Members of Gannon University’s Student Support Services (SSS) Trio spent spring break learning, exploring and building professional networks during the annual graduate school visit trip. The trip aimed to provide students with practical insights into the crucial next phase of academic life and fostering an environment of learning, collaboration and professional development. This immersive trip not only provided a firsthand look into prestigious institutions like UNC Chapel Hill and Duke University but also delved into exploring, bonding and navigating the graduate school application process in general.

I had an opportunity to join this group and here are a few highlights from the trip:

  • First, the “Grad School Application Process” presentation introduced the main question admission officers want the candidates to address in their personal statements:  “Why now, why this program, and why us?” With this question students were encouraged to reflect on their individual aspirations and articulate how a specific degree would contribute to their life goals. Through guided discussions, we explored the art of constructing effective personal statements, prompting thoughtful reflections on academic aspirations and the relevance of a chosen program to individual life goals.

  • Learning from failures: Students learned how to avoid internalizing failure but instead use it as a catalyst for growth. Navigating the challenging application process demands resilience, and the participants were reminded that rejection is merely a detour, not a roadblock. Conversations revolved around embracing rejection as a learning opportunity, acknowledging setbacks as integral to the journey, and emerging stronger from the experience. Participants were reminded that the journey doesn’t end with a rejection letter; instead, it marks the beginning of a transformative process with major lessons that are transferable in the next application.

  • Insights from Faculty Panels and Current Students: Following a presentation on crafting a strong graduate school application, students engaged with faculty panels, to learn more about what distinguishes a successful application and provided clarity on the expectations of prestigious graduate programs. Furthermore, participants had an opportunity to engage with current graduate students in panel discussions, which provided participants with firsthand insights into the challenges and rewards of pursuing a graduate degree while equipping them with a holistic perspective on the academic and social aspects of life in advanced education. We concluded the day by taking campus tours and explore works of different labs and the student life on both campuses –UNC Chapel hill and Duke University.

  • A New beginning in personal and academic transformation: As the program concluded, our host at Duke university J. Alan Kendrick, Ph.D., reminded participants that the journey did not end with a visit to grad schools; rather, it marked a new beginning. The beginning of personal and academic transformation. Using a poignant analogy, the participants were encouraged to view themselves as inherently valuable, much like a $20 bill. Despite external challenges such as rejection letters or tough classes, the reminder echoed: You still hold immense value. No matter how the $20 bill is folded it still holds its intricate value; the same theory applies to humans where the folding represents outside events like rejections, taking a tough class or daily obstacles. Even in the face of adversity during college applications, our intrinsic value and potential remain constant, unaltered by external obstacles.

The trip was more than an educational exploration, it was also an opportunity for participants to build community and develop leadership skills. Before the trip came to an end, the group spent the evening at a local escape room in North Carolina, where students split into two groups with their accompaniers to successfully escape the kidnapped and zombie apocalypse rooms. This activity emphasized the importance of teamwork and collaboration, which are both crucial skills for a successful college student.

This annual graduate school visit offered by SSS Trio not only broadens participants’ perspective on potential graduate programs, but it also provides insights into campus life and culture.

At Gannon university, the Gannon SSS Trio is an organization whose mission is to support students with services, including academic guidance, leadership development and effective communication among others. These experiences empower students to navigate their academic futures with confidence.

To learn more about Gannon’s SSS Trio and the services they offer, you can visit their EngageU Page or reach out to Dennis Williams at