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Kello brought up this (very valid, I think) question in this post, and I thought that I'd drag it out to the spotlight before we're so deeply engulfed in schoolwork that we forget about it altogether:

"Another thing I think would be really great is something that was mentioned as an original goal of this project, way back when: reflections on the application process and what you feel you did right, and what you would do differently, given the chance."

So...there you have it...what WOULD you have done differently, now that you know all the helpful things you learned through the process (that you probaby would have loved to know before you applied?)



( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 2nd, 2008 08:16 am (UTC)
*grins* I'll start:

-spend far more time researching programs. I had applied to 15 programs, at least 5 of which were not really strong fits for me. I also managed to overlook 4-5 programs that might have been a good fit.

-research specific professors at each program. I left out some fairly big, very pertinent names (the equivalent of applying to Irvine as a would-be deconstructionist in 2000, and failing to note that Derrida happens to be teaching there...)

-start writing/editing my writing sample earlier. I started in June, which is probably sufficiently early for most, but I'm a turtle at the editing process...so I was writing even to the very end. Months AFTER I had submitted my application, I rewrote my writing sample (basically from scratch) as a piece for publication, and I think that it became much stronger in the process.

-master at least one foreign language prior to applying. I think the importance of this varies with the subfield...if you're a medievalist, I suspect that you REALLY need at least latin, whereas I think that you can get away with passing knowledge (at least at the application level) if you're a victorianist or modernist.

-Proofread at a time when I wasn't exhausted and beady-eyed. I left some rather glaring errors in both my SoP and writing sample.

-spend less time on studying for the lit and general GRE. I needed to do SOME studying (400 starting score for lit?...yeah, I needed to study), but I ended devoting so much time that the rest of my application suffered

-get transcripts early. Never underestimate the ability of your home institution, or the grad office to lose your transcripts at the worst time possible.

Hmmm...I'm sure that there's more, but this is all that comes to mind at 1 am.

Edited at 2008-09-02 02:41 pm (UTC)
Sep. 2nd, 2008 11:56 am (UTC)
Ah, this is great! Yeah, it doesn't have to be anything *too* in depth or well-thought-out, but just maybe obvious things that weren't so obvious to you before. You guys are so great. I can't wait until this is all behind me and I become an old application veteran, telling war stories to the kiddies.
Sep. 2nd, 2008 01:12 pm (UTC)
What I *am* doing differently is this:
a) research, research, research on the schools and more importantly, making sure I demonstrate fit in my SoP. I neglected this last year, and it showed in my results. From what I can glean, this may have kept me out of more than one school last year.
b) ensuring that my writing sample and SoP interests match up neatly
c) contacting professors I want to work with - so far I haven't had a tremendous amount of luck (2 of my top 3 are on leave - bus I got an *extremely* favorable response from one, who indicated that she wants to meet with me when she's in NYC and expressed interest in the trajectories of my work), but I feel more secure knowing that if a prof has a group to look at and I'm in it, s/he may know who I am beyond what I can fit into the SoP.
d) doing more language prep (but then, I'm also applying to CL programs this year, and this is difficult since I have no college-level language prep)
*e) I did well enough on my Lit GRE that it seems foolish to waste the money to take it again, but if I could go back, I would have spent some more time studying. I really didn't do much prep for this exam, and while my score is fine, I would have prefered to break 700, which I would have done had I done just a little more studying.
That's all that occurs to me for the moment. If I think of anything else, I'll edit it in...
Sep. 2nd, 2008 01:32 pm (UTC)
Honestly, I would have waited an extra year. I am so happy to be where I am right now, and I wouldn't trade it, but had I been a bit wiser (and had it been feasible for my personal situation) I wouldn't have applied during my senior year. The quality of my written work improved vastly after writing my thesis (which was not complete until after applications were in), and I just didn't have the time that school and applications really deserved.

Of course, that said, I understand why a lot of people will apply while still in undergrad. So other things I would do:

Explore more programs. If I could do it over, I would omit maybe 2 or 3 places I did apply to, and add a few others. But I also think it's important to not be overly hasty in judging from websites. The program I am now at was originally not extremely high on my list, but since visiting and now being here, I realized it's a really excellent place for my interests.

Audit a language class that was actually relevant (I did a Classics major in college, but am a modernist). I took a French exam the other day, and it would have been nice if I had reviewed in a class more recently than five years ago...

Revise my writing sample more! This is a big one, I wish I had spent more time putting in current electronic sources. My research skills really developed and improved in the spring, after applications. I was a little horrified that anywhere let me in after I realized how weak my writing sample was in this regard.

Get in touch with current students. This was something I did not do, but seriously, current students are a wealth of information and are really eager to share what they know. There is a lot of information out there that is not on websites or that is hard to find. Current students know what their school has to offer and could likely improve one's understanding of their "fit."

Start earlier. I wound up taking my general GREs at the end of August (right before school started), and while I did well on them, I wish I had left more of my summer for SOPs and writing samples, and you know, not panicking.

This sounds lame, but have more fun. Applications are important, yes, but so is your sanity. I really encourage you all to work hard on your applications, but not to obsess over them. Make sure you allow time to have a good time, relax, or conversely, exercise! Find things that can help de-stress you, and find a good support network that can understand the inclination to panic, but also can help you remember to breathe.
Sep. 2nd, 2008 07:23 pm (UTC)
I just want to throw in my enthusiastic agreement with that last paragraph. For the last two years I've begun the application process, but stopped around october to wait another year. Right now I'm much saner than when I was at this point in years past, because 1) I'm *relatively* more comfortable with the process and 2) I exercise! Which is something I wish I had done more of in college as a way to take a break from my academic work and clear up my head a little. Plus, this might sound cheesy, but I've been doing yoga a lot lately, and it *really* helps me not only to focus and concentrate, but also to relax and maintain a little bit of perspective.
Sep. 2nd, 2008 08:16 pm (UTC)
You know, ever since I took up running in the mornings, and fencing in my spare time...my work has been humming along. It takes time out of my day, to be sure, but I more than make up for it by "saving" the time that I would otherwise have spent procrastinating.
Sep. 2nd, 2008 07:47 pm (UTC)
I would've relaxed and took my time to study for the GREs, and if my scored sucked, I would've studied and taken them again. Instead I didn't study enough, threw myself into a test, and basically crossed my fingers. I thought my high GPA would balance everything out. It didn't.

I would've spent at least two months crafting a strong, exceptionally written, and focus-related writing sample. Instead I'd extended a previous paper that was barely barely barely related to what I'd like to study. Mistake.

I would've done more in-depth research on specific professors and schools. I did some, but not nearly enough to sound like I was truly and legitimately interested.

I would've applied to about 10-15 well chosen schools. I only applied to five, and they were mostly all ill chosen. I only applied one place for undergrad and got in on my first try, so I wasn't... I dunno. I thought I'd get lucky again. I've learned that luck does have something to do with it, but so does hard work and being completely fucking brilliant.

I would've refined my SOP until it was as perfect for me and my focus as possible. Instead I got a bit disgruntled after the fifth revision and just said screw it.

I wouldn't have given up/given in and stuck myself in an M.A. program instead of applying again next year with a better knowledge of the application ins and outs. Have patience, study hard, and get a job to tide yourself over. If you want an amazing program, you can get in... you just have to play the system. I just wish I'd found out about who_got_in and applyingtograd long before I started prepping for grad school. I talked with professors and stuff, but you guys have been far more valuable in terms of figuring out what I was missing... which was a helluva lot.
Sep. 2nd, 2008 08:14 pm (UTC)
"I would've spent at least two months crafting a strong, exceptionally written, and focus-related writing sample"

while I agree with everything, I especially want to emphasize focus-related. I nearly turned in a writing sample on Spenser...and I'm supposed to be a modernist. I didn't know any better, I simply figured that it was one of my better pieces. My adviser, luckily, stopped me. I think an applicant might be better of re-writing an previous piece from the ground up, or even crafting a completely new writing sample on an appropriate topic, as opposed to turning in something that's not related to the proposed field of study. While I didn't experience this first hand, several students who were rejected, and inquired into the reasons for that decision, discovered that it was at least in part because their writing sample did not "match" their SoP. It's not to say the two must be directly relevant, but you'd want to be in the same time period, or address overlapping concerns. If the paper was written considerably earlier than the SoP (which might be a common senario), you might want to also want to allude to the progression of thought.
Sep. 2nd, 2008 08:23 pm (UTC)
Yes, yes, yes. My writing sample and SoP were very connected in my mind when I applied, but I see now how disconnected they must have been to an adcom. This time around, I decided what I wanted to list as research interests, chose a theme on them, and wrote my writing sample from scratch. It took months of new reading, a couple of weeks of writing, and I am only now beginning the revising process, which I am sure will take me a couple more months now that I'm in school again, but this and my fit paragraphs are the two major things I'm changing about my app. Honestly, I'm amazed anyone took me, looking back, and I'm determined not to let that happen this time. If I face rejections across the board this time, I will do so knowing that I threw my all into this, and I put in the hard work feraldolce refers to above.
Sep. 9th, 2008 07:32 pm (UTC)
Oh man. I'd definitely have done more research on my programs and applied to a wider range. My initial thought process was that if it didn't work out, I'd just stay in my current job (which I was then deluding myself I could deal with) for another year. There's no point in applying if you're going to "fallback" yourself like that. Also since I was looking at coming into this from a very new, odd, and quirky perspective, I would have looked at some programs that are more comprehensive and not strictly English/Lit. Ditto on contacting current professors and graduate students, especially wherever I could find evidence of common interest.

Chosen a different writing sample that did more "work." I asked my thesis advisor, one of the people responsible for getting me to apply, if she felt my final paper for the class I took with her (first semester senior year, though not my thesis) would be a good sample. She said it would be, but in retrospect it was more of an exercise in reading than a "point-proving" paper, and I don't think that played.

And, for me, assessed more seriously and honestly with myself why I was applying for grad school. This is an odd post to make since I'm now *very* happy in an art program, but I doubt I'm the only one to apply with something of a muddle in my mind. This is relevant whether you're frantically applying straight out of undergrad or (like me) are in an unplanned "gap year."
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )