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Against All Odds: Stories of Grad Admissions Hope


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I thought it might be interesting to give some anecdotes that might give a desperate applicant some hope. I'm also just very anxious and bored awaiting the results of this season.

These stories would ideally be underdog stories (stories involving an applicant going against the odds—though, it's hard to find someone to whom that doesn't apply), e.g., someone with really low GRE scores, or whose season is going particularly poor but whose final results are great. 

 

I have one such story. I'll spare some details but this applicant had a low quant on the GRE, was rejected almost everywhere (applied all over the PGR), and the only acceptance this applicant ultimately received was from a PGR top 5. The ONLY acceptance. That's pretty incredible and, to me, indicative of how unpredictable this process is. Sometimes that unpredictability can play in your favor. So don't lose hope! Even if you're seemingly shut out—don't lose hope until it is truly over (then cry, if truly shut out). 

Edited by Dialectica
Had a low quant, not low GREs in general
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I actually have one more. 

 

I knew an applicant that only had a few waitlists most of the season. Near the end of the season they started getting in off those waitlists. These were mid-ranked programs—programs to which both they and I would be happy to attend. But at the very end of the season they were accepted off of a "hidden" waitlist (those waitlists programs utilize if they have already gone through their initial waitlist) to a top 20. 

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As a 'desperate', 'anxious', and 'bored' applicant myself, I love the idea of this thread.

Unfortunately, I have no such story to share---just a dream. It involves a poor soul named Kingoftherats, who against all odds gets admitted to just one of the seventeen programs to which they applied. Just one. Any one. Please?

In all seriousness, hope to hear some more! Maybe with even juicier details if possible. 

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8 minutes ago, Dialectica said:

I actually have one more. 

 

I knew an applicant that only had a few waitlists most of the season. Near the end of the season they started getting in off those waitlists. These were mid-ranked programs—programs to which both they and I would be happy to attend. But at the very end of the season they were accepted off of a "hidden" waitlist (those waitlists programs utilize if they have already gone through their initial waitlist) to a top 20. 

A "hidden" waitlist you say? I have never heard of such a thing. I would have assumed that once a program goes through their waitlist, they give us the ol' porky pig. 

Interesting. 

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2 minutes ago, Kingoftherats said:

A "hidden" waitlist you say? I have never heard of such a thing. I would have assumed that once a program goes through their waitlist, they give us the ol' porky pig. 

Interesting. 

That's all folks! I'm sure UT has a hidden waitlist. They receive a massive amount of applications per year. 

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22 minutes ago, Kingoftherats said:

As a 'desperate', 'anxious', and 'bored' applicant myself, I love the idea of this thread.

Unfortunately, I have no such story to share---just a dream. It involves a poor soul named Kingoftherats, who against all odds gets admitted to just one of the seventeen programs to which they applied. Just one. Any one. Please?

In all seriousness, hope to hear some more! Maybe with even juicier details if possible. 

I wish I could give more details, but I don't want to give too much for anonymity reasons. And, even more sadly, distinct identifying features can be relevant to admissions. 

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20 minutes ago, desolesiii said:

That's all folks! I'm sure UT has a hidden waitlist. They receive a massive amount of applications per year. 

 

22 minutes ago, Kingoftherats said:

A "hidden" waitlist you say? I have never heard of such a thing. I would have assumed that once a program goes through their waitlist, they give us the ol' porky pig. 

Interesting. 

 

Yeah, some UCs have been known to dip into a hidden waitlist, and, as @desolesiii mentioned, UT has as well, among others. 

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I was admitted to U of Maryland last minute from their "hidden wait list" last year. I had already accepted another offer, but yeah. These things exist. It was sort of odd.

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11 minutes ago, dgswaim said:

I was admitted to U of Maryland last minute from their "hidden wait list" last year. I had already accepted another offer, but yeah. These things exist. It was sort of odd.

Had you received an official rejection from Maryland, or were you in some sort of limbo?

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4 hours ago, Kingoftherats said:

Had you received an official rejection from Maryland, or were you in some sort of limbo?

I had received an informal rejection. I had emailed the DGS about my status, and he told me that since I hadn't heard back, I would not be receiving an offer. I received an offer on April 13th lol.

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I was admitted to my top choice from the waitlist on April 17.

For a little while, the fact of having been a last-minute waitlister made me feel kind of inadequate. FWIW, though, nobody even remembers who was waitlisted or not after the first few weeks, and there was no division between waitlisters and first-rounders. And it's become clear to everyone since then (most importantly, to me) that I'm far from the weakest student in my cohort, let alone my program. So, anyway: don't make an emotional mountain out of that imperceptible little bump. 

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1 hour ago, maxhgns said:

I was admitted to my top choice from the waitlist on April 17.

For a little while, the fact of having been a last-minute waitlister made me feel kind of inadequate. FWIW, though, nobody even remembers who was waitlisted or not after the first few weeks, and there was no division between waitlisters and first-rounders. And it's become clear to everyone since then (most importantly, to me) that I'm far from the weakest student in my cohort, let alone my program. So, anyway: don't make an emotional mountain out of that imperceptible little bump. 

My entire cohort (which is just 4 people, granted) started out on the waiting list. Probably 75 percent of folks across all the cohorts were wait-listees to start. I can affirm that nobody cares.

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I don't have any anecdotes, but here's something I found consoling. 

Suppose you're around the middle of the pack and have a slightly better than average chance of getting in (say, 15%). And you applied to 15 schools.
Then:
1 - (8.5/10)^15 
So, you have a 91% chance of getting into at least one program. 

Pretty good odds, I'd say!

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27 minutes ago, Schopenhauerfanboy said:

I don't have any anecdotes, but here's something I found consoling. 

Suppose you're around the middle of the pack and have a slightly better than average chance of getting in (say, 15%). And you applied to 15 schools.
Then:
1 - (8.5/10)^15 
So, you have a 91% chance of getting into at least one program. 

Pretty good odds, I'd say!

What programs have an acceptance rate as high as 15%? I should have applied to some of those. 

I only know that one year, USC had an acceptance rate of 10% (from a comment I saw from Dr. Mark Schroeder), and that the University of Texas at Austin usually has a 3% acceptance rate. 

I'm not even sure if these percentages account for acceptances from a waitlist either. Does anyone have any more information as to acceptance rates? 

Edited by desolesiii
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23 minutes ago, desolesiii said:

What programs an acceptance rate as high as 15%? I should have applied to some of those. 

For a lot of programs, the odds are considerably worse only if you assume that your odds are as good as every other applicant's.  From what I've read, it's usually around 5% acceptance rate. But if you assume that you're above the 50th percentile of applicants, then your odds are considerably better. Suppose there's 200 applications and 10 offers. That's 5% chance. But if you assume you're around the 50th percentile (which presumably you are higher than if you have a good record), then you'd be better than 100 of the applicants. So your odds are obviously better say, 10%. Then across 15 applications, you'd get:
1 - (0.9/10)^15 
So, just shy of 80% of getting into at least one. These numbers are, of course, somewhat arbitrary, but you can do a reasonable estimation if you have good grounds for thinking you are at least around 50th percentile. It's not like the 200 applicants all have 3.9+ GPAs, 90th percentile + verbal GRE scores, or whatever other propitious attributes your application possesses.  


It's the same thing with law school, I would imagine. There are often 1500 applications for say 100 spots, but a considerable number of those aren't plausible to begin with. And if you already know beforehand that your GPA and LSAT are in the range of the preceding class profile, it would be foolish to think you have the same odds of getting in as every other applicant. Of course my story would unravel if it turned out that ALL or almost all of the applicants to PhD programs were of equivalent quality. 

But from what I've read, most of the people in this forum have records that are a lot better than the average person applying to graduate school. 

Edited by Schopenhauerfanboy
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10 minutes ago, Schopenhauerfanboy said:

For a lot of programs, the odds are considerably worse only if you assume that your odds are as good as every other applicant's.  From what I've read, it's usually around 5% acceptance rate. But if you assume that you're above the 50th percentile of applicants, then your odds are considerably better. Suppose there's 200 applications and 10 offers. That's 5% chance. But if you assume you're around the 50th percentile (which presumably you are higher than if you have a good record), then you'd be better than 100 of the applicants. So your odds are obviously better say, 10%. Then across 15 applications, you'd get:
1 - (0.9/10)^15 
So, just shy of 80% of getting into at least one. These numbers are, of course, somewhat arbitrary, but you can do a reasonable estimation if you have good grounds for thinking you are at least around 50th percentile. It's not like the 200 applicants all have 3.9+ GPAs, 90th percentile + verbal GRE scores, or whatever other propitious attributes your application possesses.  


It's the same thing with law school, I would imagine. There are often 1500 applications for say 100 spots, but a considerable number of those aren't plausible to begin with. And if you already know beforehand that your GPA and LSAT are in the range of the preceding class profile, it would be foolish to think you have the same odds of getting in as every other applicant. Of course my story would unravel if it turned out that ALL or almost all of the applicants to PhD programs were of equivalent quality. 

Interesting thoughts! I don't know if I have enough information to assume that I am in the 50th percentile. I also don't know enough about the applicant pool to be this optimistic yet!

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2 minutes ago, desolesiii said:

Interesting thoughts! I don't know if I have enough information to assume that I am in the 50th percentile. I also don't know enough about the applicant pool to be this optimistic yet!

I am just trying to argue that if you adopt a couple seemingly safe assumptions, then your applications are likely to succeed at least once! Hope this is comforting to someone haha

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6 minutes ago, Schopenhauerfanboy said:

I am just trying to argue that if you adopt a couple seemingly safe assumptions, then your applications are likely to succeed at least once! Hope this is comforting to someone haha

In the meantime, I suppose I'll just keep hoping that 50% of the applicants had a GPA below a 3.9. ;)

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1 hour ago, Schopenhauerfanboy said:

For a lot of programs, the odds are considerably worse only if you assume that your odds are as good as every other applicant's.  From what I've read, it's usually around 5% acceptance rate. But if you assume that you're above the 50th percentile of applicants, then your odds are considerably better. Suppose there's 200 applications and 10 offers. That's 5% chance. But if you assume you're around the 50th percentile (which presumably you are higher than if you have a good record), then you'd be better than 100 of the applicants. So your odds are obviously better say, 10%. Then across 15 applications, you'd get:
1 - (0.9/10)^15 
So, just shy of 80% of getting into at least one. These numbers are, of course, somewhat arbitrary, but you can do a reasonable estimation if you have good grounds for thinking you are at least around 50th percentile. It's not like the 200 applicants all have 3.9+ GPAs, 90th percentile + verbal GRE scores, or whatever other propitious attributes your application possesses.  


It's the same thing with law school, I would imagine. There are often 1500 applications for say 100 spots, but a considerable number of those aren't plausible to begin with. And if you already know beforehand that your GPA and LSAT are in the range of the preceding class profile, it would be foolish to think you have the same odds of getting in as every other applicant. Of course my story would unravel if it turned out that ALL or almost all of the applicants to PhD programs were of equivalent quality. 

But from what I've read, most of the people in this forum have records that are a lot better than the average person applying to graduate school. 

This only holds if each trial is independent of the others, which doesn't seem likely. 

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14 minutes ago, dgswaim said:

This only holds if each trial is independent of the others, which doesn't seem likely. 

The thread is about HOPE. Hope isn't necessarily rational. Let people buy into the fallacy if it gives them some peace of mind. 

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1 hour ago, dgswaim said:

This only holds if each trial is independent of the others, which doesn't seem likely. 

For those who are less mathematically inclined (myself included), could you explain how each school's application process (or "trial" as you put it),, is not independent?

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I'm not sure which probability calculation would be the most accurate, but I do know from reading past threads that people with great applications, like Ian Faircloud, who seemed like good bets to get accepted somewhere got shut-out in previous cycles. There's nothing about someone's seeming to be an impressive applicant that guarantees they'll be accepted to a program. My guess is that it's only those who've worked on admissions committees and supervised a large number of graduate students who can fairly reliably predict someone's chances of success.  But perhaps even elite philosophers are sometimes wrong about the success of prospective graduate students.

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4 hours ago, Schopenhauerfanboy said:

For those who are less mathematically inclined (myself included), could you explain how each school's application process (or "trial" as you put it),, is not independent?

Probably in several senses, but the clearest of them is that applicant pools overlap, so the probability of your being admitted to school s is conditioned on whether other students that applied to s have accepted other offers. When they do, it alters the probability of your being admitted to s.

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19 hours ago, Schopenhauerfanboy said:

I don't have any anecdotes, but here's something I found consoling. 

Suppose you're around the middle of the pack and have a slightly better than average chance of getting in (say, 15%). And you applied to 15 schools.
Then:
1 - (8.5/10)^15 
So, you have a 91% chance of getting into at least one program. 

Pretty good odds, I'd say!

Yeah, I've been thinking of this as well! I applied to 17 programs, in which I figured that the "average" acceptance rate was 6.5% (Michigan is 2%, but Michigan State is 15%), if chosen randomly. 17 x 6.5% = 110.5%. There's something wrong with the probability, but I haven't worked it out. Because 100% means certainty, and you can't have it go above that; moreover, it is a priori uncertain, so it can't be the upper bound, 100%, either.

I haven't done all the conditional probabilities, either. Because, as you've highlighted, if you're above 50 percentile at one school, that is a very different statistic. If you're above 70 percentile at one school, it is likely you're above 70 percentile at many schools. The corollary is that if you're below 50 percentile, your odds diminishes quickly, because they almost always admit only 70 percentile. Whatever strength in your application that justifies your acceptance at one school is likely to justify at another school; whatever is weak is likely to be considered weak elsewhere.

Edited by Turretin
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25 minutes ago, Turretin said:

Yeah, I've been thinking of this as well! I applied to 17 programs, in which I figured that the "average" acceptance rate was 6.5% (Michigan is 2%, but Michigan State is 15%), if chosen randomly. 17 x 6.5% = 110.5%. There's something wrong with the probability, but I haven't worked it out. Because 100% means certainty, and you can't have it go above that; moreover, it is a priori uncertain, so it can't be the upper bound, 100%, either.

I haven't done all the conditional probabilities, either. Because, as you've highlighted, if you're above 50 percentile at one school, that is a very different statistic. If you're above 70 percentile at one school, it is likely you're above 70 percentile at many schools. The corollary is that if you're below 50 percentile, your odds diminishes quickly, because they almost always admit only 70 percentile. Whatever strength in your application that justifies your acceptance at one school is likely to justify at another school; whatever is weak is likely to be considered weak elsewhere.

I think the issue is that the probabilities don't "stack" in this way. If you have a 6% chance of admission at each of the ten schools you apply to, you have a 6% chance of being admitted, not a 60% chance.

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