Higher Education & Student Affairs

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Choosing a Graduate Program

Written by Sarah Madsen, 1st Year HESA Student 

Choosing a Graduate Program 

At this point in your student affairs journey, you’ve accomplished so much, from researching graduate programs and sending in applications to visiting campuses and interviewing for apprenticeships. This process is time-consuming and intense, but completely worth it in the end when you enroll in a program that fits your educational, vocational, and relational needs! Personally, my graduate school decision process was lengthy. My strengths include learner and intellection, so I spent countless hours learning about the schools from which I had received acceptance letters and thinking about what my life would look like at those schools. As you enter into your own decision-making process, here are some topics to intentionally think about and discuss that may aid in your discernment.


Where is your potential institution located? How will this location affect you? You will be living on or near your campus for nearly two years, so make sure your new city can serve your interests and needs! Moving from Malibu to Waco was a big transition for me, but I love everything Waco (and Texas!) has to offer, like a variety of shops and restaurants, major highways and airports that make travel easy, and an inexpensive cost of living.


Mural in downtown Waco 

Cost of the Program

Graduate school can be a large financial investment, so consider how your potential institution is investing in you. At Baylor, the HESA tuition is fully covered and we receive a bi-weekly stipend. Personally, this investment was a deciding factor in my decision to attend Baylor – I couldn’t pass on an institution that was so invested in my graduate education.

Academic Rigor

What do the programs you are considering focus on academically? Baylor’s curriculum emphasizes student development, administrative theory, and faith integration, so I know I am receiving a holistic, well-rounded education through the HESA program. In thinking about program curricula, you may also consider academic standards, comprehensive exams, and required program units.

Apprenticeships and Practicums

Apprenticeships can be a major part of your graduate education, as they provide practical work experience, afford mentorship and networking opportunities, and shape your vocation. At Baylor, all HESA students complete a 22-month apprenticeship with a department on campus. In my apprenticeship with the department of Wellness, I have the opportunity to plan campus-wide events, work with student leaders, and complete assessment projects – all valuable experiences that influence my studies and my calling.

In addition to apprenticeships, consider the opportunities you may have to complete practicums within other departments at your future institution. Practicums also provide influential experiences and connections, thus adding to your overall graduate education. At Baylor, HESA students have the opportunity to tailor any number of practicums to fit their educational or vocational goals.


How many students attend your potential institution? How many students will be in your classes? Is the program a cohort model? Reflection on your personal interests, learning style, and relational needs may help you select a program that serves you best. I previously attended Pepperdine University – a school of 5,000 students – so I was excited to experience Baylor, which boasts more than 16,000 students. I love going to football games, partaking in campus traditions like Christmas on Fifth, and getting to know students from all walks of life, so Baylor is the perfect size for me.

I also truly enjoy learning alongside my cohort. The cohort model encourages community and dialogue, and gives Baylor HESA students the opportunity to share their past and current experiences with their peers on a weekly basis. Most of my favorite Waco memories from the past year include my cohort!


Cohort Christmas mug exchange 

Thesis 0r Capstone

In the final year of your graduate program, you will either complete a thesis or capstone course. At Baylor, the choice is yours. I personally appreciate this level of customization within the HESA program, since I can tailor my educational experience to fit my academic and vocational goals. In addition to completing a thesis or capstone course in your final semester, Baylor HESA students travel to the NASPA Annual Conference – which will be celebrating its 100th Anniversary in 2018 in Philadelphia. These experiences prepare students for their futures as scholar-practitioners, so be sure to consider what your future program offers.

Faith and Learning

How does your potential institution integrate faith and learning? At Baylor, the Christian faith is interwoven in classes, apprenticeships, and daily experiences. I appreciate this integration, as it allows me to learn and grow as a whole person – not just as a student – in a supportive, caring environment. Baylor’s Christian character was another deciding factor for me when selecting a graduate program, and I am thankful to study at an institution that values both faith and academics.


Discernment is not always a simple process, but intentional thought and discussion can aid in your decision-making. Over the next few weeks, I pray you have the time and strength to carefully consider your future as a graduate student. I also pray peace and affirmation over your decision, whatever that may be.

Please reach out to a current HESA student or faculty member should you have any questions in the coming days. We are more than happy to help in any way that we can!


Written by Sarah Madsen, 1st Year HESA Student 


sarah_madsen • March 31, 2016

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