So maybe I won’t be going to grad school…

February 22, 2007

I haven’t updated in forever due to the most evil things I have ever encountered, grad school applications. I got them all in before the deadlines and thought that I would get in to at least a couple of schools. Apparently I was incredibly naive about the American grad school admissions process. Here is what I have learned in the last few months:

1. Grad School Admissions are completely RANDOM!
When a school receives over 300 applications (about normal for my field) and then only accept 18 people it has got to be random. Obviously most will have great GRE scores and amazing GPAs and stellar LOR. Then you have those that have research interests that “fit” well with the faculty of the department. Since applicants don’t usually apply to schools where they don’t “fit” then you have far too many applicants for very few spots. There will be those spectacular applicants who automatically get in, then you have everyone else. This is the point at which the admissions are random. If only I had known.

2. Grad Schools have hidden wait lists
I was completely unaware of this practice until I found out on a grad school forum. Apparently some schools admit their top choices and then hold onto all the other applications (except some of the outright rejections) and as the admits send in rejections of offers the schools will admit more people. This means that people are left waiting at the mercy of the other applicants to reject the offers in a timely manner. I have heard that the polite thing to do is once you have received 2 offers of admission, reject the offer you don’t want and continue doing so until you hear from all of the schools. This makes sense because if you aren’t willing to accept then you should be courteous to the department and the other applicants waiting by turning down the offer. Unfortunately, some people will get admitted to several schools, but keep them all until the deadline. Thus, screwing over all the people waiting (because there is a uniform deadline of acceptance).

3. Some schools won’t notify rejections until weeks after the acceptances.
This is distinct from the unofficial wait lists. Since there are many more rejections than acceptances, schools will send out acceptances fairly early on and then take their time sending out rejection letters. This causes panic among the other applicants who have not heard by the time the first acceptance is posted on one of the many grad school acceptance tracking websites. Flurries of posts appear on forums and livejournal communities asking if anyone knows anything. Probable rejection is assumed by many because the exact practices of each department is usually unknown.

4. Schools accept in waves
Grad schools will accept students in groups, with weeks between the groups. This is incredibly nerve-wracking due to practice 3. Since the admissions process varies significantly between schools and even departments, students are unsure whether to categorize silence as rejection, unofficial wait list status, or possible furture acceptance.

5. The application deadline in no way corresponds to the date of notification.
As I have learned from both my experience and from others is that you cannot predict when you will hear from schools based on their deadline. The first school I heard from was the first I applied to, but the next notification was from a school with a deadline a month later (and was received 2 days after the first notification). One poster in an online community said that he might have to wait 8 MONTHS to hear from one school he applied to. One would think that in less than half that period of time they could evaluate applications and send notifications.

6. You cannot always trust online postings of acceptances
Many prospective grad students rely on websites such as Yuster, Grad Cafe, and Who Got In to find out about acceptance and rejection notifications. You can look at the date, manner of notification (email, phone, postal, etc), and even the funding packages offered. This can be helpful so that you can estimate when notifications will go out (based on previous years) and if schools have begun notifying yet. However, there are people (who are possibly more evil than the application process itself) that will post hoaxes on these sites. At the beginning of February one such post said that the individual had been waitlisted by Harvard, Columbia, Chicago, and Washington. However, none of these schools had sent any notifications.

7. Nine schools may not be enough
I applied to 9 schools. I have heard definite rejections from 2 and have probable rejections from another 3 (because they sent out acceptances and I don’t have one). 1 school I applied to over-admitted last year and are taking fewer this year to compensate (and received more applications this year). So I am left with my 1 safety school (if there really is such a thing in graduate admissions) that doesn’t fund, 1 nearly impossible to get in school (10 out of 300+ apps does not bode well for me), 2 reach schools that I wasn’t sure I could get into anyway, and 3 that are most likely rejections that I will receive in the next month or so.

This is what I learned from grad school admissions this year. The application process was hard enough since I had no assistance from advisors or my department. Now I find out that I probably didn’t have a snowballs chance in hell of getting in at all. So does anyone have any suggestions for what I can do next year when I don’t get into a single school?


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