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Rank these in order of difficulty


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Preparing to apply: surprisingly I found writing my SOP the easiest part because it turned out that I knew excatly what I wanted to say and just had to write it all out. I did not enjoy preparing for or taking the GRE one bit and spent about a year deciding on where to apply.

Waiting for replies: I submitted all my applications by mid-October and I'm an international applicant so I might have extended my waiting time longer than it could have been.

Moving where you got in: have moved every two years for the last 6 (halfway across the country and halfway across the world!) so this is not too much of a problem.

Deciding where to go: easy because I've applied to 9 places all of which I'd be happy to go to though I do have priorities.

Sending in the application: I had all my materials ready in about August so just had to send them off when the application process opened.

Edited by alleycat393
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For my MA:

Applying, deciding, waiting (moving N/A)

For my PhD:

Waiting, waiting, waiting, applying, moving (decision N/A - only one funded offer, but to my top choice by far)

ETA: I'm also curious as to what everyone thought was the worst part of the application. Universally, SOP? Or did anyone cagematch their writing sample (like for my MA application), or have an interview, um, extravaganza?

Edited by Sparky
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The SOP and supplemental essays were the easiest part of my application process. For me, the worst bits were preparing for the GRE and prodding professors to get their letters in on time. All my deadlines are during my finals :(

I'm always disbelieving when people say waiting was harder than applying!

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no contest

1. moving where you got in - moved cross country where I know no one w/ only two suitcases & a cat, had to work full time up until the day before the move.

2. Preparing to apply (but im nontraditional, working full time in a different field so this was a career change that took a lot of time & effort)

3. sending in the applications,

4. waiting for replies,

5. deciding where to go

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greysquirrel: how long did your cat hate you after? I have to move my three cats to the other side of the planet. Its not going to be fun.

I think the submitting part wouldn't have been so hard if I had left myself more time to do it. I figured that if i didn't have good scores to put in the application, there's no point leaving myself so much time for them. So i spent a year finishing up projects, getting published, cramming for the GRE.... and started working on submissions one week before my finals were due to begin. This is... really... not going well for me. I think the inherent easiness or difficulty of each part gets totally voided if you don't manage time. Subissions should not have been so hard!!

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Waiting is the hardest.

Deciding comes second... my top 3 choices are great programs (ranked within top 5) and it's going to be very difficult to choose.

Moving comes third. All schools I have applied to are at least at a distance of a day's drive from where I live. I don't mind driving, but it's not going to be very much fun in driving across the midwest.

Preparing to apply.

Sending the apps was pretty easy... all my apps were online.

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This was for my MS applications - we'll see what I think next year when I'm applying to PhD programs.

1. Deciding where to go. I was choosing between a more prestigious department, with good facilities, that gave me a scholarship and was much more logisitically friendly (I'm a part-time student, so this means "Offered lots of classes after work"), whose environment I knew nothing about, and the friendly department where I did my post-bac work, that is less prestigious, and much less logistically friendly, but where I already knew that I could succeed and the professors liked me and had helped me along. I chose the former. I cried when I declined the offer from the latter, because I felt like I was disappointing them when they had done so much to help me.

2. Sending in the application. Dealing with transcripts was annoying, one of my schools didn't receive my GRE scores until three months after I ordered them, and the application websites were not the best-designed websites that I have ever come across (to put it mildly).

3. Preparing to apply. I had already done some of this (e.g. taking GREs) a couple of years earlier while I was still an undergrad. I already had a resume from when I had applied for jobs, and just had to update it. I was only applying to two programs, so it wasn't that hard to produce two SOPs. I knew who I wanted to write letters of recommendation, and all of them agreed and got their letters in quickly.

4. Waiting for replies. I had other things to do during that time, like working full-time, taking grad-level classes as a non-degree student, and getting repeatedly tested for a chronic illness. Both programs that I applied for, had relatively late application deadlines, so my waiting time was relatively short.

5. Moving. I didn't have to move, so this is not applicable.

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honestly I think the hardest thing for me was the having to wait after having made the decision where to attend and before actually moving and starting the program (April -- September). It was extremely anticlimactic. All the decisions had been made, the deliberations done. Then there was absolutely nothing left for me to do and no way to make concrete plans for anything before I could get to the States. There was no point in studying before the semester started, I couldn't find an apartment from afar, couldn't buy furniture, couldn't get to know my professors and cohort. I just sat there and aimlessly waited.

But if I have to rank the options given here, then in order from the hardest to the least hard:

1. Waiting for the results. I became (even more) neurotic and checked my email on a minute-by-minute basis. Every answer completely revised my very elaborate "what-if" scenario, but worst of all was that my dream school (the one I'm attending) notified me of its decision last--only one day before my flight over to the States to visit other schools. That changed some of my plans because I had to somehow add it to my already-busy schedule. But, it was totally worth it.

2. Preparing the applications. Just because of the sheer amount of research and work that went into it. I spent about 6 months actively working on my application, starting with the GRE and TOEFL and initial SOP draft in June, and then revising my SOP and WS over and over again in the months of Sept-Dec. Chasing LOR writers was very stressful, particularly since my MA advisor suddenly flaked out two weeks before the deadline and said she would probably not have time to write the letters. I had to find another writer at the very last minute .. he was overseas so I had to express-mail him forms to fill out, etc. I actually ended up with 4 letters, because my advisor did come through at the very last minute. But the stress she caused me, my god.

3. Deciding where to go. I had a dream school and a very close 2nd place. My professors all thought I should go to the 2nd-place school, but I ended up going with my gut. I believe that was the right decision for me.

4. moving. I had moved 6 times in the last 14 months before I moved to the States so I was pretty versed on the one hand, and didn't have that much stuff on the other hand. I was also lucky finding an apartment and had help buying and assembling furniture once I got to my new city.

5. Sending in the applications. That part went without a hitch, thank god. I payed for tracking services but in any case none of my materials got lost by the post office or by any school.

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I think he still hates me. :) actually he has adjusted pretty well and he used to get allergies and doesn't in the new city.

I would never have left him behind but travelling with him took the cake. We flew and the worst part was taking him out of the carrier and holding him in my arms as I walked thru security at 5am. I didn't realize you have to take them out! Luckily my kitty is super docile but it could have been a disaster.

I don't know if this will make you all feel better or worse but the first year of grad school beats everything on this list hands down. Applying and waiting were just the tip of the iceberg! But I am part of an intense program so ymmv.

greysquirrel: how long did your cat hate you after? I have to move my three cats to the other side of the planet. Its not going to be fun.

I think the submitting part wouldn't have been so hard if I had left myself more time to do it. I figured that if i didn't have good scores to put in the application, there's no point leaving myself so much time for them. So i spent a year finishing up projects, getting published, cramming for the GRE.... and started working on submissions one week before my finals were due to begin. This is... really... not going well for me. I think the inherent easiness or difficulty of each part gets totally voided if you don't manage time. Subissions should not have been so hard!!

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I don't know if this will make you all feel better or worse but the first year of grad school beats everything on this list hands down. Applying and waiting were just the tip of the iceberg! But I am part of an intense program so ymmv.

I completely agree with this!

Applications were pretty nerve-wracking; I'd say the hardest part was clarifying what exactly I wanted to research and finding the best profs to apply to - it was a very iterative process for me. Next in difficulty was preparing for all the phone calls and interviews. Waiting wasn't too bad because I already knew that a couple schools were interested in me by mid-December and I started getting invites to interview in early January. And once I'd nailed down my topic and convinced some profs to like me, the actual applications weren't too bad at all. And finally, deciding where to go and moving were both pretty fun!

My PhD program itself is way, way harder than all of that though. I'm still working on getting the right balance between classes and research, and that's only going to get harder once I actually start running studies...

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For my MA apps:

moving where you got in

sending in the applications

Preparing to apply - assuming you're including putting together school lists, GRE, SOP writing

deciding where to go

waiting for replies - this might be an anomaly as I heard from my top 2 in Dec. and Jan.

Waiting is at the bottom because I found out in less than a month that I'd been admitted to my top two choices.

For my PhD apps:

moving where you got in

deciding where to go

Preparing to apply - assuming you're including putting together school lists, GRE, SOP writing

sending in the applications

waiting for replies - this might be an anomaly as I heard from my top 2 in Dec. and Jan.

Moving across the country is hard. Deciding between two amazing programs that each have an amazing advisor and similar funding packages is also extremely difficult. Again, I had no problems with the waiting but that's because I already knew I'd be admitted to several of the departments I applied to.

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1. Moving! For some this is easy, but we sold almost everything and moved our family to a new continent.

2. Application. Managing reference letters were the bane of my existence for a while there.

3. Waiting.

Deciding was the only easy part - I got my first choice. I suppose that's a nice part to have work out, so after all of the top three aggravations I have no complaints.

What was hardest, in your experience?

Preparing to apply,

sending in the applications,

waiting for replies,

deciding where to go, or

moving where you got in

Edited by Westcott
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For me:

(1) Moving where I got in. But that was because of a husband, soon to be ex-husband, who insisted on making everything a pain in the butt. I usually enjoy moving.

(2) Waiting for replies. (I don't like waiting for anything. Uncertainty = UGH.)

(3) Preparing to apply (non-traditional student: I had to do a lot of preparation that others don't need to worry about)

(4) Deciding where to go (4 acceptances: each had distinct pluses and minuses. My gut knew where to go as soon as I'd visited, but my mind didn't agree.)

(5) Sending in the applications. Yeah, there were some hassles, but nothing compared to the rest of the process.

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Still in the middle of the process ...

Hardest: Deciding to apply -- I'm a non-traditional (OLD) applicant -- so lots of doubts -- will people think I'm crazy? Will they even look at my application? etc

Next hardest: SOP -- A lot of those doubts came out in the early drafts. Honestly, my first essay might as well have been titled "Reasons to Reject Me"

The rest of the process hasn't been so bad.

GRE was relatively painless -- didn't prepare, took it early, expecting to take it again -- didn't have to

Won't be moving -- applied locally only

I'm HOPING deciding where to go will be the toughest part!

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Hardest: Deciding to apply -- I'm a non-traditional (OLD) applicant -- so lots of doubts -- will people think I'm crazy? Will they even look at my application? etc

YES THEY WILL!!! You will be surprised.

Next hardest: SOP -- A lot of those doubts came out in the early drafts. Honestly, my first essay might as well have been titled "Reasons to Reject Me"

Laughing until crying--my first draft was the exact same way. And, I should add, it was much longer than the subsequent "reasons to accept me" versions. :D

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I think he still hates me. :) actually he has adjusted pretty well and he used to get allergies and doesn't in the new city.

I would never have left him behind but travelling with him took the cake. We flew and the worst part was taking him out of the carrier and holding him in my arms as I walked thru security at 5am. I didn't realize you have to take them out! Luckily my kitty is super docile but it could have been a disaster.

Moving was the worst possible part of this whole experience. I moved from one side of the country to the other, and after that experience, it would be incredibly hard for someone to convince me to move back to the West.

My girlfriend and I moved with our two cats. We also flew, which was a nightmare. I don't know how long your flight was, but moving from one coast to another, with a multi-hour layover, was miserable. We had some medicine to calm the cats down, but even then they whined the entire 5 hour red-eye flight.

Terrible. I wish I could forget everything about those two days.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Deciding where to go and preparing to apply were definitely the most difficult, but for very different reasons. Deciding where to go was agonizing, and for the months between when I decided and when I started I was terrified I had made the wrong decision. Now I know I didn't. Preparing the applications just took so long, and the SOP had to be adapted for each school.

Waiting for replies was not so bad - I didn't expect to get in anywhere, so when I started hearing back from schools with acceptances early, it got even easier.

The rest was easy. I had moved several times a year for over 10 years, so that was nothing.

What wasn't in your ranking was the actual being here and taking classes in things I haven't looked at in over 10 years - that's difficult!

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1. Moving where I got in - I have just applied this season but I expect this to be the hardest part by far. I always hate moving, have never made a long-distance move before, and I will be doing it with my family of four on the most shoestring of budgets. I can't even imagine how I'm going to go about finding us a place to live hundreds of miles away, especially because I won't be able to go there beforehand and will likely have to rent sight unseen for the first lease.

2. Waiting for replies - Obviously, my deadlines are past so the waiting has only just begun. Yet, I expect the waiting to get more and more painful once the holidays are over. By the end of January, I imagine I'll be a nervous wreck.

3. Preparing to apply - It took a lot of effort but I don't think it was "difficult." My apps were submitted on Nov. 5. I did a lot of reading on department and school websites and fora for a year at least before it was time to actually apply. Though, the GRE was a real hassle. I only took it once despite getting an unexpectedly low AW score... I went back and forth about taking it again but, in the end, I have a family to support and just couldn't afford to blow another $160 just to get an extra point on the AW section.

4. Deciding where to go - I don't think I am gonna have much trouble deciding. My personal ranking of the schools I applied to is pretty firm. I'm perhaps if I got into #1 and #2 I might have a bit of a decision, but doubt that will be an issue.

5. Sending in the applications - The most difficult part of this was accepting the fees for GRE score reports and transcripts.

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