What’s the Question?: Deciding on a Graduate Program
So you graduated, or you’re about to graduate and you’re trying to figure out the next step. For me, when I graduated undergrad I thought I had it all figured out. That was until I took the LSAT and I got my results for the 2nd time, revealing that I only improved by one point! Yes, you read that right only one point. So what now? I wanted to be a lawyer! I wanted to work with folks who had their ADA rights violated! I wanted to represent wrongfully accused Black males who had mental illnesses. I wanted to host workshops for Black male student athletes on the side. And when I logged in to see my results, all that changed (or at least I thought).
I was in shambles. I had been asking for a “sign” on what to do and here it was in the form of scores that wouldn’t get me into those online programs. I met with a professor and she brought me back to reality! She reminded me that I could make the change I wanted to in different ways—it didn’t require a law school degree. I mean obviously I could not represent anyone in court, but you get the point. Imagine my surprise and somewhat dismay, what did she mean?! What the hell else could I do?!
To this day, I look back at that day in Starbucks with Dr. Kirby who was brave enough to tell me the truth I really didn’t want to hear. She said “Joy, I have been to law school and it is not for you. I know this is hard to hear.” But me and Dr. Kirby had built this relationship where I knew what she was saying was not only the truth, but come from a place of love. However, she said she wanted me to get to this point on my own so I could receive this information from this conversation. Even though it was the truth and I knew I needed to hear it, it didn’t make the conversation any less difficult.
Upon my leaving the Starbucks, I got home and another friend asked me “What’s the question?” confused by what they meant, I asked for clarification and they said: what is the question you’re trying to answer.
I am not saying your question will not change—because it might. What I am saying is that you will be able to figure out what program is great (or better) for you if you have some general idea about what question you hope to answer during or after you obtain your advanced degree.
Also, by keeping in mind the question you want to answer, you will be okay (maybe) if how you have to arrive to that answer changes. I mean that you may have an idea of the name of the program you want to go into; however, the name maybe arbitrary compared to the content.
I am speaking from experience. Even after completing a year of coursework in graduate school, I found out that my program was not a good fit for myself. But, I was able to stay at my current university because my question could get answered from another perspective, in a different college/program/department.
I know it is hard to grasp the possibility that you can discover answers by guiding yourself with an open ended question—but it is possible. In knowing your question, you’re able to make your goal flexible to the resources and programs that you find.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joy Melody is a JTG Contributor. She is a Master's student at the University of Iowa who studies the sociology of sports and health communication within the education system. When she is not busy complete work for class she enjoys writing for her blog , running with her dog, and hunting down guest for her podcast. She is a native of Fort Worth, TX.