college.

These fillings that are beginning to fail are all 20 years old. I had nine fillings when I was in college – done over three separate, but closely spaced appointments. They were all for cavities between my teeth and were done by a dentist in the town where I attended college. I had never had a filling before in my life. A friend of mine went to the same dentist who told him he needed 13 fillings. He got a second opinion and the other dentist told him he only needed two fillings. My dentist later went to jail for selling prescription drugs. Hmm.

Fast forward to ten years ago, I went to one of those chain dentist offices and they were trying to convince me to get a bridge where I was missing a molar. They were suggesting that a 30-year-old woman file down the only two teeth in her mouth that didn’t have filings so that a three-tooth bridge could be glued over top of the nubs. I mentioned this plan to my co-worker who is a D.D.S. and she told me never to go back there and recommended my current dentist. I think this was the best thing she ever did for me!

Back to the present, one of the reasons for the braces is to make room for an implant where the missing tooth is. That’s not going to be fun at all, but it will be nice to actually use both sides of my mouth to chew. By the way, I am genetically missing that tooth and they pulled the baby tooth because that’s what they did back then. The other reason for braces, though, is because my bite is messed up and my front teeth are wearing each other down.

The take home message for you, of course, is to take care of your teeth and wear your retainer! I know, there is nothing sexy about retainers, but trust me, braces aren’t any better the second time around. You are lucky that you are still at home and can probably easily go to your same dentist and orthodontist. Just think, 20 years from now, you might want to go on a huge trip and you sure don’t want to have to worry about your teeth or be in pain.

See you over Christmas!

Aunt Sarah

P.S. You can have my gift card to the candy store!

How [Not] to Nail that Interview

interview cat

Dear Ally,

Last Saturday your uncle and I volunteered to do resume reviews and mock interviews as part of the annual National Chemistry Week outreach event that our local American Chemical Society section hosts. It made me think about some of the outlandish stories I’ve heard as well as some of my own memorable experiences being on the interviewer side of the process. This weekend I polled my Facebook friends to see if they had any advice for you or their own tales to tell.

Here are the people you do NOT want to emulate:

  • Open mouth insert foot. As you know, I work at a Catholic college and an interviewee once hilariously and ironically referred to one of my women religious colleagues as, “Sister-what-the-hell’s-her-name.” Another interviewee for a science faculty position casually remarked that, “Women don’t like math,” one of the last comments to make while interviewing at a women-focused institution. One of my student affairs colleagues once had someone respond to the question, “What do know about our school?” with “I know you have mostly girls and I’m OK with that!” Your uncle’s friend, Housecatt (Do you remember him? He was in our wedding.), shared a story where someone went off on a critical tirade about a national not-for-profit, having no idea that the not-for-profit for which she was interviewing was funded by this very same organization. Lessons learned: watch your language, don’t stereotype, don’t say anything that could be construed as creepy, and do your homework.


  • Not ready to adult. One of my favorite interview stories that your uncle told me has to be about the interviewee who, on a tour of the company’s stockroom, picked up a very large flask and asked to have  a picture taken with it. Another contribution from Housecatt includes the story where he asked why an applicant wanted to go from a full time to a part time job, and the reply was that, “…all my friends are still in college and I missed hanging with them.” There are many stories about candidates who brought their mothers or spouses with them on the interview. So, while it’s good to be yourself and be honest, don’t go overboard, and leave mom at home.


  • Really make an impression. My friend, Jason, shared, “I had a guy show up for an interview with me wearing cat eye contacts. Yeah…no. I asked him why he decided to wear those and he said he wanted to stand out.” Your uncle came home one day with a story about a distracting female candidate who was dubbed inappropriate-top-woman. The same guy in Housecatt’s not-ready-to-adult story came in unshaven, wearing khakis and a shirt that an iron or dry cleaner had never seen – no jacket, no tie. Take home message here: don’t wear anything weird, no cleavage, and look like you actually care what the interviewers think of you.


  • Ramble on.  Jason also commented on my Facebook post, “One time I interviewed a guy for a position and when I would ask a question he would talk for 5-8 minutes. Around the 3rd question in, almost half an hour later, I could not keep my eyes open and I did one of those head-nod things. He noticed, and said ‘Can I assume I pretty much don’t have this job?’ And I said ‘Yes, sorry.’ I was a little embarrassed, but he just didn’t know when to stop talking!” I have had this same experience multiple times and then didn’t have time to get through all my questions, so I couldn’t really judge whether the people would be a good fit or not. You must have concise answers prepared to the obvious questions that might be asked.


  • Distracted much. Once when I was being interviewed, my phone was in my bag in the corner of the room and, although it was on vibrate mode, I could hear it buzzing and buzzing and I was freaking out wondering if they could also hear it and it was hard to concentrate on the questions. My friend, Kamala, had an experience where a candidate was actually texting. It was during lunch, but still inappropriate. The best, though, is my co-worker’s story about trying to do a phone interview while  the other person was driving and the call was actually dropped. Why would anyone schedule a phone interview to be during a time when they would be driving? Make sure that you can devote your full attention to the interviewer(s) by turning devices to silent/ do not disturb mode – nothing is more important at that moment than the interview itself. If it’s a phone interview be sure to be in a quiet, distraction-free room on a phone with a good connection.

I know it will be a while before you interview for a full-time, permanent position, but in the meantime, hopefully this will be useful for part-time jobs or internships for which you might apply or just for a good laugh.

Best of luck in your future interviews!

Aunt Sarah

Listening Skills

Dear Ally,

Last week I basically shared how to shut down or avoid an endless conversation, but what if the person is saying something important and you need to pay attention or what if it’s someone you care about and you want them to feel heard?

If so, don’t be like these bad listeners:

  • Absorbed in technology. This person is wearing earbuds and constantly looking at a screen. Good if you don’t want to be bothered on the bus, bad if you’re supposed to be listening to instructions.
  • The mind reader. You are passionately making your case and they say, “What are you so mad about?” Don’t jump to conclusions, instead just observe the data and make statements like, “I am noticing that you are raising your voice. How should I interpret that?” (Because remember, loud doesn’t always mean angry.) On the other hand, don’t ignore non-verbal cues that contradict what they’re saying. Show you care by asking how they feel, for example, “You’re saying you’re fine, but your eyes are telling me a different story. Is there something you want to talk about?”
  • The advice giver. A grad school friend of mine imparted this wisdom to me: “Women don’t want advice, they want you to just listen, because when you jump in with advice, they interpret this as ‘Bitch, do I have to solve all your problems?'” He’s exactly right and it’s not just women.
  • The busy beaver. They pretend to listen, but never look up from the computer screen. Even if it’s a time vampire, at least stop what you’re doing and tell them you’re busy and suggest they come back later when you can give them your full attention. It’s more polite than pretending to listen and might actually be a better tactic to get back to work faster.
  • The one-upper. You tell a story, they tell a better story. Something bad happened to you, something horrible happened to them. They’re not listening, they’re taking your moment and turning it around and making it about them – but they think they’re being a good listening by sharing a similar experience. Guilty? I know I am. The term for this is match back and it makes people feel like they don’t matter.
  • The daydreamer. It happens in class and in meetings, it can even happen on the phone. Taking notes or doodling can help. If you missed the last minute of what was said, be honest and admit it instead of pretending like you heard, which can lead to miscommunication or missed questions on the exam.
  • The interrupter. Some of these people think they’re good listeners because they’re interrupting with questions, others are simply rude. Don’t be these people or the over-talker, which is even worse.
  • The rehearser. You’re in a group discussion or an interview and your turn to speak is coming up, you didn’t hear anything that was said just before and maybe you’re about to make the same point as someone else or you didn’t hear the entire question. It’s impossible to rehearse and listen at the same time, but it’s hard not to rehearse, especially if you’re anxious about speaking. Focus on what’s being said and try to picture what they are talking about. If it’s a class discussion, perhaps quickly write down your response or ask the instructor to give everyone a minute to gather their thoughts.

Listening is a skill, so use every conversation as an opportunity to practice.

Have a great week!

Aunt Sarah



Big Mistakes…Just Run Away!

1 Cor 10_13

Dear Ally,

Last week in church (not yesterday because, admittedly, I overslept and missed it) the sermon was about when Jesus was tempted in the desert. Our pastor talked about how the devil is skilled at making sin look attractive and how, when tempted, we don’t think, “Oh I’m just going to ruin my life now.”

This same week a friend of mine who is also a chemistry professor very publicly admitted to a huge mistake – he cheated on his wife and was fired by the university where he worked.  You might be thinking at this point, “Wait a minute, was it a student?” It was not a student and this is the reason he went public, to dispel any rumors to the contrary. I assume the university is conservative and religious and must have some clause in employee contracts about sex outside of marriage being a fire-able offense.

Also this week I’ve been conducting search committees for several open positions. One candidate let me know that I may find something in the background check from a mistake made when they were young. Turns out this person is a registered sex offender. Yikes! I was thinking maybe it was a DUI or something.

Both of these situations are extremely unfortunate examples of people’s personal mistakes also ruining their careers. With all of this being within a week, I’m sensing a theme and looking over my shoulder like any moment the devil is going to try to get me and I guess maybe that’s how we should be all the time.

Matt 26_41

So what does this have to do with you? Just one thing – don’t get pregnant. There’s probably nothing else that could so easily derail your future. I remember the struggle in college and there was a reason why I had 1 Corinthians 10:13 hung up on my wall and why my roommate and her boyfriend always sat on our floor instead of the bed.

And with that, I will say goodnight and it’s time for your uncle and I to take down some Pokemon gyms.

Aunt Sarah

Being Pulled in Different Directions

Dear Ally,

I have sporadically kept a journal throughout my life. I wish it had been more regular, but sometimes I’m too busy living my life to record it. Anyway, I found my journal from my sophomore year of college, a time when I did write regularly, and was reading entries from January and February 1997 for inspiration. There was some high drama back then!

At that time I had been dating a man who was older than I was. He was already out of college and working as a minister. The “stage of life difference,” along with the fact that he lived over 2 hours away, made things difficult. Even so, we’d been together for almost a year.

I had just been told about a wonderful opportunity for which I could apply that involved doing chemistry research at your former school. The program was 10 weeks long, paid a significant stipend, and provided housing. When I excitedly told my boyfriend about the program, he became upset and proclaimed, “You’re telling me that we have four months together out of the year and you want to take away two of them.” That was not what I was expecting at all. In my mind, if we got married, we’d have our entire lives to spend together, so what was 10 weeks now? This was a highly competitive program that could give me invaluable experience that could lead to acceptance into a good graduate  program or an excellent chemist position. He had envisioned us spending the entire summer together and said, “Do what you have to do.” (In my journal, I wrote, “You bet I will. I may not get another opportunity like this.)

We had another conversation the next day where I was asked what my priorities were and I honestly said that, for now, school and my future career had to come before him.  In my journal, I described this period and these conversations as a tug-of-war for control of my own life.

About a week later, he told me he’d been offered a job out of state. He said that he will go if God leads him, but he doesn’t feel lead yet. The next line in my journal says, “Everything seems to be working out great.” We broke up a month later. There were more issues than what I’m telling you, including a friend of mine that I was in denial about being attracted to, but the part about it being OK for him to take a permanent job out of state, if that was where God wanted him to go, really bugged me. Why was it possible for God to send him out of state and not me? Does God only lead ministers or does God’s direction for my career not matter because I am in a secular field or because I’m a woman? Did he think I didn’t pray for guidance? I felt accused of being so driven for monetary reasons alone, as if my career path was not a calling or life purpose.

Anyway, I’m happy to say that I did get into that research program (of course, you know this because I told you about my summer there). I don’t regret being honest about my priorities. If I had not applied and we stayed together, I may grown to resent him for holding me back. Back then I wasn’t even thinking seriously about grad school. That would have surely put an end to things, considering 10 weeks apart was a travesty and grad school took me over 6 years.

You are probably going to have to make some tough choices in your life at some point, probably sooner rather than later. Do not make your choice solely based on what someone else tells you do to or to avoid disappointing someone else. Do what is best for you and your life goals – with prayerful consideration of course.

Have a great week and happy belated Valentine’s day! 🙂

Aunt Sarah


The time I almost burned our dorm down…

Dear Ally,

Just a short story about sophomore shenanigans for some stress relief for today’s post.

My sophomore and junior years I lived in the exact same dorm room with the roommate that I would live with my entire last three years of college. We lived in the same all-girls dorm building all three of those years. Our sophomore year was the year before every dorm room on campus got micro-fridges. No, they weren’t tiny fridges, they were dorm-sized refrigerators with a microwave attached to the top. Before that we had this small appliance in our room called a “hot shot” that boiled water for oatmeal or ramen and a microwave down the hall.

Microwave popcorn was a favorite snack of mine and I even had a traditional dance that went with the shaking of the bag to mix the butter all around in the bag. The rule was that you could not leave the microwave running unattended, you had to stand there and watch your food warm up or, in my case, I had to wait around doing nothing for the eternity that it took to pop a bag of popcorn.  The microwave was way down the hall – too far to check on something multiple times, but not so far that it wasn’t worth going back to your room to wait.

So one night my roommate and I were studying in our room and I wanted to make some popcorn, so I popped it into the microwave and went back to my room thinking I was an experienced microwave popcorn maker and what’s the worst that could happen. Our room was a corner room with a short hallway to it and the room across the hall that connected to the main long hallway. After a few minutes, I started down the hall to retrieve my treat, but as I rounded the corner, I stopped short. The hallway was filled with smoke and a girl, looking completely pissed off, was holding a smoking, flaming bag of popcorn and carrying it down the hallway, probably to take it outside. The smell was awful. Oh crap! I probably only stood there for a few seconds, but to this day I can picture that scene vividly.

I immediately bolted back into our room and told my roommate that if anyone asks, I am not there. Then I proceeded to hide in our closet, our enormous closet that went way back into the wall, that had housed many a random friend or friends wanting to pop out and scare whoever happened to be in our room.

I was just in time too, because it wasn’t long before the popcorn police, who’d been going door to door investigating and interviewing witnesses, knocked on ours. I felt kind of bad asking my roommate to lie, but I don’t think they actually asked where I was, just if the popcorn was hers and whether she’d seen anyone recently using the microwave. She could technically honestly answer no to both questions. She covered for me brilliantly and I stayed in the closet a little while longer in case they came back.  I guess there had been no witnesses to my crime because no one ever knew it was me. At least not until now.

Before I came out, my roommate took the picture below to commemorate the hilarious occasion.


Well, I hope this got some much needed laughs! It still cracks me up.

Have a great week!

Aunt Sarah

Get an answer…to the email you sent to your professor

Dear Ally,

In grad school there were a few of us who played practical jokes on each other. This one undergrad in our research group had it in for your uncle and one day he had an e-mail to his chemistry professor open on the shared computer, so Adam wrote at the end of it “P.S. I love you.” The undergrad caught him in the act and a scuffle ensued, during which the e-mail disappeared from the screen. At this point I was hysterically laughing and shouting, “It sent! It sent!” The guy flew out of there to run down three flights of stairs to explain what had happened before the professor got the wrong idea. We never did find out what happened to that e-mail.

At times you might feel like the e-mails you’re sending to your professors are disappearing. It can be frustrating not to get a response when you expect it or not at all, so here are some tips to make sure you get a response in a timely manner.

Introduce yourself via e-mail. Some professors’ first assignment is to e-mail them. Even if you’re not asked to, it might be a good idea to send your professors or teaching assistants (whoever you’d be contacting if you have a problem or question) a brief e-mail at the beginning of the semester. Ask them to reply “Hi” or request a read receipt so you know your e-mail was received. If your e-mail system allows you to upload a profile picture, be sure to do this and pick an appropriate picture where your face is recognizable and takes up most of the space.


Be polite and professional. Always begin an e-mail with a formal salutation and address your professors using their formal title (Dr., Professor, etc). Say please and thank them for their time. You want to be understood, so use proper grammar and don’t use textese or emoticons.


Avoid technical issues. Sometimes we really didn’t get your e-mail. Be sure to always use your official school e-mail so that: 1) your e-mail gets past the spam filter and 2) your professor knows it’s legit and doesn’t delete it without reading it. You should obviously double-check your professor’s e-mail address or, better yet, reply to an e-mail he or she sent you (but change the subject line unless it’s related). You can also use delivery receipts and/or read receipts (although some people hate these).


Don’t let your email get buried. Professors receive a ton of e-mail and not everyone checks their e-mail in chronological order. If you know your professor won’t see your e-mail over the weekend or until morning, then don’t e-mail them on Sunday or in the middle of the night and especially do not e-mail them while they are sending automatic out of office replies. Wait and send your e-mail at a time when they are likely to be looking at e-mail or write your e-mail, but then use the delay delivery option to send the e-mail at an opportune time (it’s under options in Outlook).

Email Sunday.jpg

Be succinct and specific. The shorter the e-mail the better. If it requires scrolling, maybe it’s better to call or go to office hours. Don’t send a whole list of questions or requests, you’re more likely to get a response to everything if you keep it to one topic per e-mail. Better than a short e-mail is the e-mail not sent at all, so check the syllabus and other sources of information first to see if you can answer your own question.


Make it as easy as possible and don’t be annoying. Do your professors a huge favor and sign your full name and include the course and section number somewhere, preferably in the subject line along with a summary of your question/request. Nothing is worse than having to look through several class lists to figure out which section a student is enrolled in so you can finally answer the question. Don’t overuse the important button or it will lose its effect. Give them a chance to reply, at least a day, especially if it’s complicated or requires some investigating, before you resend.



Hopefully these tips decrease the response time to your e-mails and you can get your answer and go back to studying. If you’re still having trouble getting a response, perhaps it’s time to switch to a different mode of communication, some of us are better with voicemails or prefer texting even.

Let me know if you use any of these tips!

Aunt Sarah






Be Productive Between Classes

Dear Ally,

You’re a commuter student now. Life is going to be different and your schedule kinda sucks. In the future hopefully you’ll be able to block your schedule and maybe even have at least one day where you don’t have to drive to campus. For now, though, it is what it is and I have some advice to help you make the best of it.

Making the most of a break depends on how long it is and what you can accomplish in that amount of time.

What to do if you have 10-15 minutes: Maybe you arrived to class early or have a break in the middle of a long class. If you can make the most of these short breaks and do something besides look at Facebook, it can really add up, but taking an actual break and relaxing can also be good and increase your productivity later in the day.

  • Check your school e-mail
  • Reply to text messages (since you shouldn’t be doing that in class)
  • Go to the bathroom
  • Eat a healthy snack like nuts or a piece of fruit
  • Do a stress-relieving meditation
  • Talk with a classmate
  • Print stuff out
  • Watch a squirrel (live or video, either one reduces stress)
  • Read for pleasure

What to do if you have 30-45 minutes: This is probably where there is the most time-wasting potential, but it’s not long enough to do a task requiring real thought and focus.

  • Review for an upcoming class
  • Eat a meal
  • Read a textbook section or two
  • Proofread and/or edit a paper
  • Watch a video for class
  • Retry example problems from a previous class
  • Make a study guide
  • Organize your course materials
  • Write a to-do list, plan for tomorrow or next week
  • Work out (you won’t get too sweaty walking or doing yoga or get a short run and a shower in)
  • Research future internships, jobs, grad schools
  • Go to office hours
  • Go to a previously made advising appointment
  • Take care of business (pay that tuition bill, make that dentist appointment)

What to do if you have several hours: This is your Thursday. That break between 10am and 5pm could be brutal, but there’s no way you can justify leaving campus, unless you have a dentist appointment. Don’t do what your uncle did in college and play cards all day in the cafeteria.

  • Work on a paper in the library
  • Meet with a study group
  • Run errands
  • Do homework
  • Go on a walk
  • Enjoy a meal or coffee with friends
  • Go to a club meeting
  • Watch Netflix (just not all day!)
  • Work on a group project


Good luck this semester!!

Aunt Sarah

Empathy Now…Serenity Later

Dear Ally,

Finals week is getting closer and stress levels are ramping up. So, what can you do to ease your anxiety? I could tell you all the common advice like take care of yourself, exercise, get plenty of sleep, listen to music, mediate, read a book, watch a movie, etc. All of this is great advice and many of these techniques have helped me. But what I’m going to suggest is somewhat unconventional and even seems counter-intuitive:  listen to others.

This advice comes from a webinar I recently attended with colleagues about fostering resilience in students, but I’ve also known it to work for me. Notice that I didn’t say “talk with others.” This is because the important part is the listening. When you talk, especially about what is stressing you out, the focus is on you and your to-do-list. Focus on the other person’s feelings and experience. At the very least, you’ll receive a mini mental vacation, but you could also walk away with a new perspective on your problems. Listening also generates connection, builds trust, and will leave you with a better sense of belonging.

Tonight I volunteered to make phone calls for our annual phonathon where we ask alumni to donate money to our college. I’ve been stressing about an exam I have to finish writing as well as a grant proposal. I certainly could think of better things to do with my evening. But after listening to my former students tell me about their accomplishments and joys, I left school smiling and with a much lighter heart. Most of these conversations were only 5-10 minutes long, but that was long enough to gather exciting news and share my own news.

It takes practice to do what is deemed “active listening” or “empathic listening,” which is the goal. The active listener is present in the moment and fully engaged in the conversation. This is hard to do when there are distractions such as text messages or TV. In order to put yourself in the other person’s place, you’ll want to go to a quiet place that is free of interruptions. Active listening cannot be accomplished via text message or other electronic means – eye contact, facial expressions, and body language are very important. If you can at least listen to someone on the phone, you’ll at least hear the expression of their voice and they yours.

You might be sarcastically thinking, “Yes, that’s exactly what I need is for someone to dump their problems on me.” That’s just what I used to think. In the past when I was stressed, I’d pull away from people and concentrate on what I needed to get done, desiring to keep my life simple and uncomplicated. But it is amazing what interesting things you can find out about other people and you might find someone who can relate to something you’re going through. Listening can also help you get along better with those that are close to you because you’ll gain a better understanding of where they are coming from. This might be especially important during roommate disputes.

I hope you decide to give it a try and that you have a wonderful week! And if you ever need someone to listen to you, I’m just a phone call away.


Aunt Sarah



Grad School: Choosing Where to Apply

Dear Ally,

You’re only a sophomore, so grad school seems far away. I didn’t really decide to actually apply or go until late in my junior year. I hadn’t really thought about it and, at the time, was thinking, “Oh, I’ll at least go for a Master’s.” I did the Master’s, but had decided well before that was finished that I’d stick around for the terminal degree.

So where do you want to go? There are several answers to this question including:

  • Where the program and degree you want is offered. If you have a specific career in mind, make sure you find a school that offers the exact curriculum and degree level you need to meet your goals. Also, make sure the program is accredited by the professional organization of your chosen field. In fact, professional organizations might be the first place to look for a list of schools from which to choose.
  • Where you’ve been accepted. Grad school is not as competitive as med school, but certain schools and programs can be very selective. I was told to apply to at least 6 different places: one “dream school” that’s a top 10 school for your program (For me, this was Standford), a few in the middle, and at least one “fall-back” school into which you know you’ll be accepted. With common on-line applications, it’s easier than it used to be to apply to multiple programs. Find the grad school rankings here.
  • In a geographic location where you’d like to live. Grad school is a long time, so some people (like me) choose to stay near friends and family, but it’s also a finite amount of time, so if there’s somewhere you’ve always wanted to live, this might be the perfect way to do a trial run of an area. Some things to consider are weather/climate, traffic, safety, cost of living, and availability of housing. If you choose an on-line program, you can live anywhere you want.
  • To a school where you’ll have support. Support can mean a variety of things, but you should definitely consider the financial piece. Are there grad assistant positions, scholarships, or fellowships for which you are eligible? Is grad student housing an option? What about lab and library facilities? Are there grad student groups – what about for women, international students, or professional groups for students in your particular program? Women who already have children or intend to start a family in grad school (yes, some people do this on purpose, especially if the health care is good) should ask about daycare options for children of grad students.

Choosing a grad school should not be based solely on:

  • Where your mentor thinks you should go. Your advisor and current professors, especially those with the degree you are seeking, can be excellent sources for recommendations, but don’t feel pressured.
  • Where your significant other will or will not live. So, I actually got accepted to Standford and my boyfriend at the time responded, “If you move to California, we are over.” It was not a threat, just a fact. He couldn’t afford to move and live there and 4-6 years is too long for a long distance relationship. As you know, I didn’t go to Standford for a variety of reasons nor did I marry that boyfriend. I met your uncle in grad school and have the job of my dreams, so I have no regrets.
  • Where the recruiter had the best sales pitch. Sometimes choosing a school can be like buying a car. Beware of the “hard sell” and random incentives like, “Every new grad student gets a free laptop.”

I found this helpful resource as you begin your search:  where you can filter by degree, category, subject, and state or country.

Good luck getting started on your search. This is the most fun part! Once you choose a few schools, plan how you might be able to visit them during breaks (road trip!). You should also start thinking about whether you could spend a summer doing undergraduate research. The National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergrads (NSF-REU) Program is how I was able to spend summers at two different schools , one of these is where I ultimately chose to attend. Applications are due in February or March.


Aunt Sarah