The information and resources I’ve created are dedicated to anyone who’s ever doubted their abilities to succeed; for anyone who wasn’t able to attain higher education, even if they desperately wanted to; for anyone who has at one time believed they couldn’t go to school because they didn’t know anyone else who has; for anyone who’s light was dimmed by the expectation of failure. I hope this ignites that flame inside of you to push against these odds and continue on in this journey.
Recently, I received an email from a college student asking for tips and advice on how to get into graduate school. This is a question I receive often! I’ve actually been quite surprised at how often I get asked about the process of attaining education, particularly graduate school. This general topic comes in a close second to questions that I receive about psychology and mental health. Because of that, I decided that it is probably time for me to go ahead and offer this type of information in the form of a written piece and additional resources. So with that being said, I have been hard at work gathering and structuring lots of information that I believe pertinent to one’s process of securing acceptance into graduate school (i.e. "The Timeline," Grad School FAQs, Grad Psychology FAQs, ‘A Different Perspective’ podcast episode 15 and episode 16).
Graduate school changed my life. That’s why I often get so passionate about why I believe more of us should attend graduate school, if we are able. I pride myself on being a 1st generation college student. Neither my mother nor my father were able to attend college. In fact, they both were part of the first generations in their families to graduate high school. I am always so proud of my parents for working as hard as they did to make sure that I (and my brother) were able to attend college. With that being said, going to college has its challenges when you are one of the firsts. In fact, research shows us that 1st generation college students often have unique barriers and difficulties that stem from this very position of being the first. We often see higher rates of mental health challenges, academic difficulty, social isolation, and even higher dropout rates among the population of 1st generation students. The research has shown us that having a family member who has previously attended college offers several protective and beneficial factors that help to improve college adjustment and success.
Research and statistics on the challenges of being a 1st generation college student remind me of why I (and many other professionals like me) feel a deep responsibility to ensure that more members of our communities are able to have access to the very thing that has the potential to ensure a markedly improved quality of life: education. Honestly, I’m extremely lucky to have even considered going to graduate school because prior to my attending undergraduate college, I had little awareness of what graduate school even meant. I was lucky to have met one Black woman who, at the time, had recently been accepted to graduate school for psychology. She and I talked in depth about this process and why she believed it was a great next step for her, and why I should consider doing the same. In those seemingly small interactions, this woman had expanded my perception of the future immensely and that is what sparked my desire to pursue graduate school. Seeing her as a model and example for what was possible made it so that it was also possible for me to do the same. I am forever grateful and indebted to her for that life-altering experience.
Graduate school connected me to a number of amazing individuals, who have motivated and inspired me to give back to my community, enrich myself with knowledge, and to value my own talents and gifts. Because of those mentors, I now feel like a gatekeeper to my profession and have an important responsibility to ensure that many others are able to join me on the other side.
Overall, my experience of choosing to attend graduate school is one that I would choose again and again. I realize that graduate school is not something that everyone will want or need to do, but if you are contemplating whether you should consider graduate school, I suggest reflecting on the following questions:
1. Why do I want to pursue graduate school?
Graduate school is a huge time and financial commitment that one must be 100% sure about before committing. Determine why you want to pursue graduate school and feel confident about this before committing.
2. How will I finance my graduate education?
Yes, graduate school is expensive and requires a clear financial plan for how you will finance your education. Many programs provide scholarships and financial assistance. Other programs will require the need for employment, academic loans, or outside scholarships. Many graduates take part in loan repayment programs upon completion of their graduate programs. Don’t let the cost of graduate school discourage you. Instead, put some extra consideration into how to make this work for you!
3. What do I passionately see myself doing in the future?
If you do not feel passionate about the field that your degree will prepare you for, then you might want to reconsider whether pursuing this degree is the right decision. Find what you are passionate about and make sure that your pursuit of graduate education will get you there.
4. How will I keep myself motivated and energized during graduate school?
Graduate school is a journey and will require your ability to keep yourself motivated and energized during this long haul. Figure out how you will sustain the energy to keep going.
5. How will I take care of myself during graduate school?
Graduate school takes time, energy, and will break you down if you allow it too. Make sure that you develop strong self-care skills and boundaries around your health before you begin your graduate program.
If you still feel ready and passionate about moving forward with graduate school after reading those questions, consider reading “The Timeline” so that you are prepared for completing your graduate school applications.
Have questions about graduate school? Read through Graduate School FAQs.
Have questions specifically about pursuing graduate school in psychology? Read through Grad Psychology FAQs.
I have been a licensed clinical psychologist for exactly one year today. I have no idea where the time as gone, but also feel like there is so much time ahead of me. I’m so excited about all I’ve learned so far and everything I plan to learn and accomplish in the future. December is the perfect time to reflect on the past year and what is to come. This is something I tend to do every year, but this year feels slightly more special to me because 2016 was such a dynamic year. I have really enjoyed writing and sharing information about mental health, self-care, Black psychology, etc. However, this time I wanted to get more personal and share with you my process of reflection near the end of this year and my preparation for 2017.
Year-End Review...What Happened?
At the end of every year, one of the first things I do is to review all that I’ve accomplished or anything that has significantly changed in my life. It is really easy for life to pass us by and for us to not even realize what has happened until several years later, but slowing down and tracking the events of life can help. Personally, I believe life to be too precious to pass by without any awareness or acknowledgement of what is happening. Living is such a gift, and taking the time to pay attention to the experience is one way that I honor the events of my life.
A lot happened in my life this year but what stands out the most is:
Lessons Learned in 2016.
After determining what has happened in the course of one year, I then determine what lessons I have learned as a result. This year was full of great lessons:
Take risks and dream big. Too much time of my life has been spent negotiating the amount of risk I wanted to take in order to move forward. Thinking in terms of risk has always brought me some anxiety, but this year I learned that when I took the biggest risks (i.e. relocating without a sure plan of employment, launching a website as a new and young professional, applying for jobs I didn’t believe I was qualified for, negotiating salary and occupational responsibilities, etc.), I usually received the biggest return. Most of the risks I took this year, I have benefited from tremendously. I have even been surprised at what I have been able to achieve or gain after initially believing I was asking for too much. I’m thankful for every risk I had the courage to take this year.
Celebrate yourself and never dim your light. I realize I am not the only person who has struggled to celebrate themselves or to even take pride in their work or success. Unfortunately, many of us are taught that taking pride in ourselves is selfish, or “bragging” but this year I learned that isn’t true. It has typically been very uncomfortable for me to share my accomplishments or to showcase my talents but this year I forced myself to do more of it and I don’t regret it. I realized that dimming my light to make others feel more comfortable does not benefit me in any way and I’m only compromising my own personal, spiritual, and professional growth in doing so. Celebrating myself has helped improve my confidence and assertiveness. Instead of dimming my light, I’d rather share my success and talents, in the hopes that it may encourage and inspire someone else to work toward becoming their very best self too.
Take your time and trust the process of life. Those who are closest to me know that the first half of my 2016 was full of doubt, dread, and very little hope, passion, or motivation. I had not yet found a job in my field that I felt passionate about and it was miserable. In those moments, I often needed to remind myself that it was temporary and my time would come. Needless to say, my time did come and I now have a job that has given me so much joy and happiness. I can very easily apply this lesson to so many other moments from this year, including moving through emotional discomfort from changes within my relationships, adjusting to relocation from Ohio to Tennessee, and growing and nurturing my relationship with my fiancé. All of these events have taught me to take my time rather than rushing through life and to put absolute trust in the process of life. I firmly believe that life unfolds as it should, and I never want to rush that process.
are helped and supported. Therefore, care for yourself should always come first. Self-care isn’t selfish. Self-care isn’t difficult. Self-care isn’t a trendy cliché or something to just talk about. Self-care is simple and needs to be prioritized and taken seriously. For me, taking care of myself is the literal foundation of everything I have done so far and everything I will be able to do in the future. Taking care of myself is not optional, but required and I am committed to continuing to improve that during 2017 and the years to come.
Dear 2017, Whats Next?
The final step in my reflection process involves planning for the upcoming year. This usually isn’t an extensive, step-by-step plan, but more so a broader summary of my hopes and desires for the next year. So what’s in store for me and my 2017?
Ultimately, one significant theme of my year has been gratitude. I’m thankful for everything that has come my way in 2016 and eagerly await what is to come in 2017.
Thank you for allowing me to share myself with you in 2016! Please feel free to share your process with me and continue to share this process with others you love.
Happy New Year!
Dr. Amber Thornton
Clinical psychologist with a passion for family, community, culture, and diversity.
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