Applying to graduate school is no small task and is a stressful period for EVERYONE. As a speech-language pathologist assistant juggling a full time caseload, the key skill that saved me while navigating and planning my educational future? Organization. Applying for graduate school as a SLPA would have been impossible without it!
I have included some overall tips from personal experience through the application process as well as ideas and insight into important tips you do not want to forget!
Research, research, research!
Research schools based on your interests, location and affordability, as well as likelihood of acceptance. What grants, research assistant positions, or scholarships does the specific program offer? What is the cost of living like in that particular city? Do your GPA and GRE scores align with those of typically admitted students?
Get really comfortable with ASHA Ed Find: it's going to be your best friend when researching where you stand in comparison to the average admitted student to the school.
GRE prep, prep and more prep over the summer
Grab a book, get a friend, and hit the coffee shop or local library! I independently studied using various well-known prep books and flashcards, focusing on areas where I scored the weakest. Reading books for strategies was awesome, but the biggest score boosting tip I have: take practice tests over and over again, making sure to correct each wrong answer until you truly understand where you went wrong. If you're preparing for the GRE while working full time, I strongly recommend a solid 3-4 months of prep.
Buy a large desktop calendar
My best advice is to color code the calendar giving each school you’re applying to a different color to differentiate deadlines or when supplemental materials (like a rèsume, additional application questions, or an extra essay) are due. If you're applying for graduate school as a SLPA, it's likely that your schedule is packed—so having the visual reference can be indispensable!
Create an Excel spreadsheet with all deadlines, required supplemental materials (statement of purpose, letter of intent, resume, additional questions), as well as the list of all school names and CSD department phone number so you have easy access to their phone number if you have any questions.
Ask for recommendation letters early
Begin asking in the early Fall before professors get wrapped up with the semester or midterms, etc! Applications are usually due in mid-December or early January and February, but you definitely want to reach out to professors and give them a chance to complete recommendation letters before the holidays.
Make it as EASY as possible for your recommenders: create a “packet” for each person writing your recommendation letters. If any letters need to be physically mailed in, be sure to include an addressed envelope and stamp.
Reach out to your supervisors
Our supervisors are amazing resources and totally remember the process of applying and all the stress that goes with it. A recommendation letter from your supervisor speaks volume to an admissions board: a professional clinician with a clinical view of your abilities who can attest to your work ethic is essential and definitely one of the biggest pros to gaining experience while working as a SLPA.
Don't put off the statement of purpose!
Write your statement of purpose EARLY. Revise, revise, revise: get as many eyes and edits as you can.
Ask professors, supervisors, and friends familiar with the CSD field of study.
As a current assisting clinician, using real work experience to shed insight into the opportunities you already have is a huge advantage SLPAs have over current undergraduates. Be sure to include real life experience working with patients and what you have learned clinically in their treatment process! It’s always better to “show” rather than “tell” when writing so share info about these experiences.
Make your personal statement personalized
When writing your personal statement, don't do the broad, generic "Because I like to work with kids" essay. Make sure to describe with the clinical skills you hope to gain in grad school, in addition to future goals in certain specialities. Be very specific in explaining why your experience and interests highlight you as a great addition to a graduate program.
Research all programs you are interested in: some programs have specialty tracks, specific clinical opportunities and diverse clinical opportunities offered like on-campus clinic vs. externships.
Schedule Open House visits!
Visit programs if you can to see what type you prefer! Reach out to see if program directors or professors would be available on the day you visit or if you can sit in on a class.
Most programs will have a big showcase day where prospective students can meet professors, department directors, and sometimes admissions committee members. Plan early as you may have to travel and prepare overnight accommodations, and don't forget to pack a business casual outfit for the day.
Be sure to meet as many faculty members as you can, tour the campus if they offer it, and make sure you stop by to see the campus speech therapy clinic!
And finally, keep your eyes on the prize!
Applying for graduate school is a nerve-wracking process no matter what stage of life: whether in undergrad, while working as a SLPA, or changing career paths from a different field. Remember to focus on the positive and pay attention to each detail and requirement of each application. Pursuing a professional degree will be totally worth all the hard work in the end!