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The Penn First Graduate Association held a panel for FGLI undergrads looking to apply to graduate schools. Credit: Ilana Wurman

The Penn First Graduate Association held a panel for first-generation low-income undergraduate students looking to apply to graduate schools. The panelists, who are current FGLI graduate students, answered student questions about the difficulties of finding housing and financial help as a graduate student. 

The panel, which took place on Oct. 17, consisted of nine master's and Ph.D. students in a range of different fields, including social sciences, engineering, business, and law. The graduate students took questions from the audience on how to ask for letters of recommendations, find financial aid for graduate school, and find sponsored housing.

Students gave advice about finding fee waivers and scholarships at graduate schools. 

“Just email the school and ask, like, 'Do you have any fee waivers [for standardized testing]?,'" said Cell and Molecular Biology Ph.D. candidate Kevin Alicea-Torres. "And maybe they have [them]: Maybe it’s not clearly written on the website, but by asking you might find that they do have them.” 

Education Ph.D. candidate Karla Venegas recommended speaking to graduate students to ask about the difficulty of applying for funding, but cautioned students on the importance of getting funding. 

"Also, not to be pessimistic, but think about the job prospect of that field," Venegas said. "If one program is offering you full tuition coverage and the other is not giving you too much funding, then you need to actually sit down and figure out what is the best for you moving forward."

The graduate students also gave advice that applies to all undergraduates applying to graduate schools, such as talking to past test-takers to discover short cuts to taking exams.

“I think what I realized that for the GRE and the GMAT, if you take sort of the ordinary approach to solving a lot of the math problems, it’s gonna take you a long time, whereas there are short cuts to almost every mathematical problem," Management Ph.D. candidate McKenzie Preston said. 

An organizer of the event said the organization is trying to establish a platform for students to share experiences and overcome difficulties with collective wisdom. 

“We all have similar experiences with graduate schools and preparing to go to graduate schools,” said Katelyn Hearfield, the chair of undergraduate relations, social events and social media of the Penn First Graduate Association. "We are putting together more events like this. We are trying to keep our constituents of various funding opportunities, fellowships, and resources. We really just want to be the touchstone for people who come from the first-generation low-income background.” 

College senior Michael John expressed that the panel was very helpful in that it connects to the real challenges that students will face.

“There was even advice in terms of how to apply fee waivers for graduate schools, how to secure funding, how to live and secure housing, so I think it was very practical,” said John.

Eklovya Jain, a panelist and graduate student at Penn's Graduate School of Education, said that he volunteered to share his experience with the audience because he believed he could provide effective guidance to them.

He said he was only able to go to GSE because someone else shared their experience of coming to Penn on a scholarship with him, and now he wants to help other students in the same way. 

“A right kind of advice and a right kind of direction can make a lot of change to one’s life," Jain said.