Immerse yourself in a work or study environment that is connected to your career interests to get a peek at the future. Internships, accelerated summer programs, volunteer and paid positions, shadowing a professional and research opportunities are all ways to investigate an area of study or a workplace setting. An in-depth experience will help you learn the language and culture of that particular field, understand the values and hierarchies, and also meet people who can act as guides and advisors as you continue your exploration towards graduate school and a career.
Sitting in on a class: If you are thinking about pursuing a PhD in an academic subject and want to understand more about what you would be doing for the next 4-7 years, you might want to sit in on a graduate seminar. Most professors teach both undergraduates and graduates and talking to one of your professors for permission to attend a seminar is an easy way to gain access. In regards to professional schools, tours and classroom visits are readily available at schools of law and management, and there are often websites where you can sign up to attend. If you are provided with a student guide, all the better, as this person can answer immediate questions as well as become a resource for later inquiries.
Shadowing a professional: Observing someone in their workplace setting is usually called ‘shadowing’ and it can happen in a day or be a more lengthy involvement where you spend more than a week. Shadowing allows you to put yourself in the shoes of the professional and see what their daily activities entail and what kind of skill set is needed to accomplish their work. More on shadowing can be found under the tab Talk with Others.
Internship: Internships are an excellent way to discover both where you want to work and where you don’t want to work. Campus career centers usually have listings of internships and many campuses have special internship programs.
Job: Most students need to work during their undergraduate years. If you can get an entry level position in an environment in which you ultimately want to work, you can gain an excellent understanding of workplace dynamics. Many students often work as peer mentors, a job which parlays well into a career in teaching, social work and counseling. Some programs, such as Physician Assistant Studies, actually require that you have a great deal of work experience prior to applying for a degree.
Volunteer: Many students don’t realize the value of volunteering but you can learn a tremendous amount by working in an unpaid position and gain access to important organizations and companies. An important aspect to the volunteer position is to think of yourself as vital and to look for ways in which to make a contribution. If the work you are doing becomes an important learning experience and plays a part in your decision to apply to graduate school and the career path that you choose, this could become an important entry on your resume — you do not necessarily have to place this work under the heading ‘volunteer.’ For example, after completing a BS in Environment and Society, one of our students volunteered in an environmental advocacy organization while working for another company in an administrative job to pay the bills. When she went to apply for a Masters in Public Health, the volunteer position was placed under Work Experience because the work she did there relates more to her future goals and career. The administrative job was placed under the heading Employment. Volunteer work may not help you pay your bills in the present moment, but it can provide you valuable experience and knowledge that pays off later.
Research position: If you are interested in applying for an academic PhD with the intent to become a professor or researcher, then you will want to complete a research project yourself or participate in a project managed by a faculty member or graduate student. What kind of research you do and the way in which it is organized will depend on the discipline. If you are doing social science or the humanities you will probably want to do a thesis project that demonstrates your knowledge of research methodologies and your ability to write within the boundaries of that discipline. If you are headed for a science degree, then you will probably want to participate in a lab or fieldwork research project headed by a faculty member who is the principal investigator.
Pipeline programs: This special set of programs provides additional preparation for populations that are under-represented in graduate school. The goal is to increase the diversity of students obtaining advanced degrees. (This is not a comprehensive list)
The Public Policy and International Affairs Program (PPIA) holds Junior Summer Institutes at public policy schools around the country in order to promote the inclusion and participation of underrepresented groups in public service and to increase leadership potential. UC Berkeley has held a Junior Summer Institute at the Goldman School of Public Policy for over 30 years. Students who have completed their junior year spend nearly two months during the following summer on rigorous coursework. They are then given special consideration when they eventually apply to graduate programs at universities that are part of the PPIA Consortium.
The American Bar Association in collaboration with the Law School Admission Council has developed a Pipeline Diversity Directory that allows you to search for programs and projects that encourage students of color to apply for law school.
The McNair Scholars Program is a two-year on campus program designed to prepare undergraduates for doctoral study, both first-generation college students and those that are under-represented in graduate school. The program, which is federally funded, is represented at 151 universities. You can search by state for programs under the Programs tab on their website.
The American Medical Association has a comprehensive listing, by state, of Pipeline and Outreach Programs designed to prepare students for careers in medicine and medical research. The Summer Health Professions Education Program (SHPEP), established by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, provides academic and medical experiences that support preparation for medical and dental school. The program provides housing, most meals and a stipend for scholars with some participating schools also providing travel funds.
The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management is committed to increasing diversity in American business schools and corporate management. You apply first to become a member of The Consortium and then receive help with submitting an application to participating schools of management.
The Forté Fellows Program was created for the purpose of increasing the number of women applying to and enrolling in MBA programs. Fellowship are offered to women in part-time and full-time programs as well as executive education. Membership is free with extra perks for a small annual fee.
If you are interested in applying to Medical School but don’t have the required science classes or need to improve your science GPA, the website of the Association of American Medical Colleges has a search engine for Post-baccalaureate Premedical Program. These programs are often designed for special populations such as economically or educationally disadvantaged students or underrepresented minorities. They usually take 1-2 years to complete.