My journey to becoming an SLP was far from perfect, but looking back I wouldn't have it any other way.
It took me three years of applying to MSLP graduate programs to gain acceptance. And the funny thing is, I never received an acceptance letter. I used to be ashamed and embarrassed to admit this fact, but I feel like it has molded me into a stronger clinician and overall as an individual. It is very difficult for me to be vulnerable and put my story out there but I feel like there are other people experiencing what I went through and I want you to know that you are not alone and to not give up on your dreams!
The end of June/July is crunch time for those waiting to hear their fate. You may still be waiting for that call or e-mail. You may be calling graduate programs every week to see if they have moved your name up on the waiting list. You may be looking for an alternative plan thinking, "what now?"
I have experienced all of these things- There were many times when I wanted to give up on my dream of becoming an SLP, but I persevered and applied year after year. Before giving you some tips on improving your chances of acceptance, let me take you back to where it all started...
Looking back on 2011, my senior year of undergrad, my main focus was my college tennis career and being as social as possible. I ended with a very successful tennis career- beating records and earning titles. Unfortunately academics were not a huge priority for me at the time and I did not realize the competitiveness that goes along with applying for graduate school. I also did not realize that a successful division 3 tennis career would not take me anywhere after college. On top of that, it did not even phase me that all of my roommates were gaining acceptance into various programs. I was just happy to be dating a new boyfriend (my now husband) and having as much fun as possible before graduating. I was in no shape to take on a graduate program workload and I would not have appreciated the experience. Looking back, I am grateful it did not work out the first time around. (you may be going through the same thing as 22 year old Tricia who did not give a bleep about school or maybe it is not the right time for you- If so, try to think of the positive here)
Upon returning home I began teaching tennis lessons and teaching preschool simultaneously. These work experiences reaffirmed my love for working with children and had me wanting more out of my career. During this time, I was feeling discouraged about my future as an SLP and decided to apply to Master's of Education programs. I went on to complete two semesters towards my Master's of Education, earning a 4.0 GPA before deciding teaching just wasn't for me. Little did I know, this would help me later on.
Fast forward to 2014- I was still teaching preschool and actively applying to graduate schools. I sat down and met with graduate program directors in the fall of 2013 prior to applying per advice from others who went through the same experience. I had a new found confidence after meeting with the program director for the school I ended up gaining acceptance from. The director made it sound like I would be accepted no problem and she was looking forward to seeing me next year. My family did not agree with my decision and did not understand why I was now applying for a third time. I kept reassuring them that this was it, I was getting in no matter what!
Looking ahead-- it was now June and I still had not received acceptance from this program. I was waitlisted. ugh. I had been waitlisted to a few programs but this one was supposed to be my no nonsense, guaranteed acceptance. What did I do? I called every school I was waitlisted to every week. When I did not receive the response I wanted, I would e-mail. I was persistent- they probably hated me. July was now coming to a close and I was newly engaged, feeling positive about my future even though I had not heard back from either school. I had one last ditch effort in me. I went ahead and e-mailed the program director directly, asking her what I should do to better my chances for the following school year. She gave me some pointers and wished me luck.
Three days go by and I am actively researching other career options during nap time. I get a call on my cell and I immediately answer, recognizing the phone number on my caller ID. It was the program director asking if I had a few minutes to chat. I am pretty sure I burst into tears upon hearing her voice on the other end while trying to contain my excitement to a whisper. She announced that another student had to drop out of the program unexpectedly and she wanted to know if I could make it up there next week for new student orientation. I immediately screamed, "YES!" and I'm pretty sure I quit my job on the spot.
Little did I know, my program director had no recollection of this conversation, I had to remind her almost a year later when she was my clinical supervisor. When I reminded her of this story and my journey to becoming an SLP she began to cry. And then I began to cry. She was upset with herself because of all of the applicants out there that are looked over. She thought that I was the top applicant for the program and had no problem gaining acceptance with my background and work experiences. It was a very emotional conversation and we discussed the challenges associated with applying to grad school. REMEMBER- If you are feeling discouraged, remember, You are one of the top applicants and do not let anyone let you think otherwise. (side note- I do not want you to gain the wrong impression of our program director or the program in general- everyone is so wonderful, kind, and it was such a pleasure working with and learning from all of the staff. I had such a great experience. You have to keep in mind that the application committee reviews so many applications that you may not stand out or are not as strong as the other applicants)
I apologize for the lengthy back story but I feel like it is necessary to see how much I went through and how much time passed before gaining acceptance. It goes to show that perseverance and hard work pays off. Like I said earlier, I would not have it any other way. I gained so much experience through working and was so much more appreciative of the opportunity. I was also very eager to learn & grow as much as possible!
Now for what you really came here for --- TIPS!
TIPS FOR GAINING ACCEPTANCE INTO AN MSLP PROGRAM:
1.) Take some graduate level courses! When they see that you can not only handle graduate level work but also do well, it will better your chances.
2.) Find an occupation in a related field:
3.) Arrange a time to meet with program directors in the fall before applying to the program. That way you can leave a good impression and they will remember you when reviewing your application. My program director offered to edit my personal statement after our meeting.
4.) Apply to programs that do not require GRE scores- especially if you are not a great test taker! I am a huge believer that your ability to perform on a test does not correlate to your performance as a student.
5.) Be persistent. Be annoying. Make them remember you! I followed up on a regular basis. Here is the e-mail I sent that landed me an acceptance phone call 3 days later:
"I hope this email finds you doing well and that you are having a fantastic summer. I am just looking to find out if any spots in the graduate program for this fall have opened up or become available. I understand that this is probably not the case, but I am still looking for acceptance into a program.
Just a refresher- I had met with you back in October. I currently work as a Head Start Preschool Teacher in an DLL classroom. I am trying my best to increase my chances of acceptance into a program. I have been searching for other jobs that may expand my resume and expertise. I currently am interviewing for an ABA therapist position. Any advice you may have in regards to strengthening my application would be greatly appreciated.
I know this is a long shot seeking out acceptance into your program but I know that I am the perfect candidate for _______University. I possess the knowledge, skills, and experience that you are seeking."
Feel free to use my same format with your own personal touch :)
Here was her response:
We have not had any spots open up for this fall. Keep me updated on the ABA experience. If you decide to re-apply, I want you to add into your personal statement information on why you began pursuing a graduate degree in teaching and highlight the grades you received in those classes, since they were good and fairly recent and graduate level."
Three days after her response I received a call.
Be confident in your abilities and persistent with your approach!
Also, don't give up on your dreams because you were denied acceptance.
Feel free to contact me or comment below if you would like any additional information and/or advice.