Written by Justin Pardo

I have always been fond of the Earth and its many unanswered questions. Thus, after series of general education courses, I decided to major in geography at California State University, Northridge. While the geography major provided a broad understanding of the environment and how humans play a role in it, I decided to declare a geology minor in my senior year, since I wanted to delve further into understanding the Earth’s structure and processes. This led to one of my geology professors telling me about an internship with Blueprint Earth.

An exciting research experience: Identifying minerals in the basalt with Blueprint Earth. 

An exciting research
experience: Identifying minerals in the basalt with Blueprint Earth. 

Working with BE in the Mojave Desert provided a real hands-on experience of what geologists do in the field, and it was a turning point, along with my geology minor, in leading to my desire to pursue a master’s degree in geology.

Because I didn't major in geology, I realized that I would need to find a graduate school that would accept me conditionally, since I was lacking the advanced required core classes of calculus, chemistry, and physics. I also wanted to find an adviser who could help me pursue my research interests, find funding sources, and help me fulfill the gaps in my coursework while working on my master’s. With those needs in mind, I applied to five universities—four for geology and one for geography.

The two most stressful parts of the application process were taking the GRE and finding an adviser. The GRE is similar to the SAT but ten times worse! I recommend studying more than one month in advance to obtain the highest score possible. It is a tedious four-hour exam comprising two essays, difficult English composition and vocabulary sections, and a series of college algebra and geometry math sections. The weight that your GRE score carries ultimately varies by school, and who your adviser is also influences your acceptance.

Thus, finding the right adviser to work with is crucial. As we all know, professors are very busy with their classes, research projects, and their personal lives. If you want to work with someone in particular, the preferred contact method is typically email. I don’t advise sending a potential adviser a long email. Approach a prospective adviser in a clear, professional, and concise manner. Explain who you are, why you want to work with them, and your goals for earning your master’s degree. Attach your curriculum vitae and offer an opportunity for further discussion whenever the professor is available.

Another application component is your personal statement—a 500-1,000-word document. This should be the most fun and creative part of your application. You have the chance to explain who you are to the graduate committee. This is where you talk about your passion for your field, what led you to it, what you plan to do with a master’s degree, any hardships you’ve overcome, who you want to work with and why, and how you would be a benefit to their department and university.

What can help your application stand out among the hundreds they receive are your recommendations from people who have influenced your decision to pursue higher education. For example, I mentioned how my BE experience fueled my desire to apply to geology programs. Luckily, BE founder Jess Pelaéz was willing to be my recommender.

Waiting a couple of months after submitting my applications was stressful. So far I have received two acceptances and one decline. Chico State approved me for its hydrogeology/hydrology program and CSU Northridge approved me for its fluvial and arid geomorphology program. After discussing my options with my potential advisers, I have decided to pursue my master’s in fluvial geomorphology at CSU Northridge.

Through this journey I’ve learned how instrumental your adviser is to this process. Advisers will be assisting in you in your research and helping you learn about funding, as well as serving as your greatest resource for information. They will help you pursue doctoral studies if you choose, and I advise that you consider pursuing a doctorate at a different school than your undergraduate school to broaden your experience.

Blueprint Earth and CSU Northridge’s geology and geography departments were instrumental in guiding me on this new journey. I am excited about the path that I’ve chosen to pursue.

Read more about Justin's Blueprint Earth experience in Five-Minute Field Notes: January Volunteers.

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