Prepare for Graduation
Prepare for Graduation transcript Russell, Lucy, and Katie are planning to go
to graduate school after their year serving with AmeriCorps VISTA.
Since they already have bachelor degrees, they know a thing or two about applying to
college . . . . . . though not to graduate school.
Making the most of their VISTA experience on their application is another area where
they can use some help. Since this is the first time the three VISTAs
are applying to grad school, let’s start there. It often comes as a surprise how much time
and effort the application process takes. It can be significant.
Russell needs a great GRE score in order to get into his school, and for him this means
quite a bit of test prep. Lucy is applying to quite a few schools and
has a dizzying number of admissions essays to write.
Katie knows she can only go to school by finding scholarships and knowing as much as possible
about financial aid and the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award.
Add to this the time it takes to track down transcripts and recommendation letters, as
well as fill out the applications, and our three VISTAs will find themselves quite busy.
Of course, Russell, Lucy, and Katie also have very full days on their anti-poverty assignments.
AmeriCorps VISTA is a profound commitment you made to serve the community, and graduate
school will likely change the direction of your life and career. With careful planning
you can juggle both. Let’s talk about some pointers. You can make
the best use of your time by keeping close track of the many deadlines connected to graduate
school. Key dates for Russell include the times when
the GRE standardized admission exam is offered, not to mention the deadlines for registering
for the test. He’ll want to schedule his test early so that he gets his scores before his
school application is due, but not so early that his test scores expire. Of course, he
also wants to make sure he has a few weeks to study before the test to make sure he gets
a good score. Since Lucy is applying to several schools,
she needs to keep track of not just the school deadlines but also the deadlines for the specific
programs within the schools that she’s applying to — because sometimes the deadlines are
different. There will also be quite a bit of coordination in getting her transcripts
and letters of recommendation sent to all the right places at the right times. She will
want to personalize each of her admissions essays (rather than just use one boilerplate)
to address how her background and interests make her a good fit for each specific program
on her list. Katie doesn’t have much money and isn’t planning
on a high-paying career. She can go to graduate school only if she can afford it. The critical
deadlines she’s keeping track of are for scholarships, including research and teaching fellowships
that will provide her with reduced tuition, and the application for federal financial
assistance, as Katie (like most graduate students) will probably need loans to help pay for school.
With their deadlines under control, the three AmeriCorps VISTAs now turn their thoughts
to this question: how do you represent your VISTA service on your graduate school application?
Here’s the short course on how to do that: Refer to the program as AmeriCorps VISTA.
This is the official name, and it can build goodwill toward admissions officers who are
familiar with AmeriCorps as well as VISTA. Write about VISTA in your admission essay,
especially if the program you are applying to relates to your service.
VISTAs have many great qualities — such as leadership, productivity, and commitment,
as well as the motivation to serve and live in impoverished communities — that graduate
schools seek out in new students. Because not all admissions officers know as much about
VISTA as others, make sure to illustrate how VISTA draws upon your best qualities, and
how VISTA’s best qualities are also your own. When writing about your VISTA experience,
you can use your VAD as a starting point for describing your tasks.
You can also look at the VISTA project plan at your site for language to use around goals
and draw from the mission and goals of your site to fill in the picture of your role.
Including data really can make your application stand out. If you don’t readily have data
on your accomplishments, ask your supervisor who keeps tracks of numbers for reporting
back to VISTA. You can also refer to the success of VISTA as a whole, while stating your contribution
to that success. If you don’t feel like you have room on your
application and essay to include all you want about your VISTA experience, you might attach
an academic resume to your application. This is much like a job resume but is designed
to help students gain admission to college. You can learn more about this on the Close
of Service page. With careful planning to help manage deadlines
and a head start on how to include VISTA on their graduate school application, Russell,
Lucy, and Katie are on the right track to serve fully in VISTA while setting up their