Getting prepped for Prep? Here’s everything you need to know

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GPS Prep 2022

Staff experts share how summer Prep courses at GPS set students up for graduate program success

Many will soon be embarking on their graduate school journey at the UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy (GPS). 

And though many may be driven to solve some of the greatest challenges in public policy and international affairs, they may look at the quantitative focus of much of the coursework and feel a bit intimidated. 

Enter Prep, a series of elective courses, beginning in early August and ending before the start of fall term in September, designed to get all students on the same page and ready to leap into their graduate courses. 

“Prep is preparation and not an official class, so come in with your mind open and ready to learn,” said Nancy Gilson, director of GPS Student Affairs. “Make mistakes, discover what you do not know, accept the challenge, have a success or two.”

The first hurdle many students face, Gilson added, is overcoming the idea that you can’t excel in quantitative subjects.

“If you think you are not ‘good at math,’ you can still do just fine,” Gilson said. “The goal is to get you over the idea that you are not ‘good at math.’”

And though the courses may not appear on your transcript, your performance in them should be taken quite seriously, Gilson cautioned. 

“The instructors teaching Prep are the same GPS faculty who teach these classes in the fall — Prep is their first impression of you,” she said.

Gilson added that professors will encourage you to form study groups starting during Prep, which she said is essential to your success at GPS. And don’t be afraid to ask questions. 

“Raise your hand and ask questions, even if that means telling the instructor or TA that you are completely lost and do not know what question to ask,” Gilson said. “Your classmates will be grateful for your courage, and you will learn something.”

The first year of all graduate programs is difficult, requiring hard work, attention to detail and a lot of reading and analytical thinking. 

“It can feel like a grind, but it feels that way for everyone,” Gilson said. “The reward is the inevitability of the light bulb going off in your head.”

Career Orientation Program (COP) at Prep

It’s no secret that you’re seeking a graduate degree to advance your career to new heights. And from the outset, the Career Orientation Program (COP) during Prep, hosted by the Career and Professional Development Center team, helps you think through your potential career paths before you ever take your first class at GPS. 

“The Career Orientation Program at Prep is a six-week, in-person and online student experience filled with career resources, networking and personal brand development,” explained Laura Leach, senior career consultant at the GPS Career and Professional Development Center. 

COP provides a general map of your career journey at GPS, laying out the tools and real-life applications you need to be your best advocate for your career. This is a hands-on experience where you will learn the language of the job market. The tools available through the center eliminate confusion on drafting resumes, cover letters, thank you notes and outreach techniques like informational interviews, alumni support and more.

They also offer additional weekly touchpoints to encourage starting early with job search strategies for incoming international students and those interested in becoming U.S. government employees.

Leach compares COP to going to an amusement park with people from all over the world.

“Like choosing the rides you go on at an amusement park, you decide what interests you most, check the requirements, go on the adrenaline adventure, and then evaluate if it’s something you want to do again,” Leach explained. “Through all the ebbs and flows, we are here cheering you on and navigating where you need it.”

The Career and Professional Development Center offers a number of tips to maximize your COP experience.

  • Be ready to connect. COP fosters relationships with incoming students, alumni and staff. “We are intentional about breaking the daunting big room of people down to a digestible size by creating accessible small discussion groups,” Leach said. 
  • Expand your circle. “I encourage you to examine your friendships, assess your social and cultural blind spots,” Leach explained. “Graduate school is about connecting and reimagining who you are and what you can become.” Past attendees mentioned how much COP helped them build strong, long-lasting friendships in their cohort, Leach added. Over 50% of incoming students are international, meaning that the center combs through the cohort to develop intricate groups designed to cultivate stronger relationships.
  • Jot down all your questions — they will be answered. The team pulls out all the stops during COP and brings some GPS alumni back in person from all sectors for candid conversations. “You have a unique ability to learn from their victories and mistakes to quickly adapt experiences most important to your career goals,” Leach said. 
  • Quantification is not just for QM. Start thinking now about quantifying your life experience — whether on-campus leadership, internships or volunteering in your community, it all counts and equals noteworthy results.
  • Balance is key. Prep isn’t purely about the work; it’s also a time to explore the beautiful San Diego area. “We encourage you to ride the trolley and explore the city of San Diego,” Leach said. “Whether you are exploring the Gaslamp, Seaport Village, Balboa Park or walking along the coast of Pacific Beach, find your place for relaxation and know GPS Careers has you covered!”

This year, Prep begins Aug. 7 and continues through Sept. 14. Learn more on our website

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Virginia S. Watson is the Assistant Director of Communications for the School of Global Policy and Strategy. She has spent her entire career in editing, writing and design, both in industry and higher education. She holds a master's in technical and professional communication from Auburn University and a B.S. in journalism from Troy University.
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