The inability to work makes one powerless. As some of you know, I moved to the United States with my husband, but I cannot work with my visa (H4). And with my background, it seemed nearly impossible to find a job that sponsors my independent working visa. Therefore, when I involuntarily decided to take a gap year, I looked for the things that I want to do next. After months of deliberation, I applied to graduate schools. And I am starting the Master of Information Management and Systems (MIMS) at Berkeley School of Information this fall! I wanted to record my journey so that this might help somebody in a similar situation.
To apply to graduate schools, I needed a bachelor’s degree, GRE for some schools, statement of purpose, other essays for some schools, three letters of recommendation, and resume. I was exempt from TOEFL scores because I went to college in the U.S.
Why I chose to go to graduate school
After three years in marketing and people operations, I wanted to be more involved in creating and improving a product for better user experience (UX).
I looked for some classes, but they did not fit me. Most of them were several weeks of intense boot camps that focused on learning skills and getting a job as fast as possible. However, I thought the education and resources that I can receive from graduate school were huge benefits. Moreover, I had time to explore more options, be trained for essential skills, and think about what I want to do before becoming eligible to work.
So, I decided to apply for graduate schools. I did not want to leave my husband alone, so I decided to apply three schools in the bay area.
Right after I chose the schools, I focused on memorizing GRE vocabulary and doing practice tests. I was most worried about the analytical writing section, so I used Wyzant to get an online tutor. The most valuable lesson was to make the essay personal to me. The essay prompts are so vague that I can interpret the prompts as the way I want. That made the writing section much easier, and I got a better score than I expected. Like many other tests, there is no one right way to study. It is crucial to find a way that works for you.
I received three recommendation letters.
I got one letter from my professor from college, which made me very nervous to ask. He was the college lab director I worked for one and a half year, but I had not reached out to him after I graduated five years ago. So, I cc’ed my lab manager when I send an e-mail. The professor was happy to write me a letter, and I kept checking with him until the letter was submitted.
My due dates for the application were early January and early February 2020, so I first sent him an e-mail in early September 2019. I thought it was a good time because he would have time to think about my letter and plan ahead if he had many letters to write.
The other two letters were relatively uncomplicated since I was still close to my previous manager from my first company and my last company’s CEO. I sent them a cover letter with what I want them to emphasize in each work experience, and I believe they were all good based on my result!
The vital things in requesting recommendation letters are 1. to keep reminding writers deadlines, and 2. to give them some ideas of what you want them to emphasize. You cannot change or make up what happened or check what they write about you. So, it would be best to allocate your important qualities and experiences to different letters. For example, I wanted to emphasize my fast learning in the first company and my interpersonal skills in the last company. I requested my recommenders to highlight the qualities that are hard to show by myself, and they were very supportive. I am so grateful for that.
Statement of Purpose
I liked that the Berkeley School of Information received many essays; therefore, I could show the different aspects of me. I had to write a statement of purpose, personal history, and short answer essay.
When I write the statement of purpose, I tried to capture my flow of thought.
- Why I started to be interested in user experience
- How my previous experiences show my preparation for the program
- What I want to learn and do in the future.
I concentrated on writing relatable stories to my program rather than putting every significant achievement.
Moreover, I wrote about my Women at Work project and volunteering at the YWCA Silicon Valley for the personal statement essay and the short answer essay. I already knew and liked that UC Berkeley values diversity, so I demonstrated that I share the same value. Overall, three essays go in the same direction. They all talk about improving accessibility for all.
When I was preparing for the applications, I took advantage of living near the schools. I sat in some classes, so I had a chance to talk to several current students. And I met some alumni in different events around the area. Therefore, I could get a clear idea about what to expect from the programs and reveal that in the essays.
I still remember when I got a call from the Berkeley School of Information. It was February 20th, 2020. My best friend, who was visiting me from Korea for two weeks, and I were face-chatting with our friend at Yale. I could not believe it until I got the actual acceptance e-mail, so I did not even tell my parents-in-law until receiving the e-mail.
There are so many people whom I want to thank. My husband especially went through everything with me and was incredibly supportive of whatever I do. I am glad that I can now share Cal spirit with him. And thank you, James, Juli, Mallory, Summer, and Soh, for helping me to write more fluent essays. And I appreciate everyone’s congratulations!
Under the pandemic situation, the school decided classes to be fully online, and many of my classmates deferred. And unfortunately, we cannot meet in person at least in one semester. I have not been feeling safe as a foreigner these days, but I realize the privilege of being in the States with a valid visa.
Now, I am excited and worried about starting the new phase of my life. I know it is not going to be easy, but I will do my best to have an amazing school life!