Students entering graduate programs have proven academic credentials. They’re generally older, and many have started careers in business, education, nursing, public policy or technology. What might be surprising is what a number of these poised people have in common with some of the new undergraduates at the University of Washington Bothell.
It’s the impostor syndrome, the feeling they’re perhaps not in the right place, said Sharon Meriwether, an academic adviser for graduate students in the School of STEM.
“Students who have been out for a while talk about not being sure about coming back to school,” she said. “And, recent bachelor’s graduates think they need industry experience.”
Along with the excitement of starting a master’s program, there’s stress about skills and ability, not to mention finances, said Meriwether. She says advising is not just talking about curriculum. It’s really providing support for the whole student.
Just as important
The University has about 20 master’s degree programs across all five schools. They require from five quarters full time to three years part time to complete. On a campus of about 5,800 students in total, graduate students make up a little less than 10% of the population. About 200 graduate each year.
UW Bothell is known for the attention it pays to undergraduate education — student-faculty relationships and opportunities for students who would be the first in their immediate families to graduate from a four-year institution.
“We would love for graduate students to feel they are part of the campus and just as important,” Meriwether said. When it comes to navigating academia, “I let students know the second time around is usually much easier.”
For graduate students who may be having trouble balancing work, school and family, they can be referred to UW Bothell’s Counseling Center for more help.
Differences and similarities
The Office of Orientation & Transition Programs is geared for incoming first-year and transfer students. For new graduate students, it’s a different story. Each academic program conducts its own recruitment and orientation, said Meriwether, who is chair of the Graduate Resource and Development (GRAD) Council, a group of advisers from each school who promote and coordinate graduate education.
Programs advertise in a variety of settings, including radio, magazines, conferences, and direct outreach. In normal years, program advisers would be going to career fairs and graduate fairs at other colleges and universities. New graduate students would be introduced to campus with tours, receptions and faculty and alumni panels. During the coronavirus pandemic those events have moved to video conferences.
“We are all working hard to make those same connections we have had in the past,” Meriwether said. “Just like with undergraduates, we’re very concerned with our students connecting to campus.”
Exploring new paths
Graduate students are different in that they are part of the larger UW Graduate School headquartered on the Seattle campus. They receive services and regular information from the school and are strongly encouraged to take advantage of its many resources and events.
But graduate students do have something else in common with uncertain undergraduates who may still be deciding on a major, Meriwether said. Graduate students may know their field of interest but they may not always know what path to take in their program or after graduation.
“People get into a program and find something new that they’re interested in,” she said. “All these doors open up.”