Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Why climb the graduate school mountain?

Imagine that you look out your window and you see a mountain towering in the distance.

You've got an inkling to climb it. Something almost inexplicable inside of you is drawn to the idea of clambering up its side and eventually standing on the peak.

Now is not the time to think about what kind of boots you'll buy, what type of crampons to use or how thick the rope will be. Before setting out on the journey, you'll want to ask yourself a one-word question: Why?

You may never formulate a perfectly convincing or articulate answer to that question. The urge to climb may  remain inexplicable. But by trying to answer "why", you'll begin to understand what motivates you. You may decide it's nothing more than a passing fancy and abandon the idea. Or you may set out on the quest.

What does this have to do with SAIS Bologna?

Undertaking graduate study is a bit like climbing a mountain. There's the preparation and training, the beginning, the months of work, the successes and the setbacks, and hopefully your degree.

For our readers who are toying with the idea of applying to graduate school, before you dive into applications and planning, please ask yourself "why".

No two people have the same answer. It's true we have categories of applicants. Some have been working after their undergraduate years and are keen to learn more and turbo-charge their careers. Others are finishing their undergraduate education and want a program of study that will open doors in the international sphere.

Whatever category you fit into, try to find your own answer to the question "why". You probably won't know  right away. You'll need to ask around, speak to people, visit schools. Keep asking yourself the question.

Simply trying to answer the question will make the quest more worthwhile. The challenges of applying, choosing, financing and completing your studies will have more meaning for you. Our readers have heard me say over and over: It is not the destination that counts but the getting there. In your case, each step you take as you climb the graduate mountain will have a purpose.

I write this because I know, from personal and professional experience, that the path to a graduate degree is full of pitfalls. The application process requires tests, a personal statement, recommendations, an interview, often travel; once started, a graduate program requires a significant investment: of time, energy and, yes, money. These are the crampons, the boots, the rope, the harnesses of the climb.

Don't be put off by the challenge. You know that conquering the peak will pose challenges. But if you look inside yourself for the answer to the question "why", you'll be taking the most important first step on your journey. The details will fall into place, and you'll find both the journey and the destination satisfying.

Tomorrow: Why SAIS is unique

Nelson Graves

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