By Stephanie Sunderlin

MS in Health Promotions Management, American University

Sunderlin 3It can be a difficult decision to choose the University where you plan to pursue your graduate studies. After spending four (+) years at an undergraduate institution and possibly a few (or many) years working, you are electing to invest significant time, resources, money, and effort to further your education and personal /professional growth. I understand that it’s a big deal!

When I worked as a tour guide at my undergraduate institution, I used to tell prospective students that they should try imagining themselves at the University… “picture yourself on campus, at the library, in class, grabbing a bite to eat. If you can picture yourself here, it’s probably the right choice for you.” Granted, graduate school is a much different experience. You are arguably more focused on your area of study and you are probably juggling a job, rent, even a family…  There are many important variables to consider including the quality of the program, financial assistance, academic resources, class offerings, etc.

However, the location of your school and your experience outside of the classroom should not be overlooked!

I moved from a suburban neighborhood in New York to pursue my graduate education in Washington, D.C. I am not a city person and I have to admit I was a little nervous about finding housing, navigating D.C., and thriving in a new place. I’ve come to learn that D.C. is the perfect combination of greenery and relaxed living combined with the opportunities and activity of a big city.  It is a mecca for opportunities to pursue professional growth with so many government agencies, large companies, and conferences located in the surrounding area. The city is also home to sprawling parks, walking/biking trails, and other outdoor activities. Further, if you love food, there are TONS of options everywhere you look and almost every culture is represented. I have tried so many new foods in the last year; it’s been a delicious journey!

American University is nestled close to the northwestern border of Washington, D.C. It has a large grassy quad in the center of its main campus (which the library looks out over) and there are trees everywhere! Fun fact: the campus is classified as a National Arboretum.  Neighborhoods surround the University with a metro stop and a more commercial area only two miles away. Getting to campus (via the FREE shuttle from Tenleytown metro) and traveling into the heart of D.C. is super easy via bus, metrorail, bike, or car.

My fellow graduate ambassador mentioned the empty pockets of a typical graduate student. I won’t lie to you — D.C. can be an expensive place to live, but students seek housing a little farther up the red line in Maryland to gain some reprieve, bunk up with roommates, or find basement apartments in homes to help mitigate costs. Although you will be studying A LOT, it is very important to maintain a work-life balance.

There are SO many free activities in the D.C. area for you to be entertained and grow as an individual. The Smithsonian Museums along the National Mall, historical monuments, the National Zoo, Jazz events in the summer, etc. are just a few that I have visited. I have also attended several conferences and found opportunities for professional development.  My personal experiences (as a Health Promotion Management student) include attending a conference at the Institute of Medicine regarding standardization of Nutrition education for schools across the country and a conference dedicated to furthering physical activity participation for youth. My peer and I were also able to present research from a grant we worked on with an AU professor at a local conference held by the American Society of Nutrition. I even attended a lunch briefing on Capitol Hill discussing the implications of obesity on eligibility for the military.

Graduate school is an exciting step! Take advantage of all American University has to offer including the location and opportunities of D.C. and the surrounding region. Also, look outside your department on campus to optimize your experience. Attend events, visit the career center, work with people in other departments, enjoy the library’s view, etc. This is a place to a get a great education and so much more.

Come check it out for yourself. Reach out to your department of interest to schedule an informational interview and tour the campus. There is also a Graduate Studies Day in March for the College of Arts and Sciences. It’s a great opportunity to learn more about campus offerings, resources, the application process, and to visit!

So, tell me, where do you picture yourself?