MMFPN Graduate Bootcamp Spotlight & Application Series: Thomas Seweid-DeAngelis

Each year, Woodrow Wilson hosts two-day Graduate School Bootcamps in two of the four main Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship (MMUF) regions.  The event provides Fellows with in-depth, individualized feedback on their graduate school applications and helps inform their program choices. The Mellon Mays Fellows Professional Network (MMFPN), based at WW and charged with supporting MMUF Fellows interested in graduate school, organizes these Bootcamps.

Thomas Seweid-DeAngelis (Brooklyn College/CUNY ’17), who is currently enrolled in the American Studies Ph.D. program at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, recently reflected on his own graduate application process and highlighted his main takeaways from the MMFPN Chicago Graduate School Bootcamp he attended last summer.

Framing Your Statement of Purpose at Bootcamp

Before attending the MMFPN Graduate School Bootcamp, Thomas had applied to Ph.D. programs “without much success.” Coming off that experience, Thomas explains what he got out of the bootcamp:

The MMFPN Bootcamp really helped me better understand the graduate school application process. During the first day of lectures and workshops, I quickly realized what I did wrong on my applications and how I can do better the next time around. I was applying to the wrong programs. I majored in sociology while at Brooklyn College and I applied mostly to sociology programs when I was pretty sure I wanted to be in a Black studies or American studies Ph.D. program. Looking back at my application, I realized that this made me look as if I was all over the place. I looked like someone who was not a sociologist applying to sociology programs. The workshop made me think about what type of graduate program was best for me.

Moreover, after getting a better sense of “fit,” Bootcamp helped Thomas reframe his approach to the always challenging task of writing one’s statement of purpose. “Working with the writing instructors at the Bootcamp also allowed me to figure out which experiences, research, and accolades were best to write about in my statement of purpose and how to write about them in a way that showed how they contributed to my formation as a scholar,” he says. Thanks to the bootcamp, Thomas was able to break down the components of the graduate applications—especially the statement of purpose—in a way that made it much easier to write:  “It’s a unique piece of writing that [must] be short [yet] contain the most important things about your academic career and life. The workshops in the Bootcamp helped me frame my ideas so that I could translate them from my head to my statement of purpose.”

Bootcamp also offered Thomas  a chance to reconnect: “I loved meeting other Mellons and seeing some old friends. Overall it was a great time!”

Determining Graduate Program Fit

“Figuring out which graduate programs to apply to can be very nerve racking,” says Thomas.“Even narrowing down which discipline you want to apply to can be tricky.” Having learned from his first graduate application experience, Thomas began the process again by conducting research into graduate schools: “For me, I thought about which disciplines and schools are producing the type of scholarly work that I enjoy reading and would like to see myself doing. Most of the scholarship I enjoyed was coming out of Black studies and American studies.” Once he identified the area he wanted to focus in, Thomas narrowed down the programs he would apply to:

Once I knew that I wanted to apply to Black studies and American studies Ph.D. programs, I asked friends, professors, and colleagues for their opinions on different programs in these disciplines. Then I researched the faculty at each of these programs to see if there were any of them I would be interested in studying with. I started out with a list of 20 schools and ended up applying to nine schools.

Thomas also took personal matters into consideration while applying. “Everyone has different non-academic commitments that may determine where they can feasibly go to school,” he says. “My wife, Sara, also applied to graduate school so we agreed to only apply to the same schools or to schools in cities with multiple schools like LA, NYC, and the Bay Area. Thankfully we were both admitted to the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities!”

If accepted to multiple programs, Thomas suggests negotiating for additional funding:

I was offered a stronger funding package at another graduate program than what I was initially offered by the program I am in now. I wrote an email to the director of graduate studies (DGS) explaining my situation. I made it clear that I wanted to attend UMN, but I needed more funding. The DGS looked into it and was able to offer me a better package. If you were accepted in the first place, your DGS wants you to join their graduate program. Keep this in mind and don’t be afraid to leverage one offer for another if will be the difference between you attending or not.

Do Not Rush the Application Process and Reapply if Necessary

While many view a gap year as a potential challenge to the graduate application process, a gap year could afford you the time to evaluate your options.  Thomas’ advice for those interested in applying to graduate school to take their time and to not get discouraged. “””If you don’t get into any schools you really want to be at and you have the means to apply again, then do it. I am much happier having applied a second time around and ended up in a graduate program that I feel is a great place for me to do my work.”

Thomas is excited to hone his writing skills and present at more conferences as a graduate student. “I am really looking forward to digging into my research for the next few years as well.”

MMFPN continues to provide and expand its graduate application resources to help Fellows be strategic when applying for the first time, including help with specific aspects of the application such as your statement of purpose.  If you are a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow who recently graduated and is interested in attending a MMFPN Graduate School Bootcamp,  email Ritu Mukherjee for more information and be sure to follow MMFPN on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.


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