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Preparing for Grad School in Social Impact: Key Tips & Hacks

Craig Zelizer

September 19, 2023

this blog was developed by Dr. Catalina Rojas & Dr. Craig Zelizer with the assistance of ChatGpt.


Embarking on the journey to grad school is more than just an academic endeavor; it's a commitment to creating meaningful change in the world. Whether you're interested in international development, social entrepreneurship, or other areas of social impact, this blog post will guide you through essential steps to prepare for a grad school experience that aligns with your mission.

1. Is Grad School the Right Choice for You?

  • Weigh the Benefits and Costs: Grad school is a significant investment of both time and money. Consider the ROI in terms of skills gained, network expansion, and career advancement. If you're considering a PhD check out this previous blog To Phd or not Phd
  • Market Trends: Research the demand for professionals in your chosen field of social impact. Are there opportunities that align with your goals?
  • Alternatives: Are there other pathways to achieve your goals, such as certifications, workshops, or direct experience?
  • Take Your Time: This is a major life decision. Don't rush it; make sure you're making the best choice for your career and personal development.

2. Funding Your Grad School Journey

  • Internal Fellowship Programs: Many universities and programs offer their own fellowships. Research these opportunities as part of your application process. A few rare programs offer full funding to almost all students, such as the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame (note they do advertise on PCDN most years). Another university that has strong funding is Central European University.
  • Global Fellowship Programs: Consider prestigious global fellowships like Fulbright, Rotary Fellowships (note Rotary does recruit on PCDN most years), Schwarzman Scholars.
  • Country-Specific Funding: Programs like DAAD for Germany and Chevening for the UK offer country-specific scholarships.
  • Student Loans: If you opt for student loans, be sure to understand the long-term costs and how they will affect your career and life choices.

3. Choosing the Right Program for Social Impact:

  • Know Your Goals: Are you looking to drive change on a global scale, influence policy, or perhaps start your own social enterprise? Your goals will guide your program choice.
  • Training and Skills: Will the program equip you with the necessary skills to make a social impact? Look carefully at the courses that are offered in any given program, do they provide the right combination of skills, learning and connections?
  • Alumni: Ask for alumni employment statistics and explore LinkedIn to see where alumni land jobs.
  • Career Services and Alumni: Evaluate the strength of the program's career center and services, as well as the level of alumni engagement. Not all programs around the world offer career services and if a preferred program doesn't provide it doesn't mean you shouldn't attend, just consider how you will advance your career. In the end it is your responsibility to land a job, but strong career services and alumni engagement can make a huge difference.
  • Faculty Insights: Investigate whether the faculty are engaged in cutting-edge research and practice in areas that interest you. Are they accessible for mentorship and guidance? Consider the diversity of the faculty in terms of expertise, identity, and sectoral focus for a richer educational experience.
  • Research Impactful Programs: For social impact, consider platforms like PCDN.global, Profellow, ASPIA, Study Portals, and Net Impact.

4. Application Strategy

  • Prepare Early: A compelling application can be your ticket to a program that aligns with your social impact goals.
  • Statement of Purpose: This is your chance to showcase your commitment to making a difference.
  • Strong Letters of Recommendation: Choose referees who can speak to your passion for social impact and your potential to succeed in the field.
  • Apply to Multiple Programs: We recommend considering applying to at least 5-10 programs (but first make sure you're serious about grad school and also that your application materials are strong) to increase your chances of getting in and possibly securing funding.

5. Academic Preparation

  • Brush Up on Key Skills: Depending on your field, you may need to strengthen your skills in areas such as writing, statistics, or specific software.
  • Build a Reading Habit: Grad school involves extensive reading, especially in social impact literature.

6. Personal and Professional Development

  • Network: Attend industry events and connect with professionals in your field. Platforms like LinkedIn can be powerful tools. A key tip, use LinkedIn to explore profiles of people working in the sector you're interested in to gain insights into potential career paths.

7. Moving and Housing

  • Consider Location: If you need to relocate, consider the cost of living and lifestyle in your new city.
  • Seek Affordable Housing: Start exploring early the cost of housing and what are the best options for students. Some programs may offer housing, but for most grad programs you will need to use your ingenuity and find roommates (your program coordinator, student groups and other platforms can be great places to find opps)


Preparing for grad school is a multifaceted process that requires planning, dedication, and strategic execution. By following the tips and hacks outlined above, prospective students can navigate this exciting journey with confidence and clarity.

Call to Action:

Are you considering grad school? Join our community at PCDN.global for more insights and support, in particular our Career Campus is Awesome.

What's your top concern about preparing for grad school?

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