Your parents and friends might have told you, “In this economy, there’s no better time to go back to school!” You humor them with a faint smile while you Google what “GMAT” stands for.
Graduate school is a rewarding but challenging undertaking, and the application process is no exception. The good news is you’re surrounded by a number of excellent programs in the DMV! Several DC JET alums have offered to share their advice on preparing for graduate studies, and we hope that you will find their tips of the trade useful.
- Finding Your Way – Graduate School
- The DC Area and Graduate School
- Going from Japan to Law School
- Studying in Japan can be Affordable
- Survey Summary – Graduate School
Not sure if grad school is for you? Here are some recommended tips and sites to help you through those first few months.
Visit as many grad school fairs as you can. It’s a great way to see what is out there, and give you a chance to talk to people who represent the schools.
Sign up for their emails. Schools love adding people to their listservs. You’ll find some helpful information every now and again too!
Look overseas. US schools are very expensive, but European universities are much less expensive! And many of them are actively looking for “International”/US students.
Talk to your friends. See what they are studying, and ask for their advice. You can never have too much advice from the people that know you best!
The Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs
Provides a list of top graduate programs in International Relations.
Hosts Graduate School Fairs around the world, with representatives from many of
the most prestigious domestic and international universities.
Hosts Grad School fairs around the country.
I would like to start with two caveats to remember about the DC area and graduate school. The first is that, as you may know, DC is a competitive area, particularly as it relates to securing a paid position/job placement. There may be many applicants for the same positions who have advanced degrees and may end up getting a job over someone with a BS/BA and some experience abroad. A decision to attend graduate school should not be based solely on one’s frustration with obtaining a paid position in DC. Yes, a degree may end up helping you in securing a job. But, it is not the only means. You have to want to pursue your field further and enjoy your topic if you are truly to succeed in your degree program. This leads me to my second caveat: obtaining an advanced degree is time (and money) consuming. Obtaining your degree and succeeding becomes easier (and more enjoyable) if you are committed to your program/subject.
Research the field before you consider graduate school
My research on graduate schools started before I returned to the USA (it even started before I left for Japan). This was because I had an idea of the type of field (international education) I wanted to enter as I was preparing to depart for the land of the rising sun and JET fit within that framework. Before I left for Japan, I talked with professionals in my field to get an idea of what sort of qualifications were required for a career. As it turned out, many suggested that I either go abroad to strengthen my international experience or attend graduate school before looking for a job. Previously, many professionals “fell into” the field by accident while now more and more professionals are intentionally entering it. Now, it is becoming increasingly common for entry-level positions to prefer or even require an advanced degree.
Researching and deciding on a school
I spent part of my second year on JET researching different universities throughout the USA that offered the type of program I was looking for. I did briefly consider attending a university abroad, but decided that if I wanted to work in the US, it was probably best to attend university here. I found a website which listed many of the universities throughout the country that offered the degree I was looking for. I looked at the program websites for over 80 programs and made a list of what each program offered. After narrowing down my list, I came up with my top choices and applied to those schools. I ended up deciding between two programs that were comparable in many aspects. What tipped one program slightly above the other was its location in DC and opportunities for internships and networking.
Advice for Picking a School/Financing Your Education
- If possible, I would recommend visiting your top schools and/or talking with professors and students in the program. You may find out that you either hate or love a school based on your visit (and it is much better – both financially and emotionally – to figure this out while on a trip to the university rather than while attending it!).
- Some schools have deadlines, and if you miss them, you will have to wait until the next application cycle. Other schools have rolling admissions, but may require some documents (like FASFA) to be in by a certain deadline to be considered for competitive graduate assistant positions or scholarships.
- Most universities offer educational discounts to employees. So, if you don’t mind working in higher education for a couple of years, consider applying for a full-time job at your university of choice.
So, you want to go from Japan to law school? That’s a big leap! As most law schools will tell you during your first week, the goal of law school is to get you “thinking like a lawyer.” It’s a big cultural shift, and if you’ve been thinking in Japanese for the last couple of years, it may be even more of a leap for you than for the average law student. From one culture shock to another, but gambatte! If you can persevere, you can make it through law school. Here are some tips from a law school grad & some things I wish I would have known while I was still in Japan:
- Be vigilant and organized.
Applying to law schools involves getting together a huge dossier of application materials: essays, reference letters, lists of past and present employment, and your LSAT scores. Most of these things must be sent to the LSAC (Law School Admissions Council http://www.lsac.org/) or the law schools to which you’ll be applying. Do as much of the legwork as possible to collect these items either before you leave the U.S. or if you’re there on a vacation (e.g., talk to professors letting them know you’ll be applying to law school and giving them a list of accomplishments in their class – you can later email them the same list as a “reminder” when you actually ask for the recommendation). Coordinating this from Japan can be a bit of a hassle.
Most law schools have rolling admissions, which means the sooner you apply, the more likely you are to get a place. Just think – how many places do you think your dream law school has for Japanese speakers? Missed deadlines also often mean you’ll have to wait to the next admissions cycle. So stay well ahead of your deadlines, because if you are physically sending things from Japan, it will take you longer than mailing from within the U.S.
And P.S. – if you do go to law school, make sure you keep copies of all your application materials. You’ll need a lot of the same information when applying for admission to the bar.
2. The LSAT
Being in Japan makes it difficult to take the LSATs. You likely won’t be able to take a test preparation course in person; you’ll have to travel to Tokyo to take the exam (right now it’s only offered at Temple University in Tokyo), and it may not be offered as often or at the same time as it is in the U.S. During my final year on JET, the LSAT and the JLPT were offered on the same day, so I had to make the difficult choice between those two exams. Plus, even though all my materials for the LSAT said it was scheduled for Saturday, the exam was actually held on Sunday for the Japanese location – so please, please read your exam information carefully!
There are a variety of online and printed test preparation materials, which, in my opinion, are just as effective as the in-person test prep courses. You must, however, devote the time to studying and keep yourself on schedule, despite all the fun Japanese distractions around you. Your LSAT score plays an important role in law school admissions.
3. Which law school to attend?
Deciding where to go to law school can be difficult if you are in Japan and unable to visit campuses or talk to alumni. But where you go to law school will have a significant impact on the career connections that you make and where you will practice law in the future, so take the time to do some research on the law schools. The U.S. News & World Reports rankings are given a great deal of attention and, unfortunately, the legal profession often espouses a bit of snobbery. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I think your law school’s ranking makes a difference in your future employment options. But those rankings also examine other aspects of law schools like legal specialties and clinical programs. Make sure to check those rankings out, too, especially if you know you want to practice, say, international law, health law, or another specialized area. You should also check out the percentage of students that are employed after graduation.
If you are in Japan while trying to decide which law school to attend, I would strongly encourage you to contact the admissions office, explain your situation, and ask to speak with an alumnus. Ask if there are any alums in Japan! Making that connection before law school can be invaluable in helping you make the right decision and the information you get from alums who have already gone through the 3 years of law school can be priceless. Moreover, you might be able to establish a relationship that will help you after law school.
Finally, consider mid-year admissions. They aren’t offered at all law schools, but it may give you the time to settle back into the US after your JET experience.
4. Financing your legal education:
Law school is expensive and there are not the same sorts of scholarships available for law school as there are for undergraduate programs because people generally assume that you’ll be making big bucks after graduation. It’s not unheard of for people to graduate with six figures of debt. So it definitely makes sense to set aside the dream of being a lawyer for a moment and figure out if it is financially worth it for you to attend law school. Could you accomplish your goals without 3 more years of extremely expensive education? If so, maybe consider a different career path. If not, think about how you will finance your legal education. Some jobs, after a few years of service, might contribute towards your tuition, if your legal skills will be useful in the workplace. Others, like military attorney positions or JAGs, might pay for law school altogether if you commit to service afterwards. And although they might be scarce, there may be scholarships available, particularly for those interested in a public service career.
One of the greatest benefits to being in DC, however, is the wide variety of law schools in the District: Georgetown, American, George Washington, Catholic, Howard, and University of DC. Including Virginia and Maryland, the number of law schools increase. Each offers a core legal education with different programs. Many have night classes that are just as good as the day classes. If you think it’s a good fit for you, it may be worth it to work during the day and take night classes. Even if you don’t want to take night classes or work full-time, DC has a lot of wonderful institutions that offer part-time employment. You may want to consider working part time with one of these, but only after your first year of law school.
5. You got in! What now?
Congratulations! You got into law school. What do you do now that you’re in Japan and waiting to go to law school in the U.S.? I’d say break out those books and start reading. Law school classes often require readings of up to 100 pages a night and I think it’s a good idea to at least prepare yourself for that. You might want to read novels because, in all likelihood, you won’t have time for that during your first year. Reading legal stories, from Gideon’s Trumpet to the latest John Grisham, might give you some food for thought. Also, start reading legal blogs, or blawgs, to acquaint yourself with some of the most current issues in the law. Above the Law is a legal tabloid and covers the gossipy side of legal practice, while Scotusblog and Slate do a good job of covering current Supreme Court arguments. Other blogs, like Volokh Conspiracy are written by legal professors and give some insight into questions you might face in class. Even Supreme Court opinions are available online. Give them a read – you’ll be doing a lot more of that in the years to come! Finally, if you have the chance before you start law school, try sitting through a few trials in your local courthouse. They are open to the public and it’s a good chance to get a sense of how quickly things go in the courtroom. Everything you learn in law school might get turned on its head in the courtroom and it will give you a good sense of perspective heading into class.
Tuition, fees, and living costs are an important part of one’s decision in pursuing further education. Whether you are applying to graduate school, planning to conduct summer research or study abroad while already enrolled, or wanting to gain skill development or additional knowledge without obtaining another degree, you must figure out a monetary plan of attack. Even though the cost of continuing education is steep, there are several ways to receive financial help. Many former JETs are interested in advancing their education abroad, often specifically in Japan.
Grants, fellowships, scholarships, rewards, etc. for programs in Japan exist through universities, the U.S. government, the Japanese government, foundations, and organizations. While there are various programs, it can be somewhat daunting to research them. In general, utilizing resources from your undergraduate institution or your graduate school if currently enrolled can be good starting points. For Japan related programs, ask for suggestions, contacts, and advice in the JETAA community.
Additionally, some resources are provided below:
Japanese Government Monbukagakusho (MEXT) Scholarships http://www.studyjapan.go.jp/en/toj/toj0302e.html
CULCON Exchanges and Fellowship Lists
JET Alumni-Specific Programs
DC Monbukagakusho (MEXT) Research Scholarship (for DC, VA, or MD residents)
Monterey Institute of International Studies Scholarship
Former JET Program participants who apply to MIIS receive preferential consideration for scholarships. During the application phase, the former JET should be sure to indicate their participation on the JET Program in order to be considered for these scholarships.
American University–School of International Service
Graduate Degree Program Application Waiver
Former JET Program participants who apply to graduate programs at SIS fill out an application form. Under the “Additional Information” section of the application, if the former JET checks off “Yes” to the question, he/she will be waived out of the fee.
American University–School of International Service
Former JET Program participants who are accepted to the ITEP Program can be awarded graduate level credits based on the number of years of participation on the JET Program. In principle, one year of participation can be awarded three graduate credits; two or more years of JET participation can be awarded six credits.
SIT Graduate Institute
Each JET alumni that has been accepted into an SIT Graduate Institute master’s degree program will be eligible to receive a scholarship. SIT will award up to five of these scholarships to JET alumni each year. Current and past ALTs who have successfully completed at least one year as a JET Program participant will be eligible for the scholarship opportunity.
JET Alumni Recommendations
Rotary Peace Fellowships
Mansfield Fellowship Program
National Science Foundation Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes for U.S. Graduate Students (EASPSI)
JET Alumni Recommendations for Programs of Special Interest in the US
The Association for Asian Studies Grants, Fellowships, and Prizes (lists grants, etc. for study in the US and study in Japan)
Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Graduate Fellowship Program http://www.rangelprogram.org/?contentid=0
Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship
— Of the people who filled out the survey, the majority (but not overwhelmingly so) went to or is going to graduate school.
–What was studied is greatly varied. Some examples include: environmental policy, communication, culture and technology, international development, public affairs, public policy, MBA, English, humanities, law, diplomacy, international education policy, education policy, medicine, French cultural studies, anthropology, and international affairs.
Factors in deciding what/where to study for graduate school include . . .
- What you love to do
- Versatility of the location and/or flexibility of the program
- The strength of the school and program
- Pursue or advance a specific career
- Encouragement by current employers
- Faculty’s research
- Filling “gaps” in education or experience
- Dual-program or interdisciplinary program availability
Reasons people applied to graduate school . . .
- A degree that can be used in a number of different ways
- Better job opportunities and growth
- Gain and improve skills and knowledge that can be used in the workplace
- Expanded professional network
- More time to decide on a professional career
- Understand the theory behind your interests while gaining practical experience
- To be able to make a difference for people
- Gain knowledge
- Interact with a group of like-minded peers
The most important things actually gained from graduate school . . .
- A business perspective
- Networking with alumni and an enlarged network of academics and referees
- Beginning of a writing portfolio in your area
- Certification and/or license
- A degree invaluable for job consideration
- New understanding
- Research experience
- The opening of doors
- Ability to apply for Fellowships
When thinking about graduate school, keep in mind . . .
- Cost vs. benefit; how debt will affect you after graduation
- Time, effort, and cost to apply
- A realistic financial plan for everyday living and possible unexpected events
- Is it necessary? How will you use it? Will you use it at all?
- What kind of career you want it to lead to
- Don’t go until you know exactly what you want to study and why – don’t do it because you don’t know what else to do
- Take the time to find the program best for you and what you want to study and do afterwards
- Only apply to something you are truly interested in
- Network to find out about potential programs, ways to earn money, and advice
- Have patience and be diligent with exams required for application
- Know you have to focus on building professional experiences while attending