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What's Next?

USC College doctoral student Shayna Kessel helps undergrads make the right choices about grad school.

What's Next?

For an undergrad, the only thing scarier than being unprepared for finals is being unprepared for the future.

But as graduation draws near, many students find themselves unsure of what step to take next, and unfortunately cramming is no longer an option.

“Most of them have been students since they were 5 years old,” said Shayna Kessel, pre-graduate advisor for USC College. “To all of a sudden not be a student anymore is terrifying.”

Kessel, a doctoral student in the College’s English department, was hired to help undergraduates make critical decisions about how to proceed in their academic careers. That could mean graduate school, but it could also mean taking time away from academe and securing a job in a field of interest, or as Kessel put it, “having an adventure.” Either way, her job is to help students figure out what is right for them.

For those ready to move on to advanced studies, Kessel emphasized the importance of the student having a firm knowledge regarding what aspects of a field he or she wants to study.

“Grad school is about having specific academic interests,” Kessel said. “You have to know what about [your field] you love studying, and why you want to continue studying it.”

If a student knows exactly what degree he or she wishes to pursue, Kessel can help maneuver through the application process, determine what type of “intellectual community” would be the best fit, and fine tune the personal statement, an imperative aspect of the application.

“Shayna knew a lot about the schools,” said Kaitlyn Thornton, a 2008 USC graduate in film critical studies and philosophy. “She really helped me with the essays, especially in crafting them for particular programs.”

Thornton found Kessel to be an excellent resource during a time when the future seemed overwhelming.

“She helped me a ton just by giving me peace of mind and some perspective,” Thornton said. “She’s great. She will point you in a direction, and sometimes that’s all you need.”

Thornton knew that grad school was in her future, and with hard work — and Kessel’s guidance — she was accepted into New York University’s film school.

While many students like Thornton enter Kessel’s office fully prepared to continue their academic careers, others have one slight obstacle in their way: They are interested in everything.

Kessel recommends that those students explore their interests further by test-driving jobs and internships, traveling, joining the Peace Corps or Teach for America, or even working on an organic dairy farm.

“You will not forget how to be a student,” Kessel said, addressing a major concern of many of the students she sees. “If you take some time off, what you want to study becomes clearer. You will bring a totally different experience to grad school.”

Students interested in meeting with Kessel can schedule an appointment by e-mailing Also, Kessel recommends checking out the USC College pre-graduate Web site: