Friday, February 20, 2009

Grad School Admissions Make No Sense

Okay, so I'm being courted pretty heavily by grad school program choice #4 on my ranked list. U #4 is a pretty big MRU with multiple campuses and is pretty competitive as far as admissions go. It's more competitive than the grad program at the MRU I did my undergrad at. 

SuperFuckingRockStarHolyShit program, which was #1 on my list, rejected me. It is a top 5 program in the world, I can accept that decision as unhappy as I may be that it appears I didn't make it past round 2 cuts. 

Today I got a rejection letter from WhoGivesAShitMarginalProgramInAwesomeClimate school. WTF? It is much less competitive than program #4, and is not even ranked on my list. It's well-known for other psych fields, but not so much for social. I chose to apply only because of the faculty members there. 

None of this makes any sense. I could see if I had an application with some weaknesses, but other than my only slightly better than average GRE quant score, my application is fucking stellar. My personal statements are awesome. I did heavy research on every single faculty member I applied to work with, the department/program requirements and courses, etc. 

Here's one thing I noticed that I hope someone, somewhere out there can enlighten me about - why do applications ask for the other schools you're applying to? Can that information be used against me? Allow me to use some examples to show you what I'm thinking:

#1 - A faculty member at school #2 really, really wants a particular applicant, but is nervous that the applicant will choose to go somewhere else instead. So they look at the application listing of the other schools the student is applying to, call faculty friends there, and try to persuade them to reject this applicant in order to increase the chances that this student will choose their program. Does this happen? I don't know.....can someone confirm or deny?

#2 - A program has one slot left to fill and two equally good applicants to fill that slot. They look at the other schools these students are applying to, call the other programs and ask whether those students will be accepted. They reject the student who is going to have more options, filling the slot with the student who is more likely to go there. Does this happen? I don't know......can someone confirm or deny?

Yes, I know it sounds incredibly arrogant of me to be coming up with conspiracy theories to explain my rejections. But after the recent post over at FemaleScienceProfessor about accepting desired students' spouses/partners in order to get the desired student, I feel like this stuff isn't that far of a stretch. 

And really, the fact that I was asked to list all my applications for all of these programs has bugged the shit out of me since long before decisions started rolling in. 

I mean, WTF else could they be using that information for?


Comrade PhysioProf said...

You're way overthinking this shit. There are all kinds of reasons why one or another program does or doesn't consider you an appealing candidate, and there is no way to ever find out why. In relation to asking where else you are applying, the programs only want to know who the applicants consider their competition, mainly in the cases of students who decline offers.

Psych Post Doc said...

I told you! ;)

I have never heard of anyone doing #1, and even if a faculty member had a colleague at another school I can't imagine having that conversation.

#2 is possible. I haven't heard of people being rejected but I've definitely seen it where the faculty were pretty certain a person wouldn't be coming to the lower ranked (or less famous/lower paying) school.

But it's nearly impossible to know what factors come into play in any given year.

One question, did you personally contact the people you applied to work with? It's not a necessity, although the one piece of info you can usually get when you do this is whether they're even able to take a student during a given year. If you didn't communicate with those you applied to work with ahead of time, it could just be that they aren't taking a student that year. And that happens for a number of reasons from they don't have funding for a student, already have too many students in their lab, are going to be on sabbatical etc.

When are you going to visit #4?

Juniper Shoemaker said...

I'm sorry, JLK. That sucks.

Do you think you'll appeal? Do you think you'll work for now, bolster your application, and try again for your top choice next year? Or is it simply too intolerable to wait that long?

PhizzleDizzle said...

First and foremost, they use that info to figure out who their competitors are.

But schools will also accept/reject based on their predictions of whether someone will actually come or not because they might or might not get into "better" schools. If a school doesn't think an applicant will come anyway, sometimes they won't accept. There are a LOT of reasons why a school might accept or reject, I wouldn't break your brain trying to figure it out. I wouldn't assume anything based on this latest news. You never really know...

JLK said...

@CPP - I have no doubt I'm overthinking it, but...

@Phizzle - what if they assume I'll be going to a better program so they don't accept me, only I also get rejected from the better program? Then I end up going nowhere, and someone missed out on an awesome grad student. Seems to me like logic would force them to call those other programs to see where a student is on the list before making that assumption, right?

@Psych Post Doc - I contacted at least 1 faculty member at every school I applied to. In cases where 3+ faculty members are doing things I'm interested in, I only contacted my top choice mentors. There were many that I never heard back from, as expected. But contact with faculty does not seem to be the variable in question, because I had conversations with faculty at all of the 3 programs I've heard from so far. I am visiting my #4 choice program next weekend.

@Juniper - I've all but been officially accepted at my #4 choice, and still haven't heard from #2 and #3. All is not lost, it just makes no sense. And right now, Top Choice program can go fuck itself. I will now be working my ass off with the hope of someday snubbing them:

Dept Head: "Oooh....who is this amazing rising star of social psych that I'm hearing all about???"

Grad School Head: "JLK, sir. She's just been given superfuckingmegahuge grant to study XYZ all over the world."

Dept Head: "Impressive. Why didn't she apply here for grad school?"

Grad school Head: "Well actually she did, sir, back in '08. We rejected her in the second round because her GRE quant score was only in the 53rd percentile, though her verbal was in the 96th. We were her top choice, because she didn't apply to SFRSHS program in Awesome Climate."

Dept Head: 'Wow, you guys really screwed the pooch on that one. Luckily I have a tenure-fast-track faculty position I can offer her."

I am totally putting this up as a separate blog post.

PhizzleDizzle said...

I don't believe schools are ethically allowed to call each other and discuss applicants in order to maximize matriculation %-ages. They can only guess and gamble, based on what you tell them. Sometimes it doesn't work out in the student's favor, unfortunately. Similar scenario, a CS person applying for academic jobs got turned down by Little School because they figured she would go to Big Awesome School, which she found out later when talkign to those peeps. It's all arbitrage.

Zen said...

(W)hy do applications ask for the other schools you're applying to?

I've never heard of this before. I'm a grad program coordinator, and my gut reaction is, "They shouldn't." It's irrelevant information to evaluating an application.

JLK said...

@PD - ethics or not, I don't think a school would have a problem picking up the phone and finding out from other schools where a student stands. Maybe they don't directly try to influence anything, but I guarantee you they have no problem asking.

@Zen - I was asked for this information on every single application I filled out for grad school. Format didn't matter - online, paper, through embark, etc. Every single one asked me to list the other programs I was applying to. I don't know if you work at a U or not, or what dept., but I bet if you look at the psych dept if you have one, you'll see the same thing. ........Then you can ask them why and come back and tell me!!! ;)

PhizzleDizzle said...

I don't agree, I highly doubt it's a normal thing to be calling other depts, but we don't have to go back and forth on it.

I'll just hope you get good news from these other schools!!! :):) *fingers crossed*.

Psych Post Doc said...

I agree w/ PD, I just don't see anyone making that phone call, certainly not to influence the students admittance.

And... I've been involved in enough Psych PhD admissions to have seen some crazy shit (@ three different schools, one of which is the cream of the crop) ;)

In my experience, the higher the rank, the less predictable the system.

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