So, today’s lesson is how to call the office of the department you wish to enroll with.  It is a very simple lesson.

First, if the Graduate program staff person has an email address, that is the best way to contact them.  If they don’t get back to you in a reasonable amount of time then you can call.

Second, if you call and you get voice mail, LEAVE A MESSAGE.  I can’t tell you how many hang ups I’ve received, but if I had a quarter for every one of them I’ve had from the weekend, I wouldn’t want for lunch money.  If you want someone to call you back, you MUST leave a message.

Third, if you called and left a message, don’t call back 5, 10, or even 15 minutes later.  If the person doesn’t get back to you by the next day, you can call back.  Think about how you’d feel if someone left 5-10 messages for you in one work day.  Would you be in a good mood when you called them back?

Graduate program offices are just like any other business office, they have a time when they open and a time when the close.  Usually this is from 8am-5pm Monday-Friday.  I have yet to find one that is open on weekends.  If you do, awesome for you, but don’t expect it.  And like other business offices, Grad offices are run by actual people, who go to meetings, lunch, on vacation.  We are not tied to our desks 24/7.

And please remember, if our program is worth entering then you are not the only applicant we are assisting.



February 18, 2010

Yes, yes, many of you want to believe that GRE scores are just numbers and they don’t really show what kind of graduate student you are likely to be.  But, no matter your beliefs, they do matter.  They are something quantifiable, and departments and Universities, especially their administrators, really like that.  So here’s what I have to say about them.

1. The GRE is studiable.  Get the Princeton Review or Kaplan book and study.  These books have good info about test taking as well as sample questions from retired exams, plus a disc of full length practice exams (I urge you to take them all).  Or if you aren’t a self-starter (are you sure you can write a thesis then?) take a prep class.  When first I took the GRE I had no idea how studiable the exam was.  I took it a second time and blew my old scores out of the water, by a little under 300 points. 

Blah, blah, blah 2.  Take them early and as often as you can afford.  Many Universities/departments will use the highest individual scores received, even if they aren’t from the same exam date.  Taking the exam at least twice will allow you to focus on one section for one exam date and the other for the next.  That said, the exam is something like $140 a pop, so this may not be doable for everyone.  That’s why knowing #1 is important.  (Use those full length practice exams!)

3.  Don’t let low scores just sit and talk for themselves.  They can say very bad things.  If you can’t stop these bad scores from being reported to you school(s) of choice, you have a couple options.  My favorite (of course you’ve read #1 and 2) is study and retake.  You could also write a letter of explanation, but don’t rely solely on test anxiety unless you have proof of it, because it really does sound like an excuse.  Yes, I know its real, I’m not saying it isn’t.  If you write a letter, make it strong and well thought out, not just some lazy afterthought.

4.  If you have scores below minimums posted by your target department, don’t be so surprised and upset if you are denied admission, especially if its a competititve program.  I can’t tell you how many calls I get from angry, hurt, and totally shocked applicants. 

“Why didn’t I get accepted?”  Well, you submitted a GRE score of 700 (actually the lowest I’ve received was 580 and yes this person complained when they didn’t get in) and our minimum is 1000. 

“Well, but you have conditional admission.”  Conditional admission is not really for you, so much as it is for faculty members who really want a certain applicant who is lacking in one of the two big numbers, GPA and GRE.  Conditional admission makes it okay for a faculty member to bring in, for example, that international applicant with a 290 verbal but a 700 quantitative.  There are other cases as well, but you get the idea.

“Can’t you just roll my application over to the next admission then?”  Sure, but if you don’t do something about that score, the outcome will likely be the same.

5.  If you were raised in an English speaking household and went to English speaking schools, shame on you if you get a Verbal score below 400.  I understand that there’s a lot of hard vocabulary on that test, but #1 damn it. 

Listen.  I’m not really targeting this at folks with GREs of 900-990, though you may be able to do better.  This is for all of you 580-890 folks without documented test anxiety or disabilities.  Please think about it.  When you are denied admission, its not because the department is trying to be mean, or that they’re out to get you.  Believe me, with an applicant pool as competitive as the one I deal with, I have denied folks with 1300-1400 GRE and a shiney GPA to go along with it.

And GREs really aren’t the end all be all, they are just a piece of your overall application.  But think about how many pieces there are to that application.  Too few to ignore a weak one.


February 15, 2010

This came up so soon after my first blog, I know, but I wanted to get this out while it was in my memory.

If you transcript is more than, let’s say, 10 pages long (don’t laugh I just got a 77 pager), then only send the pages that have your courses and grades.  If the department/college needs more info about your courses, then you can send the rest. 

And certifications in Tai Chi, though cool, do not count as transcripts unless you are applying for your MA in Tai Chi or hoping to do some scientific research about its benefits.

There will be more about transcripts later, I’m sure.

The First

February 15, 2010

Hi all,

Over the next, well, however many blogs it takes to get all my thoughts on the matter out, I will be helping you through the dos and don’ts of applying to graduate school. 

So, what makes me an expert?  Well, I work for a medium sized Graduate Department at an extremely large University and I’ve been collecting graduate application paperwork for just about 5 years now.  Basically, I’m the gal everything goes through to get to the decision makers.  That gives me front row seats to both sides of the process.  Allow me to give you some tips through my complaints and compliments of others applications.  And feel free to ask me questions.

And here it is, TIP the FIRST:

if the department has a website about the program you are interested in, READ IT!  Don’t call the person in my position up and ask for all the information they can give you.  Chances are they have more than just you applying to the program, and they are fairly busy.  Websites are made to be read and provide you with information.  If you are old enough to be applying to Graduate school you should already be aware of this. 

Write down all the questions you have, then sit and read the information they give you on their site.  If you still have unanswered questions after this, you may then call up the department rep and chat about the program.  They will be more than happy to do this too, because it will be obvious to them that you have read about the program and you aren’t just a lazy dumbass who thinks it’d be “real cool” to go to this program that you know nothing about yet.

If this seems like too much work, then maybe you shouldn’t be applying to Graduate School.