McNair Graduate School Retreat

“The students who are admitted and fully funded are the ones who apply.”

“What divides completers from non-completers is drive.  And the nature and quality of your relationship with your mentor is key.”

“Fake it until you make it.  Show up early and stay late.  Never quit in the first year.”

These are just a few of the many pearls of wisdom shared by graduate school admissions guru Don Asher (pictured below) at the Graduate School Retreat attended by six NMU McNair Scholars at the Chula Vista Resort in the Wisconsin Dells.


The group traveled to the Dells on Friday, September 30 and arrived in time for a buffet style dinner in the Grand Ballroom of the Chula Vista Resort.  Hundreds of McNair Scholars and Student Support Services students from 24 universities were in attendance, including UW Madison, UW Milwaukee, Michigan State University, Marquette University and the University of Delaware.

A graduate student panel of several students currently enrolled answered questions about their experiences in master’s and PhD programs as well as the process of getting there with funding.

Don Asher shared his expertise on matters ranging from how to craft a Statement of Purpose and other application considerations to how to select the members of your future dissertation committee.

Mr. Asher is quite an entertaining speaker, keeping listeners engaged by having them rehearse responses to possible future situations with the people sitting nearby:

“Dr. Wilson, I don’t think of you in that way!  Let’s keep it professional.”

“It’s been swell being your boyfriend these last three years.  Goodbye.”

Don Asher spoke about the pros and cons of taking time off before graduate school.  He said that the people most at risk by doing this are low income, first generation students who get distracted by life and its demands.  He recommended that students go with the momentum straight into grad school, while you are used to living simply and being broke.  Don’t say “I am tired and need a break” – instead, take four weeks off.  College students are young and resilient – after a few weeks off, they will be ready!

He talked about using online resources to find grad programs, but maintained that your research mentor and other members of your academic department are your best guides.

He talked about interviewing faculty members to see who might be willing and able to write your letters of recommendation, and the importance of thanking them with a warm and sincere note of appreciation and a small gift.  He said that these people deserve a full report in the spring about how things play out.  (Same for your McNair program advisors!)

Don Asher gave a lot of advice about how to go to graduate school for free.  He does NOT advise that students borrow money.  You want funding and support.

This is just a taste of what was discussed at this retreat.  NMU McNair Scholar and junior in Nursing Alysa Kilpela said “I had an amazing time!  Don Asher was informative, inspiring, funny, and just all around amazing.  He taught me that I have to stop self-selecting out and believe that I can do this.  I CAN make it to grad school and with a lot of determination and work, I will succeed.”

Andre Stringer, Pre-Law senior in Business, said “I really enjoyed the conference.  I learned a lot from Don Asher.  Although Don gave a lot of advice and direction, one of the most important things he gave me was confidence.  After attending the conference, I am confident that I will move forward with furthering my education.  I have a better understanding of what I need to do to get the ball rolling with my law school applications.  I would definitely recommend this conference.  Don said “Look for fit and match rather than location.”  This resonates with me and I will consider it when I start applying.  It was extremely rewarding and I hope McNair continues this trip in the future.”

Shelby Nguyen, sophomore Nursing major, writes that “Don Asher was an invigorating and enthusiastic man.  He made the frightening process of applying to graduate school seem more realistic, and he made it feel like going to graduate school is a goal that can be accomplished.  The McNair conference at Chula Vista was a great opportunity.”

Maggie Hartman, junior in Biology, appreciated the way that Don Asher gave a timeline for the application process which showed when applications should be complete, and how to go about getting funding.  “I am personally thankful I attended this retreat a full year out from my application process.  I was able to hear other student’s stories about the process and plan accordingly for next fall semester”,  Maggie writes.