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What we learned from this Application Season


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I thought it would be a good idea if we compile important things we learned throughout this abysmal journey, for future readers, and for others who may be repeating this process next year.

I applied without having GRE. I wasn't able to take the exam because it isn't offered in the country I live in. For some schools, this was the first year they decided to drop the GRE requirement after the whole debate about GRE upholding socioeconomic and socio-racial hierarchies. Other schools still required it and I emailed them to ask for a waiver. What I learned was that some schools were happy to waive it, even though it was still officially a requirement on their website, which may be indicative of it fading away as an "official" requirement in the upcoming years. I quote "official" because while some schools may not require it, it does not mean it is not a consideration at all, and in some cases, we will never know how important it is to admission committees unofficially.  Other schools I requested the waiver from flat out denied me, or told me their system prevents them from waiving it, but that I should apply anyway, which was interesting advice.

So for anyone considering applying without GRE, this was my experience doing it. 

Edited by Cryss
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Check your WS/SoP by profs who aren't in your field, as I've said elsewhere, and consider an abstract if you think it will help. I definitely think this would have made my work better.

I'm not a hundred percent certain about this, but: as a non-traditional applicant, I wouldn't even bother with the Ivies. I had one prof tell me they never accept students outside of a certain profile, i.e. younger (and usually from certain schools though there are occasional exceptions), and another tell me 'well who knows about that, it's all about the work, YOLO!' and what I should have done is just look at the grad student profiles on the website, which I did in a fit of stress a month ago... to find that yes, they are all younger (I think the most recent undergrad degree I saw in an Ivy was 2011, and it was from a super-accomplished international student; 30ish seems to be the max, and he was oldest by a fair margin). Though idk, I think MichelleObama is non-traditional so maybe it's just rarer. 

I know for a fact other top schools like UVA and Michigan and JHU and such accept non-traditional types, so there was really no need to even chance it. The only reason I didn't apply to those schools was actually that I was looking for bigger cities and POIs, but I could have gone for Rutgers instead of Harvard, etc. 

Edited by merry night wanderer
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I'd definitely suggest really scoping out the rental markets in the areas around all of the schools you're considering. Before applying I made my list of schools based in part on areas I liked and could imagine myself (and my partner) living in for 5-6 years, but I (stupidly) didn't crosscheck my assumptions about the cost of living in certain cities with actual rent prices. This mostly applies to Boston- I had visited before and really loved the area, and just, for some reason, assumed that since it wasn't NYC or DC, rent would be moderately reasonable. I ended up applying to four PhD programs in the area, and not until after I started getting acceptances did I really begin to understand just how much it would cost me to keep up the standard of living to which I'm accustomed. So, definitely be realistic with yourself about how much you (and, if you're planning to move with a partner, your partner) are comfortable spending on living expenses each month. I had more or less assumed I wouldn't really be getting into any PhD programs straight out of undergrad, so I guess all of the details just didn't seem real to me? Since I saw being accepted anywhere as such a long shot, I think I had a sort of "I doubt I'll get in but if I do I'll figure out the details later (as if getting in would even happen, lol)" attitude. So, I'd say that while yes, you need to be prepared for the worst, you also need to be prepared for the best. Oh, and another aspect of preparing for the best- if you're applying as a senior in undergrad, even if you doubt, like I did, that you'll come out of your first cycle with any acceptances, make sure you figure out beforehand how you'll handle missing class to visit programs. I had been so stressed about completing my applications and hearing back that I never really gave much thought to the logistics of campus visits while still a full-time undergraduate student. So I guess that while yes, there's always a very real possibility of not getting any acceptances, there's also a very real possibility of getting acceptances, so make sure you're ready for both outcomes and all that those outcomes entail. 

 

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12 minutes ago, merry night wanderer said:

Check your WS/SoP by profs who aren't in your field, as I've said elsewhere, and consider an abstract if you think it will help. I definitely think this would have made my work better.

I'm not a hundred percent certain about this, but: as a non-traditional applicant, I wouldn't even bother with the Ivies. I had one prof tell me they never accept students outside of a certain profile, i.e. younger (and usually from certain schools though there are occasional exceptions), and another tell me 'well who knows about that, it's all about the work, YOLO!' and what I should have done is just look at the grad student profiles on the website, which I did in a fit of stress a month ago... to find that yes, they are all younger (I think the most recent undergrad degree I saw in an Ivy was 2011, and it was from a super-accomplished international student; 30ish seems to be the max). Though idk, I think MichelleObama is non-traditional so maybe it's just rarer. 

I know for a fact other top schools like UVA and Michigan and JHU and such accept non-traditional types, so there was really no need to even chance it. The only reason I didn't apply to those schools was actually that I was looking for bigger cities and POIs, but I could have gone for Rutgers instead of Harvard, etc. 

I'm a very nontraditional student. Chicago and Brown, at least, didn't seem to care last year. Add those to the list, I suppose--though I don't know how I feel about the advice to avoid Ivies otherwise. If it comes down to finances, I suppose one might exercise some guesswork and apply to what seems viable. I'm partially responding to some  frustrations in other threads here about academia only caring about prestige. Maybe, maybe not. It just doesn't help to think that way if you're trying to succeed within said system. 

Biggest thing I've learned, which I utterly failed to take advantage of, is to get eyes on your materials. Nearly every person I've encountered who has had major success has had close relationships with faculty who guided their applications. Really, guiding their success in general--which is not trying to undermine anyone's hard work. Having a network of close mentors in undergrad forward means an extraordinary amount in academia. 

 

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I think my one bit of sage wisdom for people coming straight out of their undergrad to try to do a PhD is to get involved with undergraduate research with a professor who can advise you well on what interests you as early as possible. I started my honors capstone my second year of college and then used that (after many, many, many drafts) and having that long time to revise what I had been thinking about for awhile was so incredibly important I think to the overall quality of my end product. If you plan to graduate early then it's imperative you figure that out sooner rather than later I'd say because you don't really want to take the chance that adcomms will be inclined to give you leeway for less experience/skills than someone graduating in 4 years (even if you did it for financial reasons like myself). Make meaningful connections with the faculty in your department and try to be strategic about the language courses you try to take (you should be applying with an advanced knowledge of at least one language) Because I'm a masochist medievalist I took Latin, Old English, and Old Norse courses and I have been told and personally think that doing so has helped make me look like I am super invested in the field of medieval literature rather than it looking like something I kind of sort of like. I'm happy to chat with anyone via email/DMs on here about stuff like this if you think anything I have to say would be relevant to your experiences as an undergrad/if our interests match! Hope y'all applying next year can get through it with more poise and confidence than a lot of us managed to have this year!

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10 minutes ago, snorkles said:

I'm a very nontraditional student. Chicago and Brown, at least, didn't seem to care last year. Add those to the list, I suppose--though I don't know how I feel about the advice to avoid Ivies otherwise. If it comes down to finances, I suppose one might exercise some guesswork and apply to what seems viable. I'm partially responding to some  frustrations in other threads here about academia only caring about prestige. Maybe, maybe not. It just doesn't help to think that way if you're trying to succeed within said system. 

Point taken and good to know about Chicago and Brown. I do hold that the graduate profiles in certain institutions do speak for themselves on certain schools, not only for age but for previous institutional prestige, but some schools might care less than others, or be willing to make exceptions.

I do disagree, though, that keeping a realistic perspective on prestige "doesn't help." It keeps you from taking things too personally. I believe very much in using any opportunity to self-reflect and improve, but prestige (as well as ageism) is just a reality. Ignoring it isn't going to help you work within the systems.

Edited by merry night wanderer
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9 minutes ago, merry night wanderer said:

Point taken and good to know about Chicago and Brown. I do hold that the graduate profiles in certain institutions do speak for themselves on certain schools, not only for age but for previous schools, but some schools might care less than others, or be willing to make exceptions.

I do disagree, though, that keeping a realistic perspective on prestige "doesn't help." It keeps you from taking things too personally. I believe very much in using any opportunity to self-reflect and improve, but prestige (as well as ageism) is just a reality. Ignoring it isn't going to help you work within the systems.

I definitely think prestige plays a role. I don't agree with the mentality that it's a singular barrier to entry, nor do I think that it's worthwhile to dwell on the question of whether it is or isn't. So much of academia is learning to speak the language. When I was shut out my first cycle, I was caught up in similar patterns of thought (ageism, first half of undergrad in community college, first generation student, and the list goes on), but I settled on the more productive notion that maybe I didn't speak the language as well as others and that had I presented my materials differently then maybe I would have had more success. 

Biases, patterns of selection, etc. all factor into this system, absolutely, but I just don't think writing off one's failures to them is worthwhile in the long run. 

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14 minutes ago, snorkles said:

I definitely think prestige plays a role. I don't agree with the mentality that it's a singular barrier to entry, nor do I think that it's worthwhile to dwell on the question of whether it is or isn't. So much of academia is learning to speak the language. When I was shut out my first cycle, I was caught up in similar patterns of thought (ageism, first half of undergrad in community college, first generation student, and the list goes on), but I settled on the more productive notion that maybe I didn't speak the language as well as others and that had I presented my materials differently then maybe I would have had more success. 

Biases, patterns of selection, etc. all factor into this system, absolutely, but I just don't think writing off one's failures to them is worthwhile in the long run. 

I agree and I also think it's self-perpetuating, in that, prestigious institutions have more of the guidance and support you're talking about, in general and specifically because they are used to supporting students through this whole process, know the lingo and can teach it, etc. It's definitely not solely the case that people are just a bunch of snobby assholes, though those definitely exist in droves; it's also about access to knowledge and knowing the language, as you said. My MFA English department was not used to people applying to PhDs, to put it mildly, so although my profs were beautifully supportive, I was on my own; they were older, so some of their ideas were hard to gauge by the current market, and I didn't have a network of applicants or applicant materials at all. 

Nonetheless, I do wish I'd checked the graduate student profiles of schools before applying. If, in a 5-year program, there are no non-traditional students, I think it's a safe bet to move your aspirations elsewhere, if only because who needs extra obstacles on top of the already-extreme competition.

Edited by merry night wanderer
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2 minutes ago, merry night wanderer said:

I agree and I also think it's self-perpetuating, in that, prestigious institutions have more of the guidance and support you're talking about, in general and specifically because they are used to supporting students through this whole process, know the lingo and can teach it, etc. It's definitely not solely the case that people are just a bunch of snobby assholes, though those definitely exist in droves; it's also about access to knowledge and knowing the language, as you said.  

Nonetheless, I do wish I'd checked the graduate student profiles of schools before applying. If, in a 5-year program, there are no non-traditional students, I think it's a safe bet to move your aspirations elsewhere, if only because who needs extra obstacles on top of the already-extreme competition.

I think this is fair. I was able to attend Berkeley for 2 years, and presumably I had good letters written for me, but I was not guided through the process at all. Others in my program, who went to much lower ranked schools for undegrad, had faculty mentors who were heavily invested in them (not a critique of Cal here) and I think it shows/showed in their ability to navigate these spaces much more functionally than me. 

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54 minutes ago, merry night wanderer said:

 

I'm not a hundred percent certain about this, but: as a non-traditional applicant, I wouldn't even bother with the Ivies. I had one prof tell me they never accept students outside of a certain profile, i.e. younger (and usually from certain schools though there are occasional exceptions), and another tell me 'well who knows about that, it's all about the work, YOLO!' and what I should have done is just look at the grad student profiles on the website, which I did in a fit of stress a month ago... to find that yes, they are all younger (I think the most recent undergrad degree I saw in an Ivy was 2011, and it was from a super-accomplished international student; 30ish seems to be the max). Though idk, I think MichelleObama is non-traditional so maybe it's just rarer. 

I feel similarly, even as a more traditional applicant. Looking back, I can see that I applied to some schools (Stanford, Berkeley, Harvard) mostly because of the prestige and not because I truly saw a place for my work in those departments. I really didn't need to put myself through the pain of applying to 16 schools. I also wish I had had more frank conversations with my professors about prestige and about how top-tier schools might perceive aspects of my academic background, like my community college degree. Those aspects might have had little to no bearing on my rejections, but I wish I had discussed it more with my mentors.

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That's also often (though not always) a public/private thing, I think. Many of my friends who went to private schools have an easier time obtaining that kind of guidance; it seems like it was more the default. In my case I had great professors, and my LOR in my field is very well known, but they were not current on anything that's going on. Honestly, they were doing their best to keep the liberal arts school afloat at all, since in the past couple of years the state legislature has been slashing the budget left and right and the school is turning into a STEM factory. As much as they care, mentorship was not able to be on their list of highest priorities.

I don't feel like I'm making excuses for myself here; plenty of what I've learned this season I'm taking to heart, and I'm very happy with my current choices. But I also think that if we are going to stand a chance of not making academia the reinforcer of classism it has historically been, we have to be upfront with ourselves about all of these factors. 

Prestige doesn't mean that quality, or knowing the language, doesn't matter or doesn't count, and quality likewise does not mean one most likely did not have ample opportunities to cultivate that quality, or know what the standards are. Imposter syndrome is useless. Own your advantages, celebrate your successes, try to improve, try to make the system more just. All of those things aren't mutually exclusive. 

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58 minutes ago, snorkles said:

I'm a very nontraditional student. Chicago and Brown, at least, didn't seem to care last year. Add those to the list, I suppose--though I don't know how I feel about the advice to avoid Ivies otherwise. If it comes down to finances, I suppose one might exercise some guesswork and apply to what seems viable. I'm partially responding to some  frustrations in other threads here about academia only caring about prestige. Maybe, maybe not. It just doesn't help to think that way if you're trying to succeed within said system. 

Biggest thing I've learned, which I utterly failed to take advantage of, is to get eyes on your materials. Nearly every person I've encountered who has had major success has had close relationships with faculty who guided their applications. Really, guiding their success in general--which is not trying to undermine anyone's hard work. Having a network of close mentors in undergrad forward means an extraordinary amount in academia. 

This. I'm also a non-traditional student for more than one reason that I was positive would sink my apps. Instead, I got in to six schools that I would be thrilled to attend, three of which are ivies (one of which is offering me a generous merit fellowship to boot). I certainly don't mean to claim that prestige doesn't matter, I'm cynical and continue to think that schools are largely conservative. But my own experience has surprised me. 

I too think that having a close and involved mentor makes a big difference in ways that cannot be quantified. But my biggest takeaway from this season has been that it's better to err on the side of a well-defined project than some nebulous sense of interests. This seems to get debated a lot: how specific to be in your SoP. I can only speak to what worked for me. I applied with a very defined project. Of course, I was careful to make it clear that the project would evolve with time and that it needed the mentorship/support of the program in question to actually take shape. Accordingly, my language was more speculative than declarative. But even so, I wasn't shy about pitching the project. I think it allows a department to get to know you as a thinker and critic in ways that go well beyond a list of interests.

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I would strongly urge future applicants to frame their statement of purpose around the trajectory of their research and where they see it going within the context of a school's program. By that, I mean that I think it's important to have a strong research proposal that shows you adding something urgently new to a field and how the school you're applying to would fit into that larger project. One of my favorite professors stressed this repeatedly to me and other applicants from my MA cohort, and he added the charming advice: "lie if you have to! It's about getting in, no one is going to hold you to it once you're already there!" Ideally, you would be proposing something you're actually interested in pursuing, but I think the real take-away here is in how detailing a loose plan for your dissertation topic demonstrates both your knowledge of the field and your ability to contribute to it in a meaningful way. I've had success so far in getting into 4 schools, and all of the conversations I've had with directors of programs have really highlighted this point on trajectory. Granted, ecocriticism is a hot issue rn because we're all literally doomed - but I feel grateful that my work kinda aligned with the academic zeitgeist and that I was able to communicate my ability to contribute to it.

Also, I wouldn't recommend that anyone apply to more than like... 8 schools or so. The entire process is way more expensive that I feel like I had really realized, and I wouldn't bother applying anywhere you wouldn't see yourself happy living in the area. Quality of life is very important, and I think location is a reallllllllly under-considered thing in that regard.

Also also - to add to the discussion on GRE's: don't worry about the subject test too much. I agree with everyone in thinking that they're going out of style (because they literally don't demonstrate ....anything? Especially the subject test and its expectation that you can regurgitate Chaucer quotes or whatever the fuck). I got in the 42nd percentile on the subject test (lmao), but I was accepted into both programs that required my submitting that score.

 

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Just now, ecogoth said:

I would strongly urge future applicants to frame their statement of purpose around the trajectory of their research and where they see it going within the context of a school's program. By that, I mean that I think it's important to have a strong research proposal that shows you adding something urgently new to a field and how the school you're applying to would fit into that larger project. One of my favorite professors stressed this repeatedly to me and other applicants from my MA cohort, and he added the charming advice: "lie if you have to! It's about getting in, no one is going to hold you to it once you're already there!" Ideally, you would be proposing something you're actually interested in pursuing, but I think the real take-away here is in how detailing a loose plan for your dissertation topic demonstrates both your knowledge of the field and your ability to contribute to it in a meaningful way.

Agree 100%. Adding something urgently new to a field in terms of both theory and literary archives/texts.

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10 minutes ago, Rani13 said:

Agree 100%. Adding something urgently new to a field in terms of both theory and literary archives/texts.

My project also pitched a specific idea, a rough set of texts, and a few pieces of theory in the constellation of what I imagined I'd study. I did not make an effort to showcase how it changes my field, though, mainly because I wasn't informed enough to make those claims. I think a lot of the SoP is just a litmus test to see if you can formulate a viable project. Again, speaking the language. I also think this route is better than listing a vague sense of what your interests are. 

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Agreed with many points above re: the SoP. I'd also say put more weight on the WS. I always thought the SoP was the most important thing, but as it turns out, the WS is often what my AdCom and PoIs remember best about my application. It makes sense because people would latch onto things that resonate with their own work and that have concrete arguments and analyses. The WS is also where you prove that you are capable of doing the level of thinking and writing that you discuss in the SoP. 

I used my MA thesis, which was a good piece of work. I found it extremely difficult to cut it to the required length, because I wanted to include my introduction, which is long but includes a lot of theoretical and historical research that frames my argument. After seeking advice from a friend from my MA, who was very successful during their app cycle last year, I decided to forgo the introduction and used 2 chapters which analyzed 2 different texts instead. It was an agonizing decision but it worked out for me, as the WS ended up showing my ability to analyze different literary forms using different theories, while still containing some outside research. So my advice if anyone finds themselves in a similar dilemma, is to choose the writing sample that has more "close reading" than historical/theoretical framing. As I used an excerpt from a longer work, I put notes in the beginning of the WS to explain how it fits into my larger argument in the thesis.

Also, regarding prestige and whether to apply to Ivies: I wouldn't say anyone should not apply to Ivies simply because they are a nontraditional applicant or didn't come from a prestigious undergrad institution. If a school has multiple faculty working on the things you have done/hope to be doing, is in a location you want to live in, etc. and which is an Ivy, you should apply, as you never know what may happen. But I would also not apply to an Ivy school just because of their prestige. For certain fields/subfields, they simply may not be it (anymore). For example, my main field is postcolonial studies, and 2 of my recommenders went to Columbia and were students of Spivak. Both of them told me that I could consider Columbia but it's no longer particularly strong in PoCo, which I confirmed by scanning the graduate students' profiles besides the faculty's. Other top-ranked programs that are known for my field are UCLA, UPenn, and UT Austin, but the time periods that their faculty work on are different from mine. When I found NYU, however, it was a perfect match - strong in PoCo with a contemporary, Global South bend, and Robert Young is still there as the theoretical powerhouse. So really digging deep, knowing the state of the field, and looking at faculty's recent research, are very important for picking the right programs for your 1. theoretical frameworks and 2. time period.

Finally, apply to at least 8 programs! It is ultimately a numbers' game.  

 

 

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WS: Write an abstract, forefront conceptual questions of broad interest to people working with/in a methodological approach or theoretical area, clear structure. 

SOP: Multiple reads from multiple people, especially outside of thematic area, Hook them in, Ask Good Questions, Demonstrate broad (conceptual) familiarity with work of POIs, Frame around trajectory of research, demonstrate broad familiarity with "questions of the moment" in your thematic area. Affect-wise, aim to sound like a young early-career professional as opposed to a student (e.g., ditch subjunctive phrasing, don't apologize more than you have to, explain things concisely, and so on). 

LORs: Send a complete draft of your SOP to your recommenders relatively early, along with a document of school-specific paragraphs and a list of POIs at each program. Send near-final draft at least three weeks before the deadline. Send your recommenders abstracts of your writing samples, especially if you're writing them mostly from scratch.

Preparation: Reading over my materials again, I think what made the biggest difference for me is making an effort to read the works of other people less in terms of shared objects of study, and more in terms of what methods and theories undergird their close readings. I'm split on whether reading other WS/SOP would have been helpful, or not. Thinking maps can be very helpful. Long walks are good. 

 

 

 

 

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What I learned was that fit is the most important (according to my own acceptances/rejections). The schools that I got rejected from were ones where there was POI who did work in Caribbean Literature, which sounded great but their theoretical lens was much different than mine. I got focused on the region of literature rather then the theoretical framework that I would interact with. The 3 schools that I got accepted to/waitlisted by are ones with a POI that works in Caribbean Literature and uses gender and sexuality studies to frame their work. I got accepted by some top programs that had a perfect fit and rejected by lower programs with okay fit. I went to a large, public, university with an unranked English program for my BA, and receiving my MA from a larger, public, low ranked English program, and got into a high rank private institution, so I do not believe that my previous universities really mattered all that much. 

I would like to stress that this does seem to depend on your region/time period/theoretical lens of literature from looking at this board. As a world literature scholar with a specific region in mind, this was my experience. 

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On 2/27/2020 at 3:21 PM, merry night wanderer said:

Check your WS/SoP by profs who aren't in your field, as I've said elsewhere, and consider an abstract if you think it will help. I definitely think this would have made my work better.

I'm not a hundred percent certain about this, but: as a non-traditional applicant, I wouldn't even bother with the Ivies. I had one prof tell me they never accept students outside of a certain profile, i.e. younger (and usually from certain schools though there are occasional exceptions), and another tell me 'well who knows about that, it's all about the work, YOLO!' and what I should have done is just look at the grad student profiles on the website, which I did in a fit of stress a month ago... to find that yes, they are all younger (I think the most recent undergrad degree I saw in an Ivy was 2011, and it was from a super-accomplished international student; 30ish seems to be the max, and he was oldest by a fair margin). Though idk, I think MichelleObama is non-traditional so maybe it's just rarer. 

I know for a fact other top schools like UVA and Michigan and JHU and such accept non-traditional types, so there was really no need to even chance it. The only reason I didn't apply to those schools was actually that I was looking for bigger cities and POIs, but I could have gone for Rutgers instead of Harvard, etc. 

I disagree with a lot of this, and not only because this was not the case for me; I was even told by my advisors and letter writers that my non-traditional background (I'm 31, attended 4 schools including 2 community colleges before receiving my BA, and have some 1.3's and 1.7's etc. on my earliest transcript from 2006) would actually make me more appealing as an applicant because my record shows persistence and continual growth. I met with literally all of my English professors for advice on my future applications as early as 3 years before I even applied. I was told by one of my letter writers, however, that I was possibly aiming too high and should apply to more schools outside of the top 10, but I had been researching faculty and current students at certain schools for so long and didn't have time to edit my application choices. Luckily, this cycle worked out very well for me! But I was certainly told by multiple professors/advisors that I would likely get multiple offers because of my non-traditional background, not despite it.

I graduated with English honors and a 3.8 GPA, a research internship w a NYT bestselling author, a double major that included 2 years of Latin, and one creative publication I ended up on a brief in-state book tour for, all while bartending full-time and working late nights...the obstacles my background and transcripts reveal put my accomplishments into perspective, and I certainly don't think that this hurt my application. 

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@MichelleObama, that's why I mentioned you - I remembered that Yale had specifically asked about those challenges! 

It's hard to get a pulse on, because I've spoken with older applicants here and elsewhere who have also reported really direct bias (as in, quite explicit comments about being 35+ and the like) against people who are older, non-traditional, etc. I think it's probably too easy to get too wrapped up in or too dismissive about these discussions, when the truth is things like bias about age, undergrad prestige, etc. is there but varies a lot depending on which institutions and which people are involved. You can't really "disagree with" people's direct experiences of ageism and what have you, just like you can't "disagree with" your direct, very positive experiences of being non-traditional. Both are true and experiences are going to vary.

Regardless, I'm incredibly glad that you saw such success. It really makes me hopeful about academia. I think my education was much better for being in state schools where people who worked full-time, were older, etc were fixtures in my English classes, and I'm happy you're bringing that experience the places you've gotten into. I know I'm glad I bring that perspective check to wherever I'll go in the fall. 

Edited by merry night wanderer
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7 hours ago, merry night wanderer said:

@MichelleObama, that's why I mentioned you - I remembered that Yale had specifically asked about those challenges! 

It's hard to get a pulse on, because I've spoken with older applicants here and elsewhere who have also reported really direct bias (as in, quite explicit comments about being 35+ and the like) against people who are older, non-traditional, etc. I think it's probably too easy to get too wrapped up in or too dismissive about these discussions, when the truth is things like bias about age, undergrad prestige, etc. is there but varies a lot depending on which institutions and which people are involved. You can't really "disagree with" people's direct experiences of ageism and what have you, just like you can't "disagree with" your direct, very positive experiences of being non-traditional. Both are true and experiences are going to vary.

Regardless, I'm incredibly glad that you saw such success. It really makes me hopeful about academia. I think my education was much better for being in state schools where people who worked full-time, were older, etc were fixtures in my English classes, and I'm happy you're bringing that experience the places you've gotten into. I know I'm glad I bring that perspective check to wherever I'll go in the fall. 

I think it's important to note that people may have directly opposite experiences from one place or one person and can only speak for their own experiences. Also, it's good to note that tokenism is a thing, not negating anyone's success of course, but for example, just because a person of color may be treated well in a space that respects them, it does not mean that racism does not exist at all in that space. At the same time, we may need to be careful suggesting the space is always racist to everyone.

It might be unfair to suggest that these schools (and the grad school application process) do not like/respect/accept non-traditional students. Similarly, it's unfair to say that it is not an issue just because it was not your own personal experience. It's possible that the truth lies in the middle of those two perspectives.

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Right, it's kind of like saying the New Yorker publishes "diverse" authors because they have Junot Diaz on retainer. (They publish more POC than Junot Diaz, and key editors are trying to change things from what I understand, but overall, they get a lot of rightful heat for their tokenism.) 

I think it's also very important to note that these discussions absolutely don't negate anyone's achievement in getting in anywhere. It's hard to get into top schools no matter who you are, and you probably just aren't going to do it if your work isn't good. Bringing up these realities doesn't take the shine off of that, and I hope people are proud of what they've accomplished in this hellish process. Good work is good work! 

But I think it's everyone's responsibility to grapple with the ethics of prestige, institutionalized -isms, tokenism, etc in academia, for the sake of the future of the discipline and for the sake of our future students. Pride in what you've done can coexist with an awareness of how things are, and what helped you get to that point.  

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@merry night wanderer I read your first post as "non-traditional students shouldn't bother with Ivies" and my response was intending to counteract what I thought was a publicly defeatist attitude regarding the fact that non-traditional applicants certainly produce competitive applications and receive great offers too, and should definitely keep applying to institutions where they are underrepresented. Like, FOR SURE. 10/10. But I see now that you were really just trying to address the uncomfortable paradox of participating within a system which has been historically and institutionally discriminatory in a myriad of ways that generally don't work in favor of the "other," and certainly these demons manifest themselves saliently in the admissions process.

Edited by MichelleObama
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I know this may be a bit too personal of a request but I was just wondering if anyone who was successful this season would mind sharing their SoP/bits and pieces of their SoP/or at least how they structured their SoP. I’m beginning to think that may have been my weakest part, and I’ve scoured every website known to man for examples of successful statements, but still feel like mine is missing something...

Or, if anyone would be more comfortable with looking over mine and giving some feedback instead of sharing theirs, I would really really appreciate that, too. 

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5 hours ago, onerepublic96 said:

I know this may be a bit too personal of a request but I was just wondering if anyone who was successful this season would mind sharing their SoP/bits and pieces of their SoP/or at least how they structured their SoP. I’m beginning to think that may have been my weakest part, and I’ve scoured every website known to man for examples of successful statements, but still feel like mine is missing something...

Or, if anyone would be more comfortable with looking over mine and giving some feedback instead of sharing theirs, I would really really appreciate that, too. 

I’ll send you mine! 

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