4 things I wish I’d known about preparing for graduate school in the U.S. by Sukky Yan

by Interaction Design April 15, 2022
Installation art piece of person laying on inflated clear pillows. Installation art piece of person laying on inflated clear pillows.

Art by Ed Jansen <Life>

As an “older” female graduating from non-design majors in China who has gapped for four years, I am fortunate to be able to become an SVA’s interaction design graduate student. Half a semester has passed, and today I want to sit down and talk about my proud achievements and regretted decisions along the way.

Regarding the choice and planning of studying abroad, I will start from four chapters: confusion and beginningtimelinemajor and school selectionregret and pride.

Confusion and beginning

First of all, inspect why you want to study abroad? Is it because you want to pursue your graduate studies rising from your academic spirit, or you don’t want to step into work as soon as you graduate? Is it because in the era of commercialization of education, undergraduate degrees are becoming more and more worthless and need to be gilded, or is it simply because you want to live in a different environment?

Take me as an example. My reasons are manifold. Different from the experience of most domestic students who continue to study after graduation, but after a few years working experience, I’ve gained two reflections:

1. The confusion of values. I’m not interested in many things - I’m not happy with earning money, and can’t be satisfied with spending money. Interpersonal communication also makes me tired. I’ve come to realize that my store of knowledge and vision is no longer able to support my current life. I wanted to escape.

2. Re-selection of career. After graduating, I ran my photography studio and made some achievements. However, my enthusiasm to this technology cannot be my whole-life career path. I feel like I’m still eager to absorb knowledge. The ancients were all learned and talented. Leonardo was a painter, draftsman, engineer, scientist, theorist, sculptor, and architect. So I asked - why can’t I?

Sociologist Émile Durkheim has proposed mechanical and organic solidarity. The society we live in now belongs to the latter, with a clear division of labor and a social structure that regulates the relationship between different groups and individuals. Therefore, education has also become a sub-discipline. Each person learns a small amount of knowledge and then serves society. Although I am in such a society, I am still young and have more choices.

When I can’t figure out many things, that’s when I need to keep studying. Studying can take many forms, buy a good book to read or continue your studies on a diploma. I think both are ways to enrich your spiritual world. Considering my situation, I decided to study abroad for postgraduate study.

So you need to know what you want is the most important thing. It is usual for students who are pushed by the high school entrance examination and the college entrance examination to be confused after graduation or even working for a few years. Unfortunately, the school does not teach us how to deal with and solve them. Such confusion.

If you’re lucky, it’s best to have parents in the family who teach you. But if not, here’s a chicken soup method:
Take a paper and write your ten favorite things to do and your ten least favorite things to do on a piece of paper. It can be as big as traveling the world or as small as watching videos from bloggers. Then circle the three things you think are the most important out of the ten favorite things, and then rank them in order of achievability. The same goes for dislikes. So big that you don’t like your current company leadership, then also sort by achievability. For example, can you open up your leadership?
Then you know what you want.

After you have made it clear that reading is the path you want to go, consider the time cost, and your financial ability. In fact, for going abroad, a significant threshold is money. Of course, if you can support your life financially independently, you have the chance to make such a choice. How can I make money so I can study for myself? 

Overhead photo of colored chalk text on sidewalk with visible feet wearing black shoes. Text reads: It's Just Love. Photo is juxtaposed NYC skyline with red photo filter applied. Overhead photo of colored chalk text on sidewalk with visible feet wearing black shoes. Text reads: It's Just Love. Photo is juxtaposed NYC skyline with red photo filter applied.

My street snap for NYC

Timeline

I chose to study in the U.S. In terms of funding and the deadline for school applications, my schedule was relatively tight. The U.K. and Europe are a bit loose. The deadline for studying in the U.S. is usually from November to early January. The U.K. will be later. When you decide to study abroad, you need to start preparing for language scores, TOEFL or IELTS, at least half a year prior. For art schools, you also need to prepare a portfolio which is critical.

Majors and School Choice

Personally, I have always believed that there are significant differences between domestic and foreign education systems, but there are also many similarities. For example, foreign countries pay more attention to the ability of individuals in many aspects, rather than only focusing on academic performance. Of course, if you are skilled in one part, for example, you are a particular student in the Math Olympiad class or a long-distance runner, then you can have an excellent educational growth path because every country prefers to support technical talents.
Therefore, regarding the choice of majors and schools, you first need to understand your strengths and weaknesses. My undergraduate background was in Accounting, and the my start up business — photography has nothing to do with my current major —interaction design, either. But choosing SVA and interaction design was a decision I made after careful consideration. Because I am well aware that, according to the trend of society, the career of the interaction designer is indispensable, and I have a strong interest in design and art and the development of logical thinking. Thus, after the comprehensive examination, I confirmed that interaction design is the career direction I want to pursue, and SVA is an ecological pool that can help me grow and progress. This is how I get here.

Pride and Regret

Along the way, pride and regret coexisted, and I crawled forward while gaining a sense of accomplishment and being constantly overwhelmed by pressure. Those days of getting up early and late in the library with books, those days of watching Modern Family laughing while eating, those days of making choices after receiving five offers. I look back proudly and think about the past. It was regret that made me grow, and pride brought me here. Speaking out about your gains and losses is also a way to improve yourself.
I am proud that I have passed 100+ in the TOEFL test without taking the class; I am pleased to have learned from 0 and built my portfolio website. I regret that I didn’t develop a healthy mentality to accept setbacks and failures; I regret that I was too careful to craft the look of my work and website instead of thinking logic.

Finally, no matter what choice you’ve ever made, accept it accept yourself. Be confident, take action. All roads lead to Rome ;)