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Now that we're approaching the end of the application cycle, what would you have done differently if you had to do it again? If you will go through the application process again next year, what will you change?

My own answer: I didn't prioritize 'fit' as much as I should have, which meant that I applied to schools that were an almost guaranteed rejection. I also didn't consider the present department faculty as much as I should; I applied to specific programs because of certain (now retired - or even deceased) scholars. I learned about certain exciting programs too late in the application process to apply - part of this is due to being an international applicant and not being as knowledgeable about the US academic scene. I definitely would have applied to UCSD English and UT Austin English and to fewer PA/NJ/NYC schools which shall remain unnamed. Finally, I would have spent far less time anguishing over the GRE quantitative section. 

Your turn! 

 

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I would have applied to more lit and culture hybrid programs.

I would’ve talked less about my desire to teach and more about where I’d like to take my research in the future.

I would have tried to reach out to grad students and POI at some of the schools I applied to.

I would have looked more at publications of recent graduates to see if there might really be an interest in and a place for me at all of my programs.

I would have applied to more funded MAs.

I would have gotten involved in these forums way sooner!

Edited by kendalldinniene

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I left off mentioning the graduate-level classes I’ve taken since undergrad because I thought they weren’t relevant since they were education-focused. See also neglecting to mention the number of grants I’ve written and been awarded funding for over the last five years. I realize now this was incredibly dumb. So dumb. The dumbest. Don’t do this.

I should have considered fit with a more flexible definition and really focused on programs that had more faculty doing work I’m interested in doing instead of trying to make it work. I feel like I did *a lot* of research into programs, but from lurking here for a while and now posting it’s super clear there are programs I didn’t apply to that are a much better fit than some of the ones I applied to this cycle. So maybe a good thing I didn’t get accepted those places. 

I should have reached out to more POI, anxiety about looking like an idiot be damned. 

I should have allowed my closest friends and family be more supportive during this process instead of obsessively hoarding any and all information about the whole thing as a way to stave off eventual and expected embarrassment. It really was not that serious, Jaremi.

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I didn’t apply to many top English programs! I think I would definitely NOT have applied to any American studies programs if I were to do this again— my degree is in English and it seems like English depts were more open to my project (lol pretty unanimous AMST rejections for me). So, in another world, I would’ve only done English programs and included more “top” programs on that list. 

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I would’ve done better on my subject test. And probably prepared more for my interviews (went 0 for 2 on those lol). A little more hunkering down on my behalf might have turned some of those rejections into acceptances. I’ll just never know! 

In all honesty, I do not regret staying true to myself throughout the whole process. When I read the jokes I pepper into my SOP, or the argument of my WS, I really see myself, not only as a scholar, but as a person. My whole application was full of my personality. And I’m really excited to know programs accepted me for, well, me. Idk if we’re putting things we wouldn’t change here as well, but I kinda think we should since it’s good to insert some positivity in these forums. 

Edited by trytostay

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Well, I didn't end up taking my subject test because I couldn't find the testing center or parking on a huge campus downtown, so I guess the first thing I would have done differently would have been to make a dry run and take that test.  I'm not sure it matters that much, but it could have been a small positive on my Rutgers and NYU applications.  

I'm not sure what else I would have done differently.  My writing sample and statement of purpose were in the works for months, really years, so I really feel like they were the biggest asset of my apps.  The POI I spoke with at a university that accepted me went out of the way to pay the sample a small compliment.

Because I'm married, my geographic diversity was more limited than I would have liked, so there are a couple of schools/regions that I really would have liked to have sent apps.  Maybe my wife would have opened up to the location if a school made a nice offer.

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1 hour ago, trytostay said:

I would’ve done better on my subject test. And probably prepared more for my interviews (went 0 for 2 on those lol). A little more hunkering down on my behalf might have turned some of those rejections into acceptances. I’ll just never know! 

In all honesty, I do not regret staying true to myself throughout the whole process. When I read the jokes I pepper into my SOP, or the argument of my WS, I really see myself, not only as a scholar, but as a person. My whole application was full of my personality. And I’m really excited to know programs accepted me for, well, me. Idk if we’re putting things we wouldn’t change here as well, but I kinda think we should since it’s good to insert some positivity in these forums. 

This latter point! I'm with you there, 100%. Congratulations on your successes, and I'm really happy to hear that someone else also emphasized their personality in their statement. For better or for worse, I don't regret doing so in the slightest.

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4 hours ago, thismortalcoil said:

This latter point! I'm with you there, 100%. Congratulations on your successes, and I'm really happy to hear that someone else also emphasized their personality in their statement. For better or for worse, I don't regret doing so in the slightest.

I love that this was brought up. My trajectory to graduate studies has been relatively odd (first generation, returning student, etc). I made it a point in my WS, SOP, and interview to be as genuine as possible. Being accepted on those terms has eased some of my anxiety about the whole thing. 

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These are the three things that come to mind for me:

1. Start Earlier: I began this process--seriously researching phd programs--around late June, which sounds like it would avail you plenty of time to get all of your materials together, but I still found myself working on things up and until deadlines. Because of that, I didn't get enough eyes (and feedback) on my SoP or WS. Additionally, with more time I would have read up on my field much more; learned about what work is being done now and has been done in the past ten years or so. To a similar end, I'd probably have read more work from my PoIs--rather than (in some instances) just a cursory glance. There certainly would have been some other benefits to having more time to work on apps.

Perhaps this point is a no-brainer, but if you're scrambling in the last few months before deadlines to get your application together, then it might mean you should just wait until next cycle. Use that additional time to make your application 100x stronger.

2. Cast a Wider Net: For the most part, I only applied to top 30 or 40-type programs. I think I was somewhat blinded by good placement rates. I know now that the job market in the humanities is going to remain brutal regardless. So, as someone who cares about and enjoys learning for the sake of it, I'd have been more receptive to applying to programs much further down the ranking list. I realize now that getting paid to study/teach English for 5+ years, even if it's not a lot, is a blessing. There were faculty/programs I was very much excited about, and which aligned well with my research interests, but ultimately didn't apply to because of the overall reputation or ranking.

3. Ask Better Questions: Whenever I'd email prospective programs to learn more, I think I was too worried about offending people or coming across poorly (and then assuming the department would remember me as that guy who asked annoying questions). For instance, I was worried that my GRE score might warrant tossing my application immediately into the trash--probably a massive dramatization and not a real worry, but if I'm going to spend $80 or more on these things then I'd like to know as much as possible about my chances (i.e., is there a GRE cutoff score? it can't hurt to ask..).

Perhaps some of the "better" or more blunt questions would have been better to ask current graduate students, who are generally more open about discussing the nuts and bolts of the department. They might know if the department is looking for more students with your interest, or if the department is actually moving away from that area...

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Posted (edited)

Spend a little more time editing your writing sample to specific page lengths, if requested. Two of my programs specified "approximately X" number of pages, and I was lazy and spent about 20 minutes cutting out parts without really making sure things made sense--they're the two programs I'm waitlisted at.

16 hours ago, bernardthepug said:

Perhaps this point is a no-brainer, but if you're scrambling in the last few months before deadlines to get your application together, then it might mean you should just wait until next cycle. Use that additional time to make your application 100x stronger.

 

Conversely, if you do already have a writing sample (as it seems common to revise and edit something previously written), it's not impossible to put together a decent statement of purpose in a month or two. I only had a paragraph of my SoP written by mid-November, and I hadn't started much earlier. I took my GREs in September, put together a school list shortly after, and formally asked for letters in October (although I had previously mentioned grad school ambitions to my mentors and one had already offered).

While I do think it would have been helpful for me to get more eyes on my SoPs (I only showed it to two of my friends), everything was all right. Just a gentle reminder that it's OK not to draw out this process and make it consume your life--although this forum has been super, super helpful and supportive, it also has the ability to make you feel like you're not doing enough. 

If that is the case, I direct you to Warelin's post: 

 

Edited by sugilite
Went to find link

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Posted (edited)

Now that I've had a few to let this all sink in, there's definitely a lot more that I wish I did differently if I had to do this again. I described some parts of it in the post-shutout thread, but I didn't really feel like I handled the application season that well to begin with, if at all. I started early but then my mind just kinda blanked around September and October, and ofc they were also the two months I had GREs to contend with as well lol.

First, I would've revised my school list and not so stack it heavily with Top 20 schools. I got lucky with UC Irvine, so I'm not looking back. However... I look back in hindsight and realize 'omg what was I thinking with my school list lol.' Cornell, Columbia, and UCLA were very shaky fits to begin with and that's now with the benefit of hindsight. I still can't say for sure what my new list would've been, but I would've tried to seek out schools that are more in line with Irvine and Buffalo's intellectual spheres instead of sending out apps to the top 10 and hoping it sticks (the only top 10 I would've stubbornly stuck with was Yale, even if I made the dangerous move of applying for one POI). I've hyper-focused way too much on prestige that I've also forgotten what matters more to me, which is finding a place where my projects are going to be supported and where I'll feel happy (I tried to find a balance of both, but ended up kinda over-focusing on the tippity-top prestige factor). Reading my UCI POIs' monographs and articles while passing time in advance of next week's visits reminds me why I applied to graduate school in the first place. So I would've focused much, much more on that in round 2.

I definitely would've tried to study harder for the GRE Literature Exam. I had a... horrifying score, low enough that it made me really doubt if I was suited enough to even study English at the graduate level or if I was just that bad in undergrad. I'm just glad it's over and done with, but I still wonder how things would've gone if my percentile was at least at 60 (all I can say about my score is that it was well below 40 percentile and I really had no business applying to Cornell, UCLA, and Yale with it. That was an awful, awful judgment call, even if there were personal circumstances surrounding the exam that almost made it impossible for me to take it).

What else...  I kinda wish I spent more time figuring out what 'fit' meant on my end and getting into the finer points of it. I don't think I quite articulated that 'fit' as well as I could've across most of my SoPs. I knew in a general sense what kind of niche I fulfilled and where my research trajectory was heading, but I think for some of the depts I spent a bit too much bigging up the department and the faculty rather than describing more in detail how I could contribute as a student.

I'll probably have a more detailed lessons learned and a debriefing once I have more time away from my materials. I see spots where my SoP could've used some major work, but in the middle of recruitment season, abstract writing, and independent reading my brain's basically all over the place.

Edited by Ranmaag

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I'll second @kendalldinniene on the looking into more hybrid and/or culture programs. If I were to do this again I would definitely apply to a couple of American Studies programs, especially when it comes to those blue chip top ten schools. I honestly was pretty naive about these programs in general as I had always just pigeonholed myself into English.

I would start nailing down my SoP much much earlier because it would have helped me better define what programs were a good "fit." Although I was researching programs well in advance, I hadn't really narrowed my research interests enough before I started. 

I would recruit more second readers for my SoP. I only had one second reader, who is very talented, but I wish I would have passed it around to at least one other person. 

I would only take the subject test once. I got a terrible score, twice, and still got admitted to a program that requires it. The time spent studying for it a second time was definitely wasted time for me. I'm glad to see that it's being phased out by more schools every year.

 

 

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40 minutes ago, whatislife69 said:

Wouldn't have wasted $$$$ to retake GRE!

I FIRMLY second this.  I retook the GRE to score only two points higher on my Verbal section.  I am still reeling from that. 

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1 hour ago, The Wordsworthian said:

I FIRMLY second this.  I retook the GRE to score only two points higher on my Verbal section.  I am still reeling from that. 

I retook GRE for higher math score like wtf I am in the humanities. Stress does that to you

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