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What If??

obiwanitakenobi

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I bet that right now, there are about a million "What if??" questions running through every one of our brains... But the scariest one is "What if I don't get in?"

I'll speak for myself-- that seems to be all I can think about lately. A couple of days ago, I made myself write out a Plan B (which started off seriously: "look into MS programs, studying/traveling abroad" but then it became... slightly crazed: "move to hippie farm, join convent"). It helped my anxiety a lot... for a couple of hours... But what we all have to remember is that we'll be okay, no matter what the outcome of this admissions cycle! I'm sure that not all of you believe that "everything happens for a reason", but with grad school applications, I think everything does happen for a reason. If we don't get in to any grad programs this admissions cycle, we have many years ahead of us to pick ourselves back up, dust ourselves off, improve our applications, and try again.

Okay, so... me. This is my second time applying to grad school. Of the seven schools I applied to last fall, I was accepted to my two "safety schools" for PhD programs in biomedical sciences, but after some thoughtful deliberation, I decided not to attend either of those schools. Why? Because I wasn't sure I'd be happy at those places, and I knew that would hinder my success.

[Second-time applicant's tip #1: only apply to schools you want to attend. Applying to grad school isn't like applying to college; you shouldn't have a "safety school" unless you could see yourself feeling happy and fulfilled if you went there.]

[Second-time applicant's tip #2: Find MULTIPLE faculty members with whom you're interested in working at the schools to which you apply. You don't want to find yourself at a school where you're only interested in working with one faculty member and then they don't have the funding/ space to mentor you.]

Last spring I was terrified of turning down PhD offers because it meant that I would be staying in my job as a research tech for another year when I had been already been working there since my sophomore year of college and for the year since I graduated and I felt ready to move on. It also scared me because I knew that only applying to schools that I wanted to go to was a gamble; they were, by and large "better" schools, and there was always the possibility that I wouldn't get in anywhere in my reapplications. But I took a deep breath, and went with my gut feeling. I have the better part of a year to improve my application, I told myself, I'll get in somewhere... right?

Now I am so happy that I decided to take that second year off. Over the past year, my work in the lab has gone very well-- I presented my projects at one international conference and at several smaller conferences, I got some major work done on some projects that I wouldn't have been able to finish if I had gone to school in the fall, and I acquired more skills that will leave me with that much less to learn in grad school. Equally importantly, my additional year off has also given me the opportunity to reexamine my application. I met with a member of the admissions committee at my university who was kind enough to go over the shortcomings of my application, and find the places where I could have presented myself a bit better.

[Second-time applicant's tip #3: Always address the elephant in the room (bad grades, lack of research experience, etc). I had some extenuating circumstances that explained some poor academic performance, but last year I was too embarrassed to address the issue in my personal statement-- big mistake. Explain your situation gracefully and it may help you.]

All in all, I feel like I have significantly more control this time around-- I know what factors I want in a school, I know how I can improve my application (apply early, revise SOP, retake the GRE, replace one recommendation writer, apply to different schools, etc), and perhaps most importantly, I have that extra motivation to get there, which is clear in my applications. And it's all because I've had the better part of a year to think, plan, and execute.

So for all of us who are freaking out right now, remember: Not getting in (or taking an extra year to re-apply to schools you would prefer) is a blessing in disguise. If we aren't accepted this time around, our lives will most certainly NOT be over. That's especially true for those of you still in undergrad... I tell all of my undergrad friends not to go straight to grad school-- for the love of all that is good, take some time off! Grad school is long enough, and you don't have to be in a rush to get there. It's better to make such an important decision with slow and careful deliberation.

-> PM ME IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS ABOUT MY EXPERIENCE! I'll keep posting here, but if you want to know things like my GPA, etc, let me know!




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[Second-time applicant's tip #3: Always address the elephant in the room (bad grades, lack of research experience, etc). I had some extenuating circumstances that explained some poor academic performance, but last year I was too embarrassed to address the issue in my personal statement-- big mistake. Explain your situation gracefully and it may help you.]

I'd like to hear more about your perspective on this one.

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I would love to hear more about addressing flaws too! I had one really bad semester because of personal reasons (and not the sympathetic 'sudden death in the family' kind), and I've gotten really conflicting advice about how/if to address it.

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Thanks for your post! This is my second time applying, too. I didn't get in to any of the 6 schools I applied to last year, for several different reasons - 

 

1) They were all "reach" schools,

2) all PhD programs,

3) all with different emphases (that weren't great fits with my experience) so my SOPs were all over the place,

4) my SOPs, now that I reread them, came across very trite and wordy. (DON'T use anecdotes or try to be funny - you don't know your audience!),

5) I hadn't completed an independent research project (sort of a "must" for psych PhD applicants)

6) I hadn't been published (also sort of a "must")

7) at least one of my LOR writers wasn't very familiar with me or my work

 

So, those were all very painful - not to mention expensive - lessons to learn. However, the extra year really gave me the time to address them, and I feel much calmer about applying this year. I went through the same I'll-just-join-a-commune and I'm-never-doing-this-again freakout, but once the depression lifts you realize everything is what you make of it. I ended up completing my own research project, being promoted to research assistant, being published in a journal, presenting at an annual national conference, and getting some awesome LORs from supervisors who really know and value me.

 

Still, who knows - with the funding shortages and all the super-awesomely-way-more-qualified applicants out there... I'm already searching Cheaptickets.com to plan my backpacking escape to India and Peru. I'm sure by the time January rolls around I'll be researching communes and planning to buy a hut on a remote beach.

 

Oh, and my number 1 tip for anyone applying - email your POIs! Read their work! Engage them in a conversation! It's almost like cheating - you get an idea of what they're interested in (their university bio page is ALWAYS out of date),  and where you would fit in, and you can bounce your ideas off of them - all of which you can stuff in your SOP!

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Thank you for this post! I''m also going through the panic-mode-oh-god-what-if-I-don't-get-in-and-I'm-a-failure stage, since I haven't heard from anyone yet and probably shouldn't until later this month. 

 

Do you have any tips for interviews? Also, how did you feel that the two schools you were accepted to weren't a good fit? 

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This is my first attempt and i am freaking out. My application is shaky ;1 co, authored pub., less than a year work exp. and average GRE scores. but i really need to get in. Though i cant do anything about the application anymore except wait, wait and reload my inbox. sigh!

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This is really insightful and I thank you for sharing your experience. I too would love to hear more about addressing weak aspects of an application. Trusted professors and grad students alike gave me very conflicting advice, just as huerita said. 

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Very positive and practical way of looking at the situation that you were in last fall. Perhaps it was easy to reject the offers hoping for better schools this fall because you were already into research in a way. not every applicant may be so placed and would be ready to make compromises with second/third choices . There is absolutely nothing wrong with making such choices as each is placed in a different situation that calls for different approaches/answers. one way of looking at things is ' if you don't get what you like, like what you get'. This approach helps to be at peace with you and help concentrate on the task at hand. I agree , however, that there is life to live after successes and disappointments.

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I have just currently completely changed exactly what I want to pursue in my graduate studies and after failing miserably at premed courses, my GPA has been damaged severly. Im now finishing up my undergrad in medical anthropology and i couldnt be happier!!! I love this field and have every intention of getting my masters in it as well. Although i do have a 4.0 gpa in this field, i only have a cummulative gpa of about a 3.1 and I AM FREAKING OUT about applying to grad school with such a poor gpa. My mentors have also told me to just address it flat out in my personal statement but I am a little unsure as to how to word this without sounding like a pity party....any advice????

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What are the chances of getting into a Masters with thesis program in canada with a 3.5+ cgpa and a decent work experience (2 years) but without having any research papers or publications.

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Hey everyone! This is an excellent topic.

I applied for two years before getting into a Masters program and my GPA was a 2.95 as an undergraduate. That was clearly one hurtle but there are several things you can do to convey your ability to thrive in a graduate program. My letters of recommendation were absolutely stellar. I gained research experience after obtaining my Bachelors of Science and worked closely with mentors. A bad letter can sink an entire application, and stellar letters are worth their weight in gold.

Additionally, to combat any issues that I am not ready to meet the academic rigors of graduate school I took additional courses are colleges to boost my GPA to over a 3.0 int he last 60 units. I made sure these were some statistics courses and applicable to my proposed area of interest in graduate school. 

As a result I was accepted and am now thriving in a graduate program and preparing to apply to doctoral programs this round :) 

For those are are nervous about their GPA, I definitely think address it in your personal statement but rather than have a sob story show how you became a stronger student after that adversity. Resilience is a necessary ability to have as a graduate students as we are inundated with failures or rejection. They will want to know that you are able to work independently and hit the ground running. 

 

A bit about myself: I am a Psychology graduate student born and raised in California and attending school here in the United States. My major as an undergraduate was Biological Psychology. 

Please feel free to ask direct questions and comment, I'd love to hear your thoughts!

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What are the chances of getting into a Masters with thesis program in canada with a 3.5+ cgpa and a decent work experience (2 years) but without having any research papers or publications.

Hi there,

As applications get more competitive in the US publications are seen as stronger bonuses but typically they are not expecting publications especially from an undergraduate. If you are worried, presenting research posters is an excellent way to convey you can follow a hypothesis through to data interpretation/analysis and decimating that information to a scholarly audience. Even in a two-year Masters program it is difficult to develop a thesis and have it published within that short of a time-frame. 

Best,

Bunny

 

 

 

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This is my first attempt and i am freaking out. My application is shaky ;1 co, authored pub., less than a year work exp. and average GRE scores. but i really need to get in. Though i cant do anything about the application anymore except wait, wait and reload my inbox. sigh!

I think worrying less about needing to get in and instead looking at continuing your research interests. If you had strong letters of support and established a fit with the faculty I think your application sounds great. Some years are more competitive than others and having a publication is a great bonus. Best of luck!

-Bunny 

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Hmm good post!! but the what if question is haunting me....!! I dont think ill have the luxury of Re-applying again!! makes me sad as i really want to do phd and have applied to very interesting projects but iam loosing the selfconfidence that i have accumulated till now....this sucks maan......................anyways best of luck for all the applicants

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Wonderful blog post! All three of the suggestions are golden. I too had to re-apply - I didn't get in to any of the 5 schools I applied to last year. I took the following year to take more classes from a local university, take a professional licensing exam, and have even more conversations with professors. This year I've heard back from three of the four schools I applied to, and have received full funding from all of them! Yeah, it was a drag working as a field technician for another year, but it can all work out in the end.

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