Khortlan Patterson graduated from the University of Alabama in May 2016 with degrees in African American Studies and Religious Studies. As a student at Alabama, Khortlan was instrumental in desegregating the UA PanHellenic sororities and establishing the Intercultural Diversity Center. She is currently working on a book to encourage others to act as agents of social change and will pursue a Master’s in Theological Studies from Vanderbilt Divinity School next January.
You made it to your senior year in college! I know you picked up a few pounds over the years, but don’t worry; that weight will fall off in a few months time. I am writing you from the future to give you some general advice that might prove helpful to you in your search for that “What’s Next” step. Spoiler alert: You withdraw from Princeton Theological Seminary and transfer to Vanderbilt Divinity School.
- Ask Questions
As you begin to think about that “What’s Next” step, you should take the time to ask as many questions as you can about others’ next steps and career plans. Don’t hesitate to ask your professors, mentors, and friends how they got to where they are and what steps they took to lead them there. Pretend you’re an investigative journalist and dedicate serious time to your interviews. As you begin to get a feel of what others have done in the past, continuously ask yourself what your professional destination is and what steps are best to take in order to get there. Where do you want to work? What issues do you wish to address through your work? How can you best prepare yourself personally and professionally? (Maybe keep a journal or log of these personal questions and answers for future reference.)
- Consider a Gap Year
Over the summer, you will experience a loss in the family. Do not underestimate the time you will need to grieve your loss and rush into a program that you are not capable of devoting your time and energy to. Seriously consider taking some time between undergraduate and graduate school. Honestly, the time will help you to refocus your energy and strengthen your interests. I promise you won’t be perceived any less smart or capable for marching to the beat of your own drum. Plus, working an interim job can help you save up money and offer practical experiences.
- Forget Prestige and Look for Fit
I know two factors strongly influenced you choice to attend PTS: the scholarship they offered you and the look on your parents faces when you announced your acceptance. Stop comparing your unique path to those of your peers! Look past the prestige of the institution and thoroughly investigate the program you wish to pursue, the classes offered, and the professors who will be on campus during your studies. You also want to make sure that the school has ample opportunities for you to get out of your books and into the communities you wish to serve. Also, pay close attention to each institution’s mission and pedagogy to ensure they align with your personal and professional goals. Choose an institution that will support and encourage you as a woman of color.
- Look for Flexibility
It’s ok to change your degree program in grad school or tack on another in order to receive dual degrees. Make sure that the institution that you choose has ample opportunities for you to change your focus or approach it in your own unique way. Since you have interests in so many topics and are fond of finding links between differing topics, I strongly suggest that you find a program that allows you the flexibility of non-traditional scholarship.
While navigating through online virtual tours of institutional campuses is pretty cheap and convenient, you should really try and schedule a visit in person. Not visiting was probably one of the biggest things I regret in applying to grad schools. I thought since I would only be there for a Masters degree and not a Ph.D. I did not really need to visit: Wrong! You should plan a visit to talk with current students and students of color, schedule meetings with faculty and staff, get a feel of the campus culture and environment, and see what the surrounding area is like.
Above all, remember to enjoy yourself and listen to your heart. You’re the one who must live with your decisions. Learn. Love. Inspire.