Over the past few days, I have come afresh to the realization that applying to graduate school really is one big, crazy mind game. Oh, I came to this realization last year, also - but I see it with much more vivid clarity this year - probably because last year, I had no reason to think I would not get in, whereas this year, I have no reason to think I will. (Oh, the difference a year makes!) This is a long, drawn out, and incredibly stressful process - I don't think I realized just how sustained the stress of applying is until yesterday, when my GRE subject test scores came in.
Because- I actually did really f*ck*ng well. REALLY f*ck*ng well. I only missed 18 questions. After all of that, after sitting there freaking out and thinking "My God(dess)(e)(s), I am so much dumber than I thought I was, how could I be doing so badly on this?" for three hours, in the end, I was doing really well, and it was just running out of time that did me in (I worked to the end of the time and left 64 blank, mostly the really long reading comprehension passages attached to 6 or 7 questions apiece). It turns out, if I had gotten to and answered correctly one more question, I would have made the next percentile section; 8 more questions, and I'd have hit the 90th percentile. EIGHT questions made the difference between my 82nd(practically 84th) percent and the 90th percentile. So, I left that room in November thinking I was doomed, and now - well, shit if I know where I stand - 82nd percentile, whatever the f*ck that means. Missing 18 questions, whatever that means. How closely do adcomms look at those statistics? Do they look at it and go, "Well, she got 144 question right and only 18 wrong, and left 64 blank, so maybe she just ran out of time"? Or does that not even factor in(which I suspect to be the case)? Still - I'm ten points away from Harvard's preferred score, and did better than 82% of the 10,000 people who sat that exam this year. That. Is. Not. Shabby. Particularly when we consider that, in the end, if I had worked a bit faster instead of so carefully, I would definitely have hit that 90th percentile. Particularly when none of the study aids prepped us for that much reading comprehension and passage analysis, when there were so few identification questions...in other words, when the test I took wasn't the one I studied for. When we consider that, and weigh it against my results, I think it's pretty awesome, really.
At any rate, my test results form opened up Pandora's Box of fear, anxiety and stress again, and I realized with crystal clarity that I have been riding this particular emotional roller coaster since last May, when I first sent out queries to my professors for a second round of recommendations. Since last May, when I began working further towards improving my application however I could. Then the summer, during which I studied whenever I could for the subject test and reconstructed my statement of purpose about eight or nine times (If I am successful in applying, I will post all versions of the SOP beginning with the one I sent in last application round and going through the one I finally settled on sending in this go-round, with commentary, as a guide for others...if not, then you don't want to read them! lol)
The, there's the business of the applications, themselves, beginning in October and going through December 15, my first deadline - the components, the Applyyourself technical issues, the money we've all forked over for test scores and transcripts and application fees. Now, waiting, waiting, waiting to hear whether or not the mailed-in elements have even made it to the program. Deadlines in December and January.
Based on the results charts, if I am offered a place in any of the three programs to which I have applied, I should hear back with acceptances, if there are any, by the end of February, or beginning of March at the latest; if I am on the wait list, I will not know anything until April at one of them. But when all is said and done, I have spent almost a year stressing over this process; counting the last cycle as well, during which I stressed over things but not nearly to this degree, I have spent over 18 months freaking out about applying to graduate school.
I figure, at this point, I am so well-primed for the mental challenges of graduate school that they would be foolish not to take me. This is one chick who will SO not be cracking under pressure or suffering a nervous breakdown! I am about as well-prepared for the mind games portion of graduate school as I think I am capable of being. But in the end, I think I would prefer to spend that time and energy obsessing over my work, and that's my goal for the new year: focus on the work and let the admissions process take care of itself. We don't have any control over it from this point on - why belabor the issue now? So - I'm off to research (at least for today!) And I hope everyone finds the degree of sanity I was able to delve out of that examination report yesterday. Which is that: We ARE that good, we ARE that deserving, and if the adcomms don't choose us, it's not because we suck. (Easy to say, when I'm still hopeful of being chosen. We'll see how it goes when February/March/April rolls around.)