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RANT: In terms of applications, what we wish schools did better.

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6 hours ago, kitcassidance said:

Also this.  Academia is elitism.  Money to apply, money to take the tests, money to travel, money for accommodations, money to appropriately present yourself.  I truly appreciate the schools that are willing to waive application fees and attempt to cover interview fees, but we have a long way to go before academia is truly accessible. 

What do y’all think about school rankings factoring into grad admissions? You can say that they don’t... but let’s be real. When you look at the students currently at (from what I remember from last year at) at Stanford, most of the cohort is from top 80 schools. I go to a school ranked in the mid-100s and had a prof who told me it would be impossible for me to get in anywhere. 

Maybe I’m just bitter? I had the grades and ambition to go to a “better” school but just could NOT afford it. (Addendum: I LOVE the school I went to and I’m so glad I went there and was forced to confront my own elitism. But still, I worry that it’ll hinder me.) 

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8 minutes ago, la_mod said:

Most of the schools I applied for this year only offered waivers for *current students* that can demonstrate need. Because I graduated in May (and didn’t fill out the FAFSA in preparation of graduating) I was ineligible, though I would have qualified. The GRE does something similar. 

I also hate the generic response from programs "there are always fee waivers to help with the burden.".....How many? Seriously, count them. This is a blanket excuse that is really code for: maybe some random fee waivers exist, but I'm not going to help you find them.

I think we should also recognize how (much like financial aid in general) many students do not know that the few waivers that do exist are available. They may qualify, but due to lack of mentorship (such as those from non-research schools) or first-gen (aka: no family to help or explain) they miss out.

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6 minutes ago, la_mod said:

What do y’all think about school rankings factoring into grad admissions? You can say that they don’t... but let’s be real. When you look at the students currently at (from what I remember from last year at) at Stanford, most of the cohort is from top 80 schools. I go to a school ranked in the mid-100s and had a prof who told me it would be impossible for me to get in anywhere. 

Maybe I’m just bitter? I had the grades and ambition to go to a “better” school but just could NOT afford it. (Addendum: I LOVE the school I went to and I’m so glad I went there and was forced to confront my own elitism. But still, I worry that it’ll hinder me.) 

I'm rhet/comp, so school rankings do not usually apply- but networking totally does. I got *very* lucky that I had two rhet/comp professors in my undergrad that were well connected. I didn't know they were, but later I realized my professors at my MA knew them, were fb friends, etc. I'm sure their LOR meant more than others, even if they said the same thing. In my field, it's rare to have an undergrad mentor in the field. I'm grateful for the help- I needed it, but not everyone is so lucky.

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4 minutes ago, renea said:

I also hate the generic response from programs "there are always fee waivers to help with the burden.".....How many? Seriously, count them. This is a blanket excuse that is really code for: maybe some random fee waivers exist, but I'm not going to help you find them.

I think we should also recognize how (much like financial aid in general) many students do not know that the few waivers that do exist are available. They may qualify, but due to lack of mentorship (such as those from non-research schools) or first-gen (aka: no family to help or explain) they miss out.

Re: that last point:

I literally did not know that grad programs were funded until a professor casually asked me if I had considered grad school and I said “oh, I can’t afford it.” I was so floored! I thought that only really wealthy folks got MAs / PhDs! 

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11 minutes ago, la_mod said:

What do y’all think about school rankings factoring into grad admissions? You can say that they don’t... but let’s be real. When you look at the students currently at (from what I remember from last year at) at Stanford, most of the cohort is from top 80 schools. I go to a school ranked in the mid-100s and had a prof who told me it would be impossible for me to get in anywhere. 

Maybe I’m just bitter? I had the grades and ambition to go to a “better” school but just could NOT afford it. (Addendum: I LOVE the school I went to and I’m so glad I went there and was forced to confront my own elitism. But still, I worry that it’ll hinder me.) 

I love the school I went to, also.  I went to a regional because it was in my hometown and I could afford it. And you know what? They gave me opportunities I would have never had at a T10. I was Student Government President (and VP my junior year), served on faculty senate as the student rep, was on 15 university wide committees including ones that were only admin with one student and one faculty rep. I spoke at commencement. I had classes in my major (and minors) with less than 5 people in them. I knew my advisor and became friends with him. I still call him once a week to check in even though I graduated in May. I was in his office daily for two years doing research and directed readings. My department chair is also a friend and I know I can call him anytime I need to. I spent a lot of time at the state capitol advocating for higher education reform. I went to several leadership conferences and was president of several clubs. I am in three international honors societies. 

And yet, none of this seems to matter.  My school doesn't rank, so no one on the adcomm cares. Heck, the PoI I've been talking to was on my advisor's committee in grad school and still this doesn't matter. You know what, though? I wouldn't change my undergrad for the world. Not only did I accomplish great things, I met my boyfriend there. He was teaching there on a one year contract. If I wasn't there at that time, I would have never met my partner in crime and love of my life. 

Had to add...the most touching thing that ever happened was when my grandmother died.  The university president sent flowers to the family along with a sympathy card. He only knew because I had missed a committee meeting and had emailed him to apologize for my absence. 

Edited by khigh

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4 minutes ago, renea said:

I'm rhet/comp, so school rankings do not usually apply- but networking totally does. I got *very* lucky that I had two rhet/comp professors in my undergrad that were well connected. I didn't know they were, but later I realized my professors at my MA knew them, were fb friends, etc. I'm sure their LOR meant more than others, even if they said the same thing. In my field, it's rare to have an undergrad mentor in the field. I'm grateful for the help- I needed it, but not everyone is so lucky.

I wonder if networking is related to rankings? My professors (whom I love) know very few people from other schools and the ones who do know are fresh out of their PhD

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4 minutes ago, khigh said:

I love the school I went to, also.  I went to a regional because it was in my hometown and I could afford it. And you know what? They gave me opportunities I would have never had at a T10. I was Student Government President (and VP my junior year), served on faculty senate as the student rep, was on 15 university wide committees including ones that were only admin with one student and one faculty rep. I spoke at commencement. I had classes in my major (and minors) with less than 5 people in them. I knew my advisor and became friends with him. I still call him once a week to check in even though I graduated in May. I was in his office daily for two years doing research and directed readings. My department chair is also a friend and I know I can call him anytime I need to. I spent a lot of time at the state capitol advocating for higher education reform. I went to several leadership conferences and was president of several clubs. I am in three international honors societies. 

And yet, none of this seems to matter.  My school doesn't rank, so no one on the adcomm cares. Heck, the PoI I've been talking to was on my advisor's committee in grad school and still this doesn't matter. You know what, though? I wouldn't change my undergrad for the world. Not only did I accomplish great things, I met my boyfriend there. He was teaching there on a one year contract. If I wasn't there at that time, I would have never met my partner in crime and love of my life. 

Sorry I’m not able to cut this down because I’m on mobile, but yes! This 1000000%!!!! I also met the LOML on my break year and am actually thankful for my sweeping rejections last year, ha. Hopefully I get into school, but wow.

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3 minutes ago, la_mod said:

Sorry I’m not able to cut this down because I’m on mobile, but yes! This 1000000%!!!! I also met the LOML on my break year and am actually thankful for my sweeping rejections last year, ha. Hopefully I get into school, but wow.

We joke that if I don't get into grad school that at least we will be a family with only one broke out-of-work professor instead of two. I would have driven myself off the deep end a long time ago without him.

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2 minutes ago, la_mod said:

Re: that last point:

I literally did not know that grad programs were funded until a professor casually asked me if I had considered grad school and I said “oh, I can’t afford it.” I was so floored! I thought that only really wealthy folks got MAs / PhDs! 

I remember being in a professor's office, and they asked me if I was considering graduate school. I said I wanted to go, but I didn't even know where to start. The internet is so vast. I came to him with a list of schools (I'd really tried my best to do the research and figure out the programs). He asked me what I wanted to research, I told him the schools I picked out and he just said no. He gave me a list of 10 schools that would be a good fit for me. I didn't lack the ambition, I had good grades, I was a good writer, but I didn't know how it worked. I didn't know the keywords and field knowledge necessary to find a good fit. If he hadn't helped me, I'd probably be at a school that wasn't right for me. Note though: I was very lucky that he reached out and helped me through the process.

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12 minutes ago, la_mod said:

I wonder if networking is related to rankings? My professors (whom I love) know very few people from other schools and the ones who do know are fresh out of their PhD

According to U.S. News Rankings, Undergraduate academic reputation accounts for 22.5% of the ranking which is a combination of peer assessment surveys and counselor surveys.

https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/ranking-criteria-and-weights

For English PHD programs:

"U.S. News also ranks a variety of programs – including doctoral programs in science and social sciences and humanities, master's programs in public affairs and fine arts, and graduate programs in health-related fields – based solely on the peer assessment data from academics involved in that particular field."

 
Edited by Warelin

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5 hours ago, midwest-ford said:

 

  • Finding basic information about a lot of the programs I researched was inordinately difficult because of poor website design. When links are broken, information is incomplete, and I can't find my way to the course requirements, I'm tempted just not to apply, even to a "good" school. (I mean, I still applied, but I thought angrily about giving up.) 

+1! This! But also badly designed application forms in general. I had sooooooo much beef with this one school's application form that if I didn't have an app fee waiver I would have reconsidered if I even wanted to go there. The "employment" section has you type out details for exactly 3 jobs, and then write a paragraph explaining gaps in employment. Naturally the resume upload is on a completely different page, much further down, so intuitively at this point you're thinking you have to condense your entire employment history into 3 positions and then a small paragraph with a word limit.

They also didn't have a "additional information" type essay section at all. I have a weird transcript quirk that I needed that section to explain. I didn't want to use precious SoP space to do it because it's not like I had a bad GPA or test scores, it's basically a clerical Academic Exception type deal. It had nothing to do with any SoP type subject matter so it wouldn't be a place to tie it in. Every other school I applied to confirmed that "Ah yes, just mention it in your additional info essay, that's exactly what that's for." I just have to hope this one school asks what the deal is so I can explain over email.

Overall I feel that programs underrate the immense value of a well designed application form. This is the data collection tool you're using to get a picture of who your applicants are for goodness sake! Think about how much better a picture you would get if you asked the right questions in the right way.

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When I completed the last of my applications, I write an essay about how much this process made me feel like academia must not want folks like me. I'm a mid-career professional who got my BA later in life and it's been another 6 years since then. My undergraduate school was not helpful, either. My advisor retired but they're also not an English professor. It took me over a month to be put in touch with them for a LOR. I paid for a one-hour consulting session to make up for not having an advisor to help, though it wasn't a lot of help.

There's one school in particular where the application process sucked so bad at every stage that I feel like highlighting the issues makes me sound like a whiner. 

Generally, in addition to the above suggestions:

Give clear instructions for accessing fee waivers. All applications I did had provisions for fee waivers but they didn't all provide instructions for how to get a waiver.

Spend an hour UX testing the applications. Make sure the online application matches the school's "application info" pages. Make it easy for me to log back in to the application if I don't complete it in one sitting. 

Have sensitivity readers review your applications for bias. "Only academic recommendations are accepted, letters from professional contacts won't be considered" reads like your program doesn't want older candidates. 

Know how your own school systems work /or/ communicate the timelines to me. I was bumped from "early decision" to a later application deadline because of the delay between the admissions office and the graduate department -- admissions doesn't start connecting transcripts and GREs to an application until after the application fee is paid. Even though I'd sent records 3+ weeks before deadline, they didn't post to the department until a week after the deadline. The program director was not aware this of this process because, after I said "no, I sent that info last month..." they told me to call the admissions office. Other programs had vague language like "all materials must be received by deadline" but didn't say anything about the potential delay.

 

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28 minutes ago, la_mod said:

Re: that last point:

I literally did not know that grad programs were funded until a professor casually asked me if I had considered grad school and I said “oh, I can’t afford it.” I was so floored! I thought that only really wealthy folks got MAs / PhDs! 

THIS IS ME. I even have a sibling who has a PhD and he never mentioned this to me.

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39 minutes ago, renea said:

I also hate the generic response from programs "there are always fee waivers to help with the burden.".....How many? Seriously, count them. This is a blanket excuse that is really code for: maybe some random fee waivers exist, but I'm not going to help you find them.

I think we should also recognize how (much like financial aid in general) many students do not know that the few waivers that do exist are available. They may qualify, but due to lack of mentorship (such as those from non-research schools) or first-gen (aka: no family to help or explain) they miss out.

I also think it’s a little rude (if not unethical) to say “we have fee waivers available” but not outline the process for getting them. Asking about money is so hard and awkward, and no applicant wants to out themselves as not being able to afford the fee. What if that factors into the decision? and etc. 

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56 minutes ago, Warelin said:

According to U.S. News Rankings, Undergraduate academic reputation accounts for 22.5% of the ranking which is a combination of peer assessment surveys and counselor surveys.

https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/ranking-criteria-and-weights

For English PHD programs:

"U.S. News also ranks a variety of programs – including doctoral programs in science and social sciences and humanities, master's programs in public affairs and fine arts, and graduate programs in health-related fields – based solely on the peer assessment data from academics involved in that particular field."

 

Fair point. More so I meant: I wonder if all the people in the top schools are in cahoots.

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I would say, don't get too sore at particular departments about a lot of these things, a lot of them are standardized at the college-wide or university-wide level. If an English department wanted to stop requiring GRE scores and official transcripts they probably couldn't do it without getting the change made globally across whatever college they were in, it is very difficult to do anything in a university bureaucracy.

With regard to dates and fees:  I can totally understand the points made about application fees, I dropped like $800 on them, but there needs to be some way to keep the number of applications down because application reading is exceptionally laborious.  That probably sounds like a whine, but imagine a school that requires a 3 page SoP and a 20 page writing sample gets 400 applications.  That's 9,200 pages of reading, not inclusive of CVs, transcripts, and letters of rec, all of which have to be read carefully in order to ensure a good application process.  The adcom at my program has 6 people on it, who break out into groups of two and divide the applications evenly between them for the first round.  Even then, you're still looking at 3,000 pages of reading just for the SoP and writing sample.  If you don't find some way to decrease the total number of applications, then you would have to fall back on some other quick cut metric, like, for example, a greater reliance on GRE scores as a cutoff, which is already a bugaboo.  

Pinning down an exact date for responses is also quite difficult given the nature of academic committee work.  As one person pointed out, profs do not get any kind of work release for adcom work and so those thousands of pages of application to review come on top of their current teaching, writing, conference, and research responsibilities.  It can be very difficult to coordinate an adcom on a particular date with so much involved in actually completing the review process.  What if a member of the adcom has something come up, becomes ill or has a death in the family, would you want them zipping through your SoP at the last minute in order to get it read on time?  They're also probably thinking of their already underpaid and overworked department administrators, because what do you think will happen to them if the responses happened to go out a day... or hell even an hour late?

Getting anything done in a University setting involves a lot of moving parts, cat herding, and bureaucracy.  Even something as trivial as updating an out of date website can require multiple layers of approval from various functionaries.  While there are doubtless a great many ways the process can be improved, there aren't easy solutions.

Edited by jrockford27

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This is silly, but make your text forms big enough to type in my university name! And don't make me go through 5 search forms -- I know perfectly well you don't have my unknown Russian university -- let me just type in some kind of abbreviation so that you still can find it, since I can't fit the whole name because it won't fit in. Also don't make me type in my transcripts, and if you do -- make the form big enough, again!

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18 hours ago, WildeThing said:

Any pre-set invisible factors should be made visible (i.e. Americanists need not apply this term, we placed 3 last cycle

If I could have just one of the fantastic suggestions already made here, it’d be this ^. Honestly, what pisses me off even more than the GRE, the money, the tortuous and contradictory requirements is that, even if you have a stellar application, it could still be summarily rejected because they already filled their quota of your speciality. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. This seems to be a bald attempt by schools at raising revenue without expending much effort. It should be posted right on the prospective-students page which specialities are needed and which are at capacity. Idk how they get away with this nonsense. 

Edited by FreakyFoucault

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13 hours ago, la_mod said:

Re: that last point:

I literally did not know that grad programs were funded until a professor casually asked me if I had considered grad school and I said “oh, I can’t afford it.” I was so floored! I thought that only really wealthy folks got MAs / PhDs! 

Same thing happened to me! At first I was only look at my in-state, public universities, but even then I didn't know how in the world I was supposed to afford attending. Then I found out there are funded programs.

12 hours ago, renea said:

I remember being in a professor's office, and they asked me if I was considering graduate school. I said I wanted to go, but I didn't even know where to start. The internet is so vast. I came to him with a list of schools (I'd really tried my best to do the research and figure out the programs). He asked me what I wanted to research, I told him the schools I picked out and he just said no. He gave me a list of 10 schools that would be a good fit for me. I didn't lack the ambition, I had good grades, I was a good writer, but I didn't know how it worked. I didn't know the keywords and field knowledge necessary to find a good fit. If he hadn't helped me, I'd probably be at a school that wasn't right for me. Note though: I was very lucky that he reached out and helped me through the process.

Again, I was in the same situation. I knew I wanted to go to graduate school, but I had no idea how to really even find programs. One of my professors is a godsend and helped me through the whole process.

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3 hours ago, sarahchristine said:

Again, I was in the same situation. I knew I wanted to go to graduate school, but I had no idea how to really even find programs. One of my professors is a godsend and helped me through the whole process.

I remember wanting to tell my undergraduate professors I wanted to go to graduate school and being absolutely terrified they’d tell me I wasn’t qualified or cut out for it and didn’t have any good ideas. I mentioned this fear to one of my professors and she was like, “We all had to do this too. Every person in this department had to apply to graduate school, we didn’t just end up here.” Which really put things into perspective for me because in my mind the people I worked with were all brilliant and had just landed jobs and degrees because they were just so intelligent. Looking back on it, definitely a silly thought, but it just goes to show how the process is pretty obscured. 

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Ditto on the transcripts. I suppose someone could in theory go through the trouble of sending a fake transcript but when they are admitted they will need to send a real one, so why would anybody do that? What exactly is the logic behind requesting official transcripts as part of the application?

Requesting the TOEFL from people whose first language is not English but who attended an English-speaking school in the United States for undergraduate is ridiculous. I've been living in the US for 8 years now. I finished high school and college here. I submitted a statement of purpose that shows I know English. Why would you require the TOEFL? (Only one school said I had to take it. It seems like they did away with that, though, after I insisted).

Otherwise, I suppose there are things that would be fantastic but logistically hard. I wish most programs were part of a single application portal and letters could thus be easier to send (and therefore I could save my professors time). Most of the schools I applied to notified me of when I could expect to hear back from them, actually, and for that I'm thankful!

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Oop I am with everybody who pointed out ETS is evil. The fees are ridiculous. I would be okay with the exam fee if sending scores was at least free or less than 10 dollars. Why exactly is it so expensive to send an electronic or hard piece of paper to a school?

About fees, I actually could get lots of fee waivers through BTAA (Big Ten Academic Alliance) or sometimes even by just asking. I did pay two, though, which amounted to almost 200 bucks. I can't imagine spending a thousand dollars or more on applications.

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55 minutes ago, Carly Rae Jepsen said:

Ditto on the transcripts. I suppose someone could in theory go through the trouble of sending a fake transcript but when they are admitted they will need to send a real one, so why would anybody do that? What exactly is the logic behind requesting official transcripts as part of the application?

Requesting the TOEFL from people whose first language is not English but who attended an English-speaking school in the United States for undergraduate is ridiculous. I've been living in the US for 8 years now. I finished high school and college here. I submitted a statement of purpose that shows I know English. Why would you require the TOEFL? (Only one school said I had to take it. It seems like they did away with that, though, after I insisted).

Otherwise, I suppose there are things that would be fantastic but logistically hard. I wish most programs were part of a single application portal and letters could thus be easier to send (and therefore I could save my professors time). Most of the schools I applied to notified me of when I could expect to hear back from them, actually, and for that I'm thankful!

I thought it was the other wait around? Apart from one school, they all wanted me to take the TOEFL because I didn’t go to a US school for undergrad... It was so frustrating to have to pass that test since I am a US citizen. Such a waste of money.

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