Jump to content
Sonic

If I knew then what I know now...

Recommended Posts

I agree with @latte thunder. Grad school is vocational, not an easy way to avoid facing reality.

I would also like to add that I waited 8 years since I graduated from college to go to Grad School and I think it was my best decision ever. During these 8 years I've worked in 4 different countries, I've matured, I've found out what my real passion in life was, etc. In other words: I've enjoyed life! When I graduated from college one of my professors advised me to pursue a PhD. At that time, I saw it as a really scary thing to do, something I couldn't handle. When I finally applied to grad school, I was very excited knowing that I had finally found what I really wanted to do in life and knowing that these 8 years had helped me be ready for an MA and a PhD. After enjoying traveling and meeting people all around the world, I'm finally ready to focus on my studies for the next 7 years.

So, after this lengthy paragraph, this is my advice: graduate from college, travel, work, enjoy life, and think about what you really want to do in life. And then, if you feel you're ready, apply to Grad School.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

1. Don't stress out about the GRE. It doesn't hold very much weight when compared with the rest of the application, and many people actually consider it to be a poor measure of graduate school success.

2. Don't stress out about the interview visit. The programs are trying to recruit you just as much as you are trying to impress them, so take it easy and focus on getting to know what they have to offer.

3. Apply early. Your name will more likely stick out from the crowd if your application is one of the first to arrive for the application season.

4. Only apply to schools you would actually attend. To reiterate what others have said..."there is no such thing as a safety school". Imagine each school you apply to as your only acceptance, that should help you narrow down a solid, concise list of prospective programs.

5. Have clear (as possible) research interests. Faculty seem to think very highly of students who already know what they want to study.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

1. Start the process as early as possible. Seriously. It's never too early to start.

2. Spend time researching the programs you are considering applying to - read their website, as well as potential advisors' websites. Read about the location, the weather, the current funding situation. Ask your professors about each school.

3. Don't apply to "safety schools", there is no such thing. Also don't apply to schools in locations you absolutely don't see yourself living in. Don't make choices that will make you unhappy before you even start.

4. Write an early SOP draft and put it aside for at least a few weeks. You may find while writing the draft that you struggle to define your interests. Spend some time thinking about that; it can be a real soul-searching process and you should not apply before you've gone through it and are confident in your chosen field(s).

5. Think ahead. One of the papers you write for a class this year will likely turn into your writing sample next year; get good feedback and revise accordingly. One or more of the professors you are taking classes with this year will be recommenders next year. Go to office hours, make yourself known to them. Seek feedback from them on your work, maybe even on papers for other classes if they are interested.

6. Use the summer wisely. A small RAship or an independent study could go a long way towards getting you some much needed research experience, maybe also a LOR and/or a writing sample. Not to mention how much it'll help you to better define your interests for your SOP.

7. Find out if it's customary to contact potential advisors ahead of time in your field. If so, do it a few weeks before or a few weeks after the new term starts. Don't wait, this can affect your choice where to apply.

8. Don't stress overmuch about grades. For one, there's little you can do to change the ones you already have. Further, the "intangible" parts of the application are so much more important.

9. Revise, revise, and revise some more. Let professors and friends read your SOP for content and for style. Let someone read your writing sample as well. Go through multiple versions, take your time. These things are hard to write.

10. Be on top of things, part 1. I suggest a chart with the following info for each school: (a) deadline, (b ) app fee, (c ) link to app website, (d) username, password for website, (e) requirements (how many transcripts, GRE/subject GRE score, TOEFL score, LORs, SOP prompt, writing sample length, other - diversity statement, personal statement, letter of intent, etc.), (f) potential advisors, links to websites

11. Be on top of things, part 2. Have a time line: deadlines for each school, when to order transcripts (how many), when to send out application packets, when to contact recommenders, when to send reminders. If you're international, look up American holidays around when you expect to send your app so you're not surprised by the (lack of) operating times of the post office and the schools.

12. Be on top of things, part 3. Get in touch with your recommenders early. Prepare a packet for each of them with your transcript, a paper you wrote for their class, a draft of your SOP, a list of the schools you're applying to with their deadline. Ask them if/when they would like you to send them reminders. Consider having a backup plan for flaky recommenders - in particular ones that will be away and will be hard to track down if they disappear.

Edited by fuzzylogician

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Whoa, I think previous posters have covered almost all aspects in preparing your applications. I'll just try to add some more in deciding where to go in the case of multiple acceptances:

(1) Wait until you know all of your options (i.e., you have heard back from all of your schools) before making any decision. I realize sometimes it is not possible. Do not decide hastily! This is a big decision of your life. I ended up making my decision towards the end of April 15th.

(2) Visit the schools, talk to current students, talk to professors in each school to get the vibe.

(3) Figure out their placement records. Where do their graduates go. Are the current grads happy with their program? Current grads are usually honest about the current condition.

(4) Try to talk to the current advisees of your PoIs. I did this and it revealed some "disturbing" facts about some of PoIs. In other cases, it confirmed my intention to work with said PoIs.

(5) Follow the money! Go for funded offers, especially for PhDs! You'll work better if you dont have to worry about money.

(6) Seek advices from your current recommenders about which offers to choose.

(7) Figure out the research productivity of current advisees of your PoIs.

(8) Only talk about your applications to those who understands the competitiveness/stress involved in graduate applications. This saves you a lot from feeling stupid for getting rejected or wanting to go mental towards everyone around you :-)

Edited by beanbagchairs

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree with everyone that said revise, revise, revise. Then wait a few weeks and revise some more. I did total revisions on my SOP and CV at least 7 times. Finally a week or two ago I let myself look them over again and there was SO MUCH MORE I could have changed/ fixed.

Research every aspect of the programs you're interested in. Learn everything you can about what's available in your field. If you want to go to a school just for the name and you know deep down inside that you're not compatible with the program/ research, don't waste your time and money. Name isn't everything. Through some links posted here I was able to find 3 more schools that I think I would be really interested in. I didn't do enough research on what's out there.

Start thinking about your writing sample as early as possible. Any paper can be a potential writing sample. Stay on top of what you write, and if you think it could potentially be a sample, edit it according to your prof's suggestions right away. Dont wait until a week before you send in applications and quickly try to revise a random paper (like I did).

On that note, something I wish I had done and something I will DEFINITELY do next time --- take your time applying. don't rush. make sure every detail is included, every piece of information you wanted to say, that every "i" is dotted. If you're unsure about whether or not you want to add/ delete something, sleep on it. I just wanted to get my apps over with so I sent everything in almost 2 months before the deadline and it was silly. Unfortunately that application packet is the only thing that represents you to the adcoms, the only thing that stands between getting an interview or getting thrown into the reject pile. Make sure your 100% happy with it before pressing 'SEND'.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

1. Get cracking on the SOP. For me, it was a work-in-progress for months. Have 2 or 3 trusted people periodically review your drafts. This helped me tremendously in my writing process. The quality of my SOP from first draft to final submission was night and day.

2. Visit your schools before you apply, if it's an option. I did this for my first choice school. I had the opportunity to meet half of the admissions committee members one-on-one. I think this really gave me an edge in the decision process. It showed I was very serious about the program. It also gave an opportunity to evaluate fit-- for me and the faculty. Quite frankly, I don't know if I would have been selected if I hadn't made a visit.

3. Don't stress about the GRE. If you make the cutoff, you're fine. In my program, it didn't seem the GRE would make or break an application if you met the minimum. That will probably change with PhD, so I may take it again after it switches format. I completely stressed out the first time I took it, and I think that negatively impacted my score.

4. As other posters have said...there is no such thing as a safety school. Don't apply to a school if it's not a right fit for you. That's a lot of money to spend for an education if it isn't your ideal fit. Take a year off, get more experience, and re-apply. I've seen a lot of people rejected the first time, and are accepted with their second application.

5. Don't take things too personally. I know that's tough to swallow. It really is about fit. Some years the applicant pool is extremely concentrated in certain areas. That makes it all the harder to stand out because so many people are qualified.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree with @latte thunder. Grad school is vocational, not an easy way to avoid facing reality.

I would also like to add that I waited 8 years since I graduated from college to go to Grad School and I think it was my best decision ever. During these 8 years I've worked in 4 different countries, I've matured, I've found out what my real passion in life was, etc. In other words: I've enjoyed life! When I graduated from college one of my professors advised me to pursue a PhD. At that time, I saw it as a really scary thing to do, something I couldn't handle. When I finally applied to grad school, I was very excited knowing that I had finally found what I really wanted to do in life and knowing that these 8 years had helped me be ready for an MA and a PhD. After enjoying traveling and meeting people all around the world, I'm finally ready to focus on my studies for the next 7 years.

So, after this lengthy paragraph, this is my advice: graduate from college, travel, work, enjoy life, and think about what you really want to do in life. And then, if you feel you're ready, apply to Grad School.

Heh, I waited 15 years after undergrad to start grad school. If I were doing everything over and reapplying to PhD programs, the one thing I'd do is apply to more of them. Of course, funded PhD programs are much harder to get accepted into than unfunded master's but I didn't anticipate just how much harder. So the one thing I'd do differently is apply to more programs. I didn't apply to a few because they were overseas (should have applied anyway just to see what they said,) didn't apply to one because I thought the web site description seemed vague (but maybe their program is a lot better than their site,) didn't apply to another because it seemed like there was no funding (in truth, you'll never find out what the funding situation is until you apply,) and... just plain forgot about the last one (that was just dumb.)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I totally agree with everyone that said not to stress about the GRE. I didn't have the best scores in the world, but I still got into programs. I actually performed better the 2nd time I took the test because I had a "whatever let's just get this over with" attitude vs. the first time when I was overly stressed about scoring high. .

Edited by ep1181

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I am currently serving as a "mentor" in my history department. Being a senior, and having done pretty well during the application process, I am constantly being asked by students about the whole process. So, rather than spend an hour or more explaining to each individually, I am working on a sort-of rough guide structured around a timeline of the process. But, I am just one person, and I would really appreciate it if anyone was inclined to take a look and maybe suggest edits or additions. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated and I am, of course, more than happy to share the document with fellow forum members.

NOTE: Because it is a direct link, clicking it will begin downloading the document. So, if you are wary of that for whatever reason, do not click the link below.

A direct link to the guide in .docx format here.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I will be applying to grad school this fall and those who are also applying soon or will reapply in the near future, I would advise reading Donald Asher's "Graduate Admissions Essays: Write Your Way Into the Graduate School of Your Choice". So far, it is extremely useful in how I am approaching my schools. It is not all about crafting the best graduate school essay; its about crafting the strongest graduate school application possible.

You should be aware that while Asher's book has lots of good tips about good writing, and lots of fantastic sample SOPs, some of the advice isn't great for PhD programs because he's trying to address academic master's and PhD programs, MD programs, law schools, and MBA programs all in the same book. And guess what? Those all have really different admissions criteria, and want different things in their essays! For example, he stresses certain kinds of leadership and character-reference activities a lot that are basically worthless for PhD admissions (though they might be useful for certain fellowships). Nobody in PhD admissions cares that you founded some random club, or that you were a resident assistant in your dorm. They care about your research potential and ability to complete the program (as demonstrated by research experience, recommendations, grades, and GRE), your focus, and to some extent your professionalism and professional involvement (which can be demonstrated by involvement, service, and leadership in the professional societies of your field, the student clubs in your field, the honors societies of your field, etc).

I felt that of all that was in the book, I got the most out of reading the sample SOPs in areas of study similar to mine.

I don't recommend against the Asher book, but I suggest that you combine it with other sources that are tailored to PhD applicants. Here are two very good ones (science-oriented):

Katherine Sledge Moore's site

http://sites.google.com/site/gradappadvice/home

Philip Guo's pages on PhD applications advice and fellowship application advice, respectively

http://www.stanford.edu/~pgbovine/grad-school-app-tips.htm

http://www.stanford.edu/~pgbovine/fellowship-tips.htm

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You should be aware that while Asher's book has lots of good tips about good writing, and lots of fantastic sample SOPs, some of the advice isn't great for PhD programs because he's trying to address academic master's and PhD programs, MD programs, law schools, and MBA programs all in the same book. And guess what? Those all have really different admissions criteria, and want different things in their essays! For example, he stresses certain kinds of leadership and character-reference activities a lot that are basically worthless for PhD admissions (though they might be useful for certain fellowships). Nobody in PhD admissions cares that you founded some random club, or that you were a resident assistant in your dorm. They care about your research potential and ability to complete the program (as demonstrated by research experience, recommendations, grades, and GRE), your focus, and to some extent your professionalism and professional involvement (which can be demonstrated by involvement, service, and leadership in the professional societies of your field, the student clubs in your field, the honors societies of your field, etc).

I felt that of all that was in the book, I got the most out of reading the sample SOPs in areas of study similar to mine.

I don't recommend against the Asher book, but I suggest that you combine it with other sources that are tailored to PhD applicants. Here are two very good ones (science-oriented):

Katherine Sledge Moore's site

http://sites.google....dappadvice/home

Philip Guo's pages on PhD applications advice and fellowship application advice, respectively

http://www.stanford....ol-app-tips.htm

http://www.stanford....owship-tips.htm

I'm planning on pursuing a M.S. degree in Computer Science, not a Ph.D program. But I will check out your links. Thanks.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

1. If you have a low UG GPA, it might not matter so much if you have good research experience and decent GRE. LORs are very important.

2. Make sure you have backup LOR!! That screwed me over when I applied, some schools don't look at your app at all unless everything is in... Including LORs.

3. When it comes to decision time, regardless how many people suggest/advise you about choices, always make sure you are okay with what you decided on. We all get cold feet moments with major decision times, but which school to attend a very personal choice. Trust your instinct!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Most of the advice regarding the SOP has been spot on, I think, but I would add that if you have any professors who know you and your work particularly well (your letter writers, I should think), ask them for advice about what should go into your SOP and how you should approach it BEFORE you begin writing. Gradcafe, while immensely helpful in that regard, is not a substitute for the guidance of your advisors. The two professors whom I asked for SOP advice, one a veteran of his field and the other a member of the adcom of a program I was applying to, were able to give me very helpful and field-specific pointers regarding unsuccessful/successful approaches they had seen in SOPs and what direction they thought my SOP should go in, based on what they knew of me and my interests. In fact, if you are having trouble defining your research interests, you might find that in the course of conversation one of your professors who knows your work well will be able to describe it more coherently and articulately than you! You can save yourself from a lot of the time and agony of revising the SOP if you start off on the right foot with a first draft that, while perhaps roughly written and not conceptually complete, is pointing you in the right direction from the get go. Also, if you are applying to a program that requires a diversity/personal history statement and have access to someone in the know, ask them about the relative importance of this. There is no need to stress out about writing a diversity statement and to give it the same attention as the SOP if it has no bearing on admission to the department and is used for diversity fellowship eligibility purposes, as was true in my case.

Edited by chaussettes

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I would just add the following: Be yourself in your SOP. Sure, you can read advice about what to do and follow it. But, you can also be yourself. When I applied to MA programs, I actually told the school that they were my top choice in my SOP. I also added some other things (like how else I would be involved as a student beyond the department) to my SOP. Guess what? They admitted with a fellowship. So, it's not always about doing what everyone on the internet says.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I totally agree with starmaker.

1. Applying to graduate school requires a lot of effort, it better be stretched over few months. I applied to graduate school over 3 months including the test taking, and the the applications to the schools I applied early didn't look good on retrospection.

I would advice to have reminders for deadlines, spend a particular time of the day,each day, for reviewing everything about graduate school apps , including peer reviews for SOP.

2. Review applications before hitting the submit button. [Even if you get everything right all the time]

3. Decide on schools somewhat early. At least a 15 days time before hitting submit button would do good.

4. There are no safety schools. I got rejected both of my safety schools.

Got a few links for Phd CS applicants only two/three of which I went through. I actually gave the last link to one of the profs who asked me how would you want me to write it :)

Advice for Foreign Students Wishing to Pursue Graduate Study in Computer Science at UCSC

I did a PhD and did NOT go mad

Applying to Graduate School in Computer Science

Choosing a Ph.D. program in Computer Science

Applying to Ph.D. Programs in Computer Science 1 Introduction Contents

Jason Hong's Homepage - Grad School Advice

Tips on Writing a Statement of Purpose A graduate school survival guide: "So long, and thanks for the Ph.D!"

Shriram Krishnamurthi: Advice to Graduate School Recommendation Letter Writers

I felt that of all that was in the book, I got the most out of reading the sample SOPs in areas of study similar to mine.

I don't recommend against the Asher book, but I suggest that you combine it with other sources that are tailored to PhD applicants. Here are two very good ones (science-oriented):

Katherine Sledge Moore's site

http://sites.google....dappadvice/home

Philip Guo's pages on PhD applications advice and fellowship application advice, respectively

http://www.stanford....ol-app-tips.htm

http://www.stanford....owship-tips.htm

Edited by rejectMeNot

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Not to be a narcissist, but I'm bumping my own thread. It's not for my advice really, but the stuff other people wrote seems to be relevant to a lot of the questions new applicants are asking again, GRE questions, SoP, letters of recommendations, etc.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Applying to grad school is expensive. Save up before you apply. Costs include application fees, transcripts, GREs registration and re-takes, fees to send GRE scores, application supplies (envelopes, etc.). I was really surprised at how hard it hit my wallet.

Be organized about your application. For each LOR writer, fill out as much of the paperwork as you can. Provide the list of schools and deadlines, as well as the date you'd prefer to have the letter submitted. Check in every week or two (most of them really appreciate this). Also provide your CV, the latest draft of your SOP, and an unofficial transcript; this will jog their memories and remind them how awesome you are. Also, it'll show that you're on top of things and make their lives easier, which will naturally make them happier about writing a letter for you.

After you get in, save like crazy for when you move. Moving to a new place is always costly, and stipends won't start coming in for awhile after you start.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Everyone's advice here is really great. I'll add:

1. Give. Yourself. Time.

With that time:

2. Really research programs and faculty fit. Read their work! Three sentences of a website bio are not enough for you to know if this is a good fit or to write a thoroughly personalized SOP.

3. Draft an SOP early enough to have your LORs look at it. Revise. Have it reviewed again. Etc.

4. Triple check that envelope before you send it off. It's embarassing when School A calls you because they have School B's application. (Theoretically speaking, of course.)

Edited by rainy_day

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I would add to all of this, know what you want to go into grad school for. It's the first and most important step, as I have been realizing with SOP's. If you don't really know why you want to go, it's going to show. Along with that, as other people have mentioned, researching programs is really important. If you don't know why you want to go into a program/field, then you really won't know what you are looking for in a program. So try to figure out what you see yourself doing 5-10 years after you get your degree. You might not be doing that, but it will help.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

When evaluating guidance, consider the source. When someone tells you that you need to do X, Y, and Z and not worry about A, B, and C, ask critical questions.

  • Is the guidance specific to a particular subject, institution, or area of study?
  • Is the guidance based upon hearsay, scuttlebutt, something read in a book, the received wisdom of other aspiring graduate students, actionable information from grad students who have gotten into the same programs, or did it come from a burning bush--that is, from professors? (Hint: while students worry about grades, professors worry about grade inflation.)
  • Did the person get debriefed as to why he or she did/did not get into certain programs?
  • Has that person gone through the application process with a high level of success?
  • Does the person have a good track record for advancing successful applications by other students?

An aside. FWIW, I respectfully disagree with the emerging consensus that there's no such thing as a safety school. It depends. Academic pedigree matters. As an undergraduate, many of my classmates knew that they could continue at the same school after graduation. They knew they were the top students in one of the three highest-ranked departments in the field. Some chose to stay. Others took guidance from professors to go elsewhere to avoid the stigma of intellectual incest. Others wanted to go elsewhere (and knew they'd get in--somewhere).

Advice in line with the OP.

When researching programs, do not be overly reliant upon the internet if your field is history.

Do all you can to get to know the professors with whom you'll be working before you commit to a program. Do understand that you won't get a complete picture from a professor's graduate students. As you will all learn soon enough, a graduate student's love, hate, fear, admiration, and loathing for professors will come and go like Lindsay Lohan's sobriety. Similarly, a professor's colleagues will be constrained from telling you the poop. So, there may well be some information you will not learn until much later. These obstacles aside, do what you can to look before you leap.

Try not to worry about what you cannot control. Let go of fear. So what if everyone else applying to your programs of choice is fifteen feet tall. You're the one with the sling-bullets. Your arm is strong, your sight is clear, and your aim is true. Focus on crafting an application that will be your sling. Whisper a prayer (if you're so inclined), let fly your best shot, and go from there.*

_________________________________________________________

* Fear and terror will be waiting for you once you get to grad school. :mellow:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

1. Don't let one aspect of your application obscure the bigger picture and prevent you from applying to the programs you want. A low undergrad GPA could be offset by great research and recommendations, especially if you have a master's. The same is true for low GRE scores. When you start agonzing over one part of your application, take a step back and survey your entire record. Ask for feedback from professors.

I also used Asher's book. It is fantastic. Yes, he does sometimes give general advice that's only relevant to certain degrees, but I also found that most of his advice is widely applicable. Like with the resident assistant example, he was using that as an example of how you can use a seemingly mundane event to set across your own uniqueness.

2. This goes along with latte thunder's post, but don't go into debt that is unreasonable for your career. A lawyer aiming for BigLaw may be comfortable borrowing $150K for their JD, but if you want to be a middle school math teacher, you probably shouldn't borrow that much to get your M.Ed. A corollary is that the majority of jobs don't require a Harvard degree to get,. Think about the local area in which you want to work; for example, in my town in the South, Agnes Scott College had way more name recognition than Northwestern (most people from that area wouldn't even know where Northwestern was).

3. Grad school apps are expensive, so save up. But at the same time, think of application as an investment in your future. You don't want to go nuts when it comes to applications, but don't limit yourself to too few schools because you're afraid of the costs. If you can't afford it yet, wait until next year.

An aside. FWIW, I respectfully disagree with the emerging consensus that there's no such thing as a safety school. It depends. Academic pedigree matters

I don't think the point is that academic pedigree does not matter or that some students won't have an easier time getting in somewhere than others. "Safety school" connotes an ease of admissions due to prestige v. a good fit. A lower-tier school will likely not admit a student who is obviously not a good fit, even if they are a stellar student.

I also have to disagree with the stability of grad students' feelings for professors. Simpler emotions like liking or admiring? Perhaps. But hatred? I'd pay attention to the reasons why. I'd also pay attention to numbers. If there's a professor in the department that ALL of the graduate students tell you to avoid, there's probably a reason why. And we're adults - it's probably not because she dresses funny.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I also have to disagree with the stability of grad students' feelings for professors. Simpler emotions like liking or admiring? Perhaps. But hatred? I'd pay attention to the reasons why. I'd also pay attention to numbers. If there's a professor in the department that ALL of the graduate students tell you to avoid, there's probably a reason why. And we're adults - it's probably not because she dresses funny.

JM--

Yes, hatred. In academic history, emotions run strong and they run deep.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This one is simple for me. I would have been in the honors program. Because I switched majors a couple times my counselor for the field I want to be in failed to mention the importance of the honors program. I actually didn't even know it existed until I was pretty deep into my classes....and then...well...I was screwed.

It's easily the single most important reason I'm struggling to get back into school. The honors program gave students opportunities to present at conferences and publish papers and what not and I missed these opportunities. Feels bad man.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.