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jferreir

What is a desirable student?

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Long story short, I've been admitted to my UG school with minimal funding and a questionable "fit". Truthfully, it feels like their offer of admission was out of obligation (which perhaps explains the lack of funding). Either way, while I'm grateful for the acceptance, I simply can't afford to attend. I was really excited about my other two applications, but I've been placed on the waiting list for both, and I'm growing more pessimistic by the day (for good reason).

I just don't understand what I'm doing wrong. I have reasonably high grades (close to 90%), I have already completed a few graduate courses (again, close to 90%), I have glowing LOR's, a solid SOP and writing sample, various awards, and a wealth of extracurricular activity that is directly relevant to the discipline.

The two schools I applied to were not "reach" schools and both were an excellent fit. I have no problem with being placed on the waiting list, but I want to know what qualities (or lack thereof) are preventing me from making the first round of offers (i.e. being one of those "desirable students"). And let's face it, those on the waiting list are less desirable than those who have gained admittance. To be perfectly honest, I feel like I put my best foot forward... I guess it just wasn't good enough (and not knowing why is the most frustrating part).

I know someone is bound to say "don't take it personally; application numbers are up while spots are down." But seriously, how can I not take it personally? I'm so embittered by this whole process and I really don't know where to go from here. I don't know if I'll have the courage to apply again next year, not knowing what I can improve upon.

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Give us a little more to give you feedback on. What kind of program is it? What type of degree is it? What are the schools you applied to? Any information you're willing to give will definitely help us make recommendations.

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Well, I'm a little apprehensive about sharing this sort of stuff, so here is some generic info:

Discipline: Humanities

Degree: Terminal MA

GRE: Not Applicable

Schools: Non-US, but top-tier (and very realistic, according to profs)

I know someone from my UG who gained admittance into one of the schools, and we have a similar academic background (albeit with different research interests). Is that enough?

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Well, based off of what you wrote, I'd venture a guess and say that your research interests probably don't fit as well with the programs as other candidates.

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Well, based off of what you wrote, I'd venture a guess and say that your research interests probably don't fit as well with the programs as other candidates.

I'm almost certain that's not the case. My research interests are very focused and somewhat specialized. At each university, there is at least one faculty member that is a defining figure in those sub-disciplines. At the risk of sounding conceited, I really can't imagine any other applicant with a greater research "fit". Concerning the department/programme as a whole, I still think it's an excellent fit. In fact, I've already been in contact with some of the professors while I was working as a research assistant in my department.

The plot thickens...

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I'm almost certain that's not the case. My research interests are very focused and somewhat specialized. At each university, there is at least one faculty member that is a defining figure in those sub-disciplines. At the risk of sounding conceited, I really can't imagine any other applicant with a greater research "fit". Concerning the department/programme as a whole, I still think it's an excellent fit. In fact, I've already been in contact with some of the professors while I was working as a research assistant in my department.

The plot thickens...

Unfortunately, it would seem that the first folks who were offered admission were better fits for whatever reason. Perhaps you were too narrow in your research focus or perhaps the faculty members you identified didn't have any more space to take on additional students? All possibilities.

Next time, try expanding your applications? That will give you a greater chance--unlike undergrad, grad school is not nearly as predictable in its application process.

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Truthfully, it feels like their offer of admission was out of obligation (which perhaps explains the lack of funding).

Why would any school have an obligation to admit you? Lots of people get rejected from their UG school. I suspect that the reason you are WLed for funding is that the department wanted the other students who were accepted more. I suspect this is also the reason you were waitlisted at other schools... you were a candidate they would accept, but there were other candidates they wanted to accept more. Without a lot of detailed info, no one can tell you how to make yourself a better candidate for those programs except the people working in admissions in those programs.

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I'm almost certain that's not the case. My research interests are very focused and somewhat specialized. At each university, there is at least one faculty member that is a defining figure in those sub-disciplines. At the risk of sounding conceited, I really can't imagine any other applicant with a greater research "fit". Concerning the department/programme as a whole, I still think it's an excellent fit. In fact, I've already been in contact with some of the professors while I was working as a research assistant in my department.

The plot thickens...

I would second the suggestion that your research interests are perhaps too "specialized"; also, since you say there is "at least one faculty member that is a defining figure in those sub-disciplines," then I think it may be the case that that one faculty member at each school possibly was not taking any new advisees, or perhaps found other applicants that better suited their limited spots for advisees. I hope I don't sound gnarly (and forgive the double-negative that's upcoming), but to be honest, you really can't not (there it is) imagine any other applicant with a greater research fit. You never know.

Also, there are a few things missing, I think, from what you mentioned about your application--what about publications or conference presentations? It's true that not all applicants have these, but several do. Finally--and this is a small point, not a major one or even, perhaps, one at all, but since you want no stones left unturned--you say your grades are "close to 90%." Could you take a couple more graduate classes before the next application cycle and break into those As?

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I would second the suggestion that your research interests are perhaps too "specialized"; also, since you say there is "at least one faculty member that is a defining figure in those sub-disciplines," then I think it may be the case that that one faculty member at each school possibly was not taking any new advisees, or perhaps found other applicants that better suited their limited spots for advisees. I hope I don't sound gnarly (and forgive the double-negative that's upcoming), but to be honest, you really can't not (there it is) imagine any other applicant with a greater research fit. You never know.

Also, there are a few things missing, I think, from what you mentioned about your application--what about publications or conference presentations? It's true that not all applicants have these, but several do. Finally--and this is a small point, not a major one or even, perhaps, one at all, but since you want no stones left unturned--you say your grades are "close to 90%." Could you take a couple more graduate classes before the next application cycle and break into those As?

Thanks for the input. Now, just to clarify a few things...

While I understand that I could potentially be "over specialized", one of these schools only offers the MA by coursework. For this specific school, my intention was to enroll in a guided research project with one of the professors (he already agreed). Given that the nature of the degree is to improve the depth/breadth of knowledge in the discipline more generally, I still question the "over-specialization" explanation (although it could be true).

Concerning qualifications, I do not have any publications under my belt, but I really don't think that's a concern for the MA degree. In fact, out of everyone I know that has gained admittance into the two schools in question, none of them had any publications/conferences on their application. With respect to grades, we use a different grading system up north:

80%-84% = A-

85%-89% = A

90%-100% = A+

Although I don't deny that grade inflation exists, I think it's less of a problem over here. Additionally, attaining grades over 90% is not just difficult, it's exceptional. One faculty member in my department confessed that in her 17 years of teaching, she has only awarded one grade over 90%. Most schools stipulate that you need at least a 75% cumulative average, but the actual requirement is about 80% for most respectable schools. So, if I have grades near 90%, that should give you some indication of where I stand relative to the minimum admission requirements. I never thought my grades were spectacular, but I did outperform most students in actual graduate courses - I was hoping that would count for something. :|

Any other thoughts?

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You sound like a solid applicant. Each school gets a pool of those, and then tries to build a cohort that will move their program as a whole in the direction that they're currently interested in. It can be frustratingly random, and totally out of your hands. Maybe they have a couple of new faculty members who they want to 'feed' some grad supervisees, so they pick people in those profs' areas. Maybe a senior faculty member got a massive grant, and they took on someone who will make an excellent RA for that person. Maybe they're trying to stay cutting edge, and your area, while important, is somewhat played out. Or maybe they only had a very few spots and someone had slightly better grades and slightly more award money, with an equally good fit, and they chose that applicant.

You say you're not in the US. Are you Canadian? Have you applied for SSHRC? If you didn't get forwarded, that might be your explanation. I wouldn't be surprised if a school chose only SSHRC-funded incoming students, given current funding issues.

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You sound like a solid applicant. Each school gets a pool of those, and then tries to build a cohort that will move their program as a whole in the direction that they're currently interested in. It can be frustratingly random, and totally out of your hands. Maybe they have a couple of new faculty members who they want to 'feed' some grad supervisees, so they pick people in those profs' areas. Maybe a senior faculty member got a massive grant, and they took on someone who will make an excellent RA for that person. Maybe they're trying to stay cutting edge, and your area, while important, is somewhat played out. Or maybe they only had a very few spots and someone had slightly better grades and slightly more award money, with an equally good fit, and they chose that applicant.

You say you're not in the US. Are you Canadian? Have you applied for SSHRC? If you didn't get forwarded, that might be your explanation. I wouldn't be surprised if a school chose only SSHRC-funded incoming students, given current funding issues.

Well, so much for anonymity... I posted the schools in my sig.

Anyway, to answer your question, yes, I am Canadian. I was also fortunate enough to be nominated for a SSHRC scholarship, but I'm still waiting on the official decision. I was accepted to UBC this morning (from the waiting list), but the funding situation is still uncertain (renewable TAship with no further info). Right now, I'm just grateful that I have a somewhat viable option. Hopefully I can secure some on-campus work and bursaries to cover the difference, but I think I'll be limited to a 1 year program (which kind of blows). Given my finances (or lack thereof), I'm really holding out for Toronto. Let's hope things work out.

So, not everything ended poorly, but I'm still upset about this whole application process. Everything just feels so... arbitrary. I'm excited and happy, but I don't know if I should feel proud. I can't help but think about all those deserving yet unfortunate applicants...

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Hi, I am canadian too. Going to Ph.D at U of T in HUmanities with full funding and merit scholarship. Something that grad students don't always understand is that EVERYBODY HAS GOOD GRADES AT THE GRADUATE LEVEL !!! We all have outstanding references, plus research experience, etc. But this stuff just doesn't get you disqualified, it does not open the doors per se. It is all about research and politics. From my experience, there would be 2 explanations for you: 1) Your research interests are not a good enough fit with forthcoming publications (or present interests of advisor/department) or 2) It is a good fit but your potential advisor is not very powerful within the department and other students get chosen in front of you even if they have weaker academic background.

This is not a fair world my friend. I have seen SSHRC funded students who never had an original thought and weaker grades than me. Whatever, don't give up. I know this is frustrating but remember your strengths, why you are doing this at the first place and If you are serious about this, just go for it until it works out. Don't let this alter your self esteem. You will experience this kind of politics your hole life. :)

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So, not everything ended poorly, but I'm still upset about this whole application process. Everything just feels so... arbitrary. I'm excited and happy, but I don't know if I should feel proud. I can't help but think about all those deserving yet unfortunate applicants...

Of COURSE you should feel proud! You went at least 2 for 3 and got acceptances at a couple of great schools. Think of all the people who didn't finish undegrad, let alone high school. You clearly have talent and perseverance to get this far. You're just having a moment of imposter syndrome, that's all. Wait until you start in September and begin producing good work, learning to teach, and participating in the grad community. If you're not proud right now, you'll be proud once you start accomplishing awesome things at the grad level.

The fact that this process has uncontrollable elements doesn't make your two acceptances meaningless. Clearly you ARE a desirable applicant. Now go kick ass.

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Of COURSE you should feel proud! You went at least 2 for 3 and got acceptances at a couple of great schools. Think of all the people who didn't finish undegrad, let alone high school. You clearly have talent and perseverance to get this far. You're just having a moment of imposter syndrome, that's all. Wait until you start in September and begin producing good work, learning to teach, and participating in the grad community. If you're not proud right now, you'll be proud once you start accomplishing awesome things at the grad level.

The fact that this process has uncontrollable elements doesn't make your two acceptances meaningless. Clearly you ARE a desirable applicant. Now go kick ass.

But don't be an ass about it. Nobody like those folks. Remember, getting into graduate school is only part of the battle. There's still passing your coursework, passing the qualifying exams, and defending your project.

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The fact that this process has uncontrollable elements doesn't make your two acceptances meaningless. Clearly you ARE a desirable applicant. Now go kick ass.

Wow, thanks for the confidence boost! I know my intentions are good, so I really hope everything else falls into place.

But don't be an ass about it. Nobody like those folks. Remember, getting into graduate school is only part of the battle. There's still passing your coursework, passing the qualifying exams, and defending your project.

Excellent point. Not to worry, I can assure you that I will never act like a conceited ass with an undeserved sense of entitlement. I know what it means to work for something and I would never waste an opportunity like this! In one sense, being accepted is a really humbling process; I didn't expect to make it past high school. It's times like these I'm grateful for that one teacher who never gave up on me.

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