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Please critique my application



just some food for thought.

I remember when I first asked people of this forum: could I get into graduate school. They weren't going to tell me anything I really didn't know. I have a low undergraduate GPA, funding is competitive, but maybe if I got lucky I could get into one of the schools of my choice.  I should have probably asked, instead of a critique, for the reassurance of what I already knew. I know all to well what an application season can do to someone. It can make even the deepest minds appeal to their most vapid instincts.  The real question here is, what happens when someone looks at your stats and says something contrary to what you believe? Are you really going to change where you apply just because someone on the internet disagrees with you? Furthermore, say you wanted to apply to top 10 schools, and everyone on the forum universally agrees that you cannot get into one, do you really want to change which schools you apply to just for the sake of going to graduate school? Is that really what this about? Going to school for the sake of going to school? 

In this short blog post, I do not have any answers to these questions. But before you make a post, wanting people on this forum to review your application, maybe you should think about the possible responses to your post. Or maybe what people say doesn't matter, and the fact that your posting here makes it all the better?

I don't know... do you?


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I just simply ignored most of those threads. I think that most of the applicants should be informed well enough to know where they stand in the application pool - from talking to peers, undergraduate research advisors, professors who write their letter of rec., etc.. While I understand that international students may have no knowledge on how competitive grad school is (presumably in the U.S.), or the type of support (from the aforementioned individuals) are not as enough as expected because they went to a small schools, generally speaking, applicants would apply to their lists of schools regardless. Maybe there are a few were wondering if they should spend money on the reach schools, but otherwise, I wouldn't bothered responding to those questions. If they did enough of research on the internet and this forum, they should know that there are enough factors that can effect ones admission outcome -- so why are they asking their chances of getting into a list filled with top tier programs that are known to be extremely competitive? For that, I have been less and less active on this forum since 3, 4 years ago, specifically, those program-related sub-forums.

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There is a difference between the person who has done their research and people who haven't done any research and want others to do it for them. 

For those that come here and ask "will this profile get me into one of the four top ranked schools in subject X", the only answer from us should be "if you have to ask...". Looking up results on the survey here and looking up the profiles of PhD students at the Universities you want to go to is a lot easier than getting into the schools themselves. If you can't even do that I really don't think you can get in.

Instead they should be asking "here is my profile, can you point me in the right direction to strengthen it? I would like to apply to these schools...". That answer, though, is easy to answer too. Professor Harchol-Balter of CMU and Professor Might of UU (and I assume a lot of other professors have) have both written up a document what it takes to get into a PhD program in my field. It is very easy to educate yourself on what matters in admissions that it is frustrating when people just come to post the usual "what are my chances".

Most of us don't know your chances, we don't sit on the admissions committee of the program you are applying to. The only thing we have are the results posted here and our own results. There are so many variables that any percentage is wrong. I was rejected from a ranked 56th University and accepted to a ranked 29th University. There is not some magic algorithm to predict your chances because admissions to Universities is not standardized (and not being "good enough" for one University doesn't mean you aren't "good enough" for another, possibly better one). The only thing you can do is make your application as strong as possible by doing as much research into the programs as possible and hope for the best.

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While I agree to some extent with the above, I'm going to propose an alternate explanation. I really don't think the "Do you think I can get in x place with y profile?" is really a literal question. And so I think a big portion of the point is just missed.

Going through the application process is terrifying, we are putting money and our lives in the air with a huge degree of uncertainty. We also know that MOST people who apply don't get in. We don't know if in less than a year we are going to be moving and leaving friends and family to pursue our dreams or if we will be desperately seeking some job to help us pay rent. And to top that off, we are often alone in this application process. Yes we have professors who are supporting us, and yes often we have family who are supporting us, but I don't know of many people who already have friends going through the same process. Particularly friends who are looking at similar programs.

Hasn't nearly everyone gotten done with a test and then talked to all our friends and classmates about the test, that is DONE. What's the point of this? Ultimately we have done whatever we have done and there is no changing that. I would say that this behavior serves more as a social reassurance that this unknown thing is a shared concern.

Most people are quite social and need that sort of support. There are tons of reasons people don't just come into the forum and be like "Hi I need a friend who is also dealing with this stuff." Just like you don't go up to a perfect stranger and hold their hand (unless you're this guy). It is safer and more acceptable to put something of yourself out there and see who is interested and cares, who actually may be dealing with the same thing. It is also something I doubt most people are really conscious of, they are worried and they want to share it or seek some reassurance or perhaps redirect some of that anxiety.


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As someone who has actually made a "look at my application" post and have had discussions related to my application, I think I have a couple answers: 

1) Many people don't have anyone to show. They may not have made any connections with their professors during their undergrad, or never joined a research lab, or anything of that sort. The only people they know are their friends who are in the same boat they are. So they come here, to try and ask other people who have had applications, what they think of theirs. 

2) Many people don't know how the process works, especially with so much conflicting information. On one hand some people say, "the GRE is a make it or break it deal". On the other hand, people say: "lots of people have gotten into top schools with low GRE scores", but those sources never specify why or what. Is it the GPA? Is it a good rec letter. And its difficult to answer because each persons application is different. So these sources don't really apply to everybodies application, and rather it must be approached as a per basis view. Each application must be looked at individually. For some, their experience and background is so impressive the GRE and their GPA don't matter. As someone who has done research on this, there is a lot of conflicting information, and anecdotal experience is best when it comes to these situations. 

3) Often times (myself included), people come here for information on programs and a discussion. A very common example of this is: "Hey guys, I've done my research, and with my application it appears my chances don't look good. Should I still try? Do you think I'll have a chance?" This can be crucial when you're looking to apply to multiple schools and it costs a bit of money. Any bit of information can help. Maybe someone was in a similar situation you were in, and it worked out for them, so they tell you to go ahead and do it! Maybe someone on here can tell you a better option, a better school, that you may not have thought of or found. 

4) Anxiety, depression, anger, disappointment, etc. We have all been through these things. Hell, I made an account for this sole reason. I did really bad on my first GRE, and I wanted to see how everyone else did, maybe my scores weren't all that terrible. I mean, from research I had come to the conclusion it was awful, but the community here really helped me realize that it wasn't the end of the world. My scores weren't that bad, and I still had a shot for going after a PhD program. This community is about helping spread information and support one another, and sometimes people just want to be told they have a chance, that they should go for it. For all the reasons stated above. 

Anyways, I for one always answer to the best of my capabilities (I have recently joined, so haven't done that much) every question regarding applications that I see. Through reading a lot of personal anecdotal evidence on here, and looking at stuff online, I have a general understanding of how applications go, and can help at least try and reassure people, or at the very least give them some direction where to look or start looking. 

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