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Rants, Raves, Celebrations


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I figured I can't be the only one going nuts this month, and we need a place to rant, to rave, to celebrate ups and downs. On a positive note, congrats to everyone who has received offers of admission so far.

For those of you who haven't...I feel you. My big rant right now is...how did I get into Chicago (but waitlisted for funding) yet waitlisted also by UCSB and, worse (since this was my top choice), outright rejected by WashU?

Here's how I see myself. I have a B.A. in Classical Literature, with 8 semesters of Latin and 4 semesters of Greek. I went to a decent liberal arts college (one of the "7 sisters"), graduated with a 3.95 GPA. My GRE was 1490, 770V/720Q. According to my writers, my recs were all very positive; one of them was from a pretty well-known ancient philosophy prof at Oxford, where I did my JYA, the other two were from my UG advisor and a woman with whom I took Lit-Theory courses (I'm applying to programs that specialize in Classics and Theory)

My research proposal aimed to study the development of the idea of "a text" in the Augustan poets by analyzing the interplay of images of speech and weaving (hence textum). I think that there is a strong metaliterary/self-referential element to the Aeneid which stresses its own textuality, and as we know, Vergil clearly assumes a deep knowledge of previous epic poetry (as well as lyric and Alexandrian poetry). I suppose I put Vergil in the position of James Joyce - someone who writes not in order to be read but in order to be studied.

Anyway...that's my rant. It's hard not to take rejections personally; I realize it is useless to invest one's sense of self-worth in this process, but how can you not take a rejection as "sorry, you're not good enough."

As a final question...how many of us applied to graduate programs to escape the economy? I have a decent job, which I could have next year and the year after no problem. Quite a few of my friends who've lost jobs in the private sector are now looking to get into PhD programs, as if "I can't get a job in finance; I guess I'll do a History Phd" is their thought.

Thoughts? rants? concerns?

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Your scores and gpa seem great, but my guess is that the problem was that you didn't have enough Greek. I would assume most schools want at least a 4:3 spread between languages. A student with only 2 years of Greek probably wouldn't be ready to take grad level Greek classes. On their website UVA does encourage strong applicants with less prep in one language.

Just my guess. I imagine if you get your Greek up, you'd get in anywhere.

Also, would your interests be more suited to comp. lit programs?

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I have no idea why you were not outright accepted at UCSB and rejected from WashU. But then again my big rant is that I was really underestimating the competitiveness (or randomness?) of this whole process. The schools I applied to were all recommended by my professor as good fits and that I had a well-rounded, strong application. After getting rejected outright from 2 and wait-listed at one I began to freak out. Like considering an entire different approach to my future, getting a job-job, etc.

Thankfully I got in at one place with full-funding and for the moment my sanity, the entire purpose of the last 4 years of my life, and happiness have returned.

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Hi Guys!

Good luck to all of you and keep the faith - especially for those waitlistings. I know at many places, mostly everywhere, not only was funding cut significantly, but the applicant pool doubled or even tripled. This doesn't seem to be the case at the Ivy's, but at almost all the large state schools. Hang in there!

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hey JPR,

I was just re-reading your post, and here are some thoughts for you:

What is your modern language preparation? All programs want German and French/Italian -- do you have any background in either? That was the biggest change I made to my application from last year, and it has paid huge dividends.

I agree that your Greek background *might* cause some schools to balk at your application; some post-bacc work and/or work through an extension program would be a really easy way to beef up that part of your application. It's equally possible that this could have no bearing on how programs would judge your application, so who knows?

I wonder if maybe it hurt you to be applying to Classics programs, but to have only one true Classicist (your UG advisor, I assume) writing for you. These programs want to know that you are going to be able to work through their reading lists in a timely fashion AND contribute something new and meaningful to the field of Classics. I think it's great that your recommenders were able to attest to your wide-ranging interests, but you might be better served by people who can write about your success and facility with Greek and Latin texts.

Lastly, having not read your SoP (though having been exposed to your distillation of it), I can't help but wonder if you were a bit narrow in articulating your research interests. This was a problem that plagued me last year: in rereading last year's SoP this year, I realized that last year I was trying to say that I wanted to go to grad school to read ONE author. These programs want you to have a sense of where you might see yourself a few years down the line, but they don't want you to walk in and already definitively know your dissertation topic. I got around that problem this year by saying that my 'current research is focusing on X, but more broadly I am interested in Y, and X is an example of Y blah blah blah.'

Quantitatively, you sound like a superb candidate with a strong background and some fabulous ideas. If you get off a wait-list, do you think you will accept one of these offers, or are you contemplating re-applying next year? You're in a fortunate position since you already have a job, and the teaching experience certainly won't hurt your application (in my opinion). I suspect next year will be an even tougher year, though I think some minor tweaks to your application could make all the difference.

Have you contacted WashU to find out what kept your application from making it into the accepted pile? If it really is your dream school, I don't see any harm in emailing the DGS to inquire about the weaknesses in your application so that you can address them for a potential reapplication next year.

Lastly, for what it's worth, the writing sample is (for most programs) the most important part of the application.

I'm not sure if you were looking for any of this (un)solicited advice, but I thought I would put it out there for the benefit of whoever wants it. After two years scratching my head while trying to figure out this process, I might as well share what I've learned.

Good luck!

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Hey semper_ubi_sub_ubi, if you don't mind answering, did you remain at your undergrad. institution after the events of last year? How many semesters of German and French do you have?

What factors went into choosing what writing sample you submitted? I mean, I keep reading that one ought to submit a paper that was graded highly but what is an A+ for undergrad. might not be good enough for grad. level. And how "original" a scholarly work was it? What was your bibliography like?

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Hey Splendora,

At the time I applied, I had only completed one quarter of an intensive German reading course, though I was scheduled for two more quarters. Same thing goes for my Italian. My French is self-taught and supplemented with a private tutor. The thing that I did to demonstrate my near-proficiency was to use French and German scholarship in my writing sample, and I talked about my modern language preparation briefly in my SoP to emphasize that I would be prepared to pass modern language exams early on in my PhD career.

I was actually in the midst of a 'year off' last year when I first applied, busily teaching high school. This year I am completing a Master's degree in the UK, hence my access to intensive language courses. So, in answer to your question, I left my undergraduate institution behind and moved on.

Last year I used an excerpt from my senior thesis for my writing sample (which I think is generally standard practice), but this year I wrote a new paper from scratch that was designed specifically for the purpose of serving as my writing sample. I took a topic -- neologisms in a Greek tragedy (to try to preserve some anonymity, I don't want to go into excruciating detail) -- and used that topic as a way to (1) demonstrate my ability to work with a Greek text and conduct 'traditional' philological analysis, and then (2) I used that philological foundation to offer a theoretical interpretation that allowed me to offer that elusive 'something new.' Like I said earlier, my sense is that schools want to be certain that you know your way around the primary Latin and Greek texts, and then they want to see that you can do something interesting with texts that have already been flogged to death for meaning. As for my bibliography, I made sure to use some French and German works (to illustrate foreign language skills), and I also made sure that I highlighted my awareness of the seminal scholarship pertaining to the play I was analyzing. All told, I probably had 20-30 sources for a 20-page paper -- thorough, but hardly exhaustive.

I agree that a paper that is well received by undergraduate professors might not be good enough for grad. level, but the goal shouldn't necessarily be to reinvent the wheel with your writing sample. As long as you can present a sound argument that makes a compelling point, I think that should be the aim.

Does this help, or does my vagueness only make things worse?

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Hey, yes, that does help, thanks. I don't know if I would feel confident enough to write something from scratch as you did. I will probably end up rewriting a seminar paper with professor's comments as guideline and asking a recommender or two to read it over before I submit it. Unfortunately though, talking to my professors about class essays recently and in the past, I've found that improvements they recommend are mostly to do with making what I've already written better. So if I write a mediocre essay that isn't particularly profound, I'm afraid that all their suggestions would yield would be a better written and better argued average paper. And honestly that terrifies me. I don't know what to do right now, long before I apply to grad. schools, to develop into a kick-ass classicist, and there's a lot more to that than making sure I have enough ancient and modern languages. How did people like Frazer and Mommsen develop as classicists anyway? How does one get there?

Sorry for going off-topic from the original intent of the thread.

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splendora -

Mommsen was apparently never without a book, got up at 5am and worked diligently all the livelong day...same way as most experts! You've got to have the ability to day so...like Semper, I teach high school. 5 classes + grading + planning as a new teacher = minimal time, especially when you factor in 2 hours of commuting. That's why we apply to grad school, I suppose...this way I can get up at 6am and read theory in the morning, Greek in the afternoon, and Latin at night!

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  • 2 weeks later...

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