Grad School Choices: Alma Mater or Another University?

Where will you pursue your grad studies: at the same place you went for undergrad or a different university? Two grad students offer the pros and cons of each.

Are you thinking about attending graduate school at the same institution where you earned your undergraduate degree? Or do you want a diverse experience at a different university? Two grad school students offer the pros and cons of each decision and how to make the best of it.

Kevin Wright, Lewis & Clark College

I received my bachelor’s degree from Northern Arizona University (NAU) in 2014 and serve as the Graduate Assistant in the Office of Student Activities at Lewis & Clark College. I considered staying at my undergraduate institution for my master’s degree. After some advice from professionals I call mentors, it became clear to me that I always had a place at NAU, but it was necessary for me to experience something different. Because of this, I applied to different institutions in various regions of the country. After going through the process of applying for graduate programs and interviewing for graduate assistantships, I ended up choosing Lewis & Clark College to be a part of the founding cohort for their new program, the Master of Arts in Student Affairs Administration. Attending an institution different from your alma mater may provide the opportunity for you to:

  • Experience a different campus culture;
  • Work in another region of the country;
  • Connect with new people and other professionals in the field;
  • Diversify your résumé;
  • And Give you new challenges you may not have at your undergraduate institution.

On the other hand, it has been difficult sometimes, because there have been instances where I felt like I was starting over from the bottom; it seemed as though I would have to reestablish my identity at another institution. Another thing I have struggled with is being farther away from home; instead of hopping on a bus to go back to Las Vegas, I now have to get on a plane, which makes it expensive to travel. I do miss my undergraduate institution, but I do not regret joining the Lewis & Clark Pioneer family!

Related: Important Considerations to Help You Find the Right Graduate Program

Devan Kowalek, West Chester University of Pennsylvania

As an undergraduate at West Chester University of Pennsylvania, I made lasting connections and bonds with the student affairs professionals. I was not ready to leave my university and start over at a new university for graduate school. I received a graduate assistantship in my prospective field of student unions and was able to give back to the community that helped me find myself. Although my graduate experience was positive and educational, there are some things I wish I would have known attending the same university:

  1. Brand yourself as a professional: Some ways to build your credibility are to create a professional email signature, dress in business attire while attending your assistantship and classes, and make yourself approachable to current students and staff.
  2. Build new connections: As an undergraduate, it may have been easy to walk by an office without saying “Hi.” As a graduate student, you need to meet as many professionals as possible and allow them to help you grow and succeed!
  3. Become a mentor: It can be hard to be taken seriously as a graduate student if you are attending school with a lot of the same people you did as an undergraduate. Working in student affairs, in order to build a new relationships with the undergraduates, you need to be seen as a mentor. It is important to guide and support them. For example, if your students ask you to go out after work for happy hour, you need to consider your position and purpose before you make a decision.

These are the things I wish I would have known as I started graduate school. I have learned that if you attend the same university as an undergraduate and graduate student, these tips will guide you in the right direction from being a young new student to becoming a respected professional. It was a great experience for me, and I know I made the right decision!

Related: Helpful Answers to Your Questions About Grad School

We hope that whether you attend the same university or a different university, you make the best of your graduate school experience. There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to making a decision. It depends on what experience you are looking for and what is a perfect fit for you!

Start searching for great grad programs for you using our Graduate School Search tool.

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