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Compendium of Program Quirks


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So, seeing as people are finishing their applications, this seems like the perfect time to start something like this. Basically, every program in every department is slightly different and this can be a pain for us trying to present ourselves in the best possible light for each of those different places. I thought that perhaps we could collate some of the information we gather throughout the process by posting here whenever we discover something about a program that makes it different from most others, and that could help future candidates. These can be anything, can be factual or general impressions and might even just apply to a particular cycle.

For example, I've read that some programs insist on interviewing all of their shortlist, that certain programs have especially helpful and unhelpful admissions liaisons, that Harvard asks for two different writing samples, that some want to see you link your project to particular scholars whereas others are the opposite, that some are leaning towards getting particular areas addressed with their incoming cohort, etc. Whatever you think is relevant, really.

I guess it should be obvious, but unless otherwise stated or supported by proof, don't take anything read here as dogma. Things change.

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I just checked Harvard's Complit FAQ and didn't get the impression that there were two writing samples... But if that's really the case: yikes!

Well apart from UC Berkeley and UCLA wanting Personal Statements/Backgrounds, I don't really know of any particulars. So far, every university I am applying to wants the SoP to mention POIs and how their works are linked with the candidate's project. 

I like this thread, though! Will be following closely.

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52 minutes ago, Yanaka said:

I just checked Harvard's Complit FAQ and didn't get the impression that there were two writing samples... But if that's really the case: yikes!

Well apart from UC Berkeley and UCLA wanting Personal Statements/Backgrounds, I don't really know of any particulars. So far, every university I am applying to wants the SoP to mention POIs and how their works are linked with the candidate's project. 

I like this thread, though! Will be following closely.

From the English graduate admissions page:

Writing Sample: The writing samples (one primary and one secondary) are highly significant parts of the application. Candidates should submit two double-spaced, 15-page papers of no more than 5,000 words each, in 12-point type, and with 1-inch margins. The writing samples must be examples of critical writing (rather than creative writing) on subjects directly related to English. Applicants should not send longer papers with instructions to read an excerpt or excerpts, but should edit the samples themselves so that they submit only fifteen pages for each paper. Candidates who know the field in which they expect to specialize should, when possible, submit a primary writing sample related to that field.

Consider that Yale asks for 10-15 pages and Berkeley asks for no more than 20. Most of the programs I have seen follow that trend of asking for 10-20 pages of a single piece. This means that not only is Harvard asking for a total output that is anywhere from 50% to 200% larger than other similarly-ranked programs, but that this output must be split between two separate topics. Personally, I prefer this because I think my writing sample should (not that it will, but if I have don't have faith in my writing what is the point of applying?) do for my application than my grades and GRE scores which will probably compare as average to low with the rest of the candidate pool. I interpret this (i.e. this absolutely baseless) as suggesting that Harvard weighs the sample more heavily than other components that people generally worry about (e.g. scores), which is why they ask for two, making it harder for people to perfect one piece that might not demonstrate their usual level. Two pieces over one very long one suggests that they're also not particularly concerned with accepting candidates who are already able to construct argument that are very extensive (which is what we'll have to do for the thesis) but that they might prefer an ability to tackle different works and ideas with consistent levels of insight and originality. I would assume that they prefer some variety in the samples rather than two papers based on the same approach or authors (even if that is what you're going to be working on), but I don't know.

Yanaka, which are the universities you saw that specified that they wanted explicit reference to POIs? And also, are the UC schools' personal statements separate from the statement of purpose, or do you mean that, contrary to some programs that say that they DON'T want a personal history, that these schools do want to some idea of where you're coming from?

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3 hours ago, WildeThing said:

And also, are the UC schools' personal statements separate from the statement of purpose, or do you mean that, contrary to some programs that say that they DON'T want a personal history, that these schools do want to some idea of where you're coming from?

The UC graduate schools require a separate personal history in addition an academic statement of purpose -- it's essentially a diversity statement, and is not a departmental requirement, but a university system-wide one.

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One program I applied to (a less common one in the South) has a very strange application process. You submit about half of your information, then wait a few days to get a link to start plugging in the rest of your info (SOP, WS etc.)...but you never actually submit anything. Once you've uploaded the documents, it's done. You can still go in and change the files after the fact, but you don't actually click "submit" anywhere, and there are no application proofs etc. I had to double- and triple-check to make sure I had done everything correctly. In other words, we all hear of rolling admissions, but this is more like a rolling application...

 

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@WildeThing

UC LA and Berkeley ask for the POIs, plus Duke and Princeton. Now I'm not really sure about NYU and Columbia or Cornell, I haven't explicitly asked yet (although for some reason I think Columbia does). 

Edited by Yanaka
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1 hour ago, Yanaka said:

@WildeThing

UC LA and Berkeley ask for the POIs, plus Duke and Princeton. Now I'm not really sure about NYU and Columbia or Cornell, I haven't explicitly asked yet (although for some reason I think Columbia does). 

Can you clarify if this is Comp Lit or English and where you saw it? (I ask as I'm applying to Princeton English but I haven't seen this anywhere)

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6 hours ago, Yanaka said:

Comp Lit, and I didn't see the info anywhere, I get my info from Grad offices and/or POIs ! :P @Caien

Though asking all programs on whether they prefer applicants to list POI or not might make for a wonderful project later on and I'd assume save staff a lot of time later on. 

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Honestly it's something I learned from my mom: always reach out to people to ask questions, make yourself known. I don't always do that (not for all POIs although at first I thought I had to email them...) but when I do, it usually is very helpful and nice. It's saved me from making quite a few mistakes, and it's guided me through the process. 

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  • 5 weeks later...
On 12/6/2016 at 7:20 PM, Wyatt's Terps said:

One program I applied to (a less common one in the South) has a very strange application process. You submit about half of your information, then wait a few days to get a link to start plugging in the rest of your info (SOP, WS etc.)...but you never actually submit anything. Once you've uploaded the documents, it's done. You can still go in and change the files after the fact, but you don't actually click "submit" anywhere, and there are no application proofs etc. I had to double- and triple-check to make sure I had done everything correctly. In other words, we all hear of rolling admissions, but this is more like a rolling application...

 

It is like this with some Canadian universities. On the application page, you put in your biographical information, BA, etc. and then there was submit page after this. So I was very confused because I hadn't uploaded my statement, writing sample or even put my referees' email addresses! I had to pay first and then they sent me some ID few days later so I can upload these things. In this new page you just upload the documents but there is no submit button there. Also strangely Toronto asks you to print the online application page and post it to them.

Edited by steve3020
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