Thursday, March 5, 2009

Why Grad School Applications Suck

Yes, waiting for decisions has been hell and getting rejections has been even worse. And this may be perceived as another of my whining posts (note to self: make separate tag for 'whining'), but dammit this stuff needs to be said. So I'm gonna say it. 

***Please keep in mind that all of my knowledge and experience is related to psychology programs only, and I haven't the slightest clue about the processes and procedures used by other departments and fields.***

#1 - No consistency of format. Some schools have entirely online application systems, others have entirely paper. Still others use a combination, which pisses me off the most. Pick a side, we're at war! Personally, I love the paper application that is downloadable and that you can fill out on your computer. I like that I can put my info in, print it, check it for errors 9,000 times, make sure it's pretty, and then send it off as part of a beautiful packet. In fact, now that I think about it, fuck all you online application using schools - y'all are the ones rejecting me! correlation does not equal causation, JLK.....

#2 - Personal statements. I understand that you want my statement to be tailored to your school. I'm not a moron. But when some schools ask for specific questions to be answered and most others don't, it's kind of annoying. For example, I was told by multiple sources (print, online, person) that talking about how I became interested in psychology in the first place is not only irrelevant but space-wasting. Yet one school specifically asked that I describe this in detail. Do you really give a shit? Because I think you don't. I don't think you want the "real" answer, I think you're testing my ability to bullshit you. No, I did not become interested in the field because my fictional aunt had multiple personalities, nor was it because I met a homeless person with schizophrenia. I'm sorry that my real story is much less interesting - found a textbook from the 60's when I was 12, read it cover to cover, and was hooked on things that weren't even up-to-date. 

And all of us who are applying to grad school know that we're supposed to say we want to do research in academia - at least those of us who do our homework. So why do you even bother asking us to describe our professional goals? Psychologists have 2 options - be a counselor or be a researcher. Anything else we can do with a bachelor's degree. And as a social psychologist, I can't even be a counselor! So why the fuck do you think I want to spend the next 5 years of my life getting paid $10k a year? 

#3 - Application fees. Why did it cost me $100 to apply to SFRSHS program, and $50 to apply to most others? And really, considering that in my interview last weekend we were told to consider it a job interview, why are you charging me to apply at ALL? I have to pay $20 per GRE score report, folks. I think my application fee should be refunded if I get rejected. After all, I didn't have to pay to apply for the job I have now. And you know what? It pays a HELLUVA lot better than your grad student stipend. 

#4 - Graduate School versus Department Applications. Many of you required both. Which is fine, I have no problem with that. But if you're perfectly capable of photocopying letters of recommendation, why can't you also photocopy my GRE scores and transcripts? Why do some of you think that you're entitled to me paying for 2 copies when some (most) of you require only one? And do you have any idea how much extra attention to detail you're asking for? Especially when most of your departments seem to magically "lose" some of my shit? Is this some sort of extra test of my motivation and dedication? And WHY, for the love of god, do some of you ask for 2 copies of that shit PLUS my own photocopies to include with a packet?? That's THREE copies total! 

#5 - Writing samples. NONE of you gave any kind of indication of what type of writing sample you were hoping I would send. I looked it up on the internet and in books, but to no avail. I could have sent you the paper I wrote for my research methods class in which I designed and carried out an experimental study in psychology (along with 4 other people, but I'm the one who actually wrote the paper), an extensive literature review with annotated bibliography that I did for an RA position in my secondary lab, a research paper I wrote for an English class that dealt with my area of interest in psychology, or a paper I wrote for a psychology class in which I detailed my knowledge about the area being tested. I asked people, they said to send the paper from the English class because it showed innovation and insight. I took a leap of faith. But could you please tell me what type of writing you're looking for? A little guidance here would have been fantastic. Why do I have to guess what you want?

#6 - Letters of Recommendation. Some of you had a form that needed to be filled out in addition to the letter. Some of you wanted the letters mailed directly, others submitted electronically, still others returned to me and sent as part of one big packet. You should know how busy my professors are. Do you know how difficult it is to make sure that they understand what they're doing with each letter and making sure that each one gets submitted properly? I was very careful about this, and still one of them managed to fuck it up. 

#7 Program materials. I understand that grad students cost the university lots of $$ and therefore you don't have the same level of vested interest in recruiting them as you do undergrads. But still, actual hardcopy literature and information is a fantastic thing to have as opposed to clicking through myriad pages on a website in order to find out what I need to know. I decided not to apply to certain schools whose websites were too goddamn confusing and vague. Can't you just send a fucking pamphlet or something? Ironically, the schools that sent me actual look-books were SFRSHS programs #1 and #3 in the world. What about the rest of you?

Applying to grad programs while attending classes full-time and working full-time was the most stressful time of my life. I applied to my top-choice programs early, with hopes that maybe my application would be seen ahead of the game. So far, that hasn't made a bit of difference. 

My advice to any future potential grad school applicants in psych - don't waste your time or your $$ on the books that supposedly explain psych grad admissions to you. Get lots of research experience with your name on as many papers as possible, get to know your professors as well as you possibly can even if that means taking longer with your undergrad years than you want to, and make sure you know exactly what you want to research and who can make it happen for you. But even if you do all of that, remember that this grad school game is a crap shoot. 

10 comments:

Comrade PhysioProf said...

Grad school applications suck because grad schools have no incentive to make them not suck. Top grad school programs receive *many* more applications than they will admit, and so the market power is completely on the side of the schools. Furthermore, it is very unpredictable which applicants will end up successful, and so schools have very little incentive to expend resouces "wooing" anyone, since many of the apparently most promising students end up sucking and many of the less-promising students end up excelling. Thus, grad school applicants are looked upon as mostly fungible, and schools don't give a shit if some potential "superstar" finds the application process a pain in the ass.

JLK said...

Oh, CPP. What would I ever do without your bluntness? ;)

leigh said...

for the holy shit rockstar motherfuckers programs, usually their attitude is that you're privileged just to submit an application. because their shit totally doesn't even stink.

i really blew that statement thing- told them in no uncertain terms i wanted to go into industry. lol, oops.

Mrs. CH said...

I'm totally convinced that getting a PhD is all about jumping through hoops - and it starts with the ridiculous applications. I applied to only 4 programs, and I think it cost me about $600 just to apply!

Thank goodness I never had to give a writing sample. However, I'm considering going into education after I'm done and I might have to do that --- I have NO frickin' clue what they'd look for.

Juniper Shoemaker said...

I decided not to apply to certain schools whose websites were too goddamn confusing and vague.

I hate poorly designed and insubstantial websites. (Especially the ones featuring broken links and pages and pages of text mysteriously formatted in five different fluorescent colors and sixteen different font sizes on a background of robin's egg blue.) Of course, I understand that it doesn't matter that I hate them. I've merely noticed that a grad program's website can be more indicative of its quality than one would originally suspect. Stupid. But true.

CPP's last couple of weeks of comments here on the grad school application process have been interesting. But more on that later.

PhizzleDizzle said...

JLK, I feel so old, I really do not have any recollection of applying to grad school. Seriously, I don't even remember if it was on the web or not, how crazy is that? I do think, though, that it sounds like you got a lot of conflicting information, and that's tough. Especially for a go-getter like you, to want to do the "right" thing when the "right" thing is sooooo unclear.

And yes, the whole thing is a crapshoot.

DuWayne Brayton said...

In fact, now that I think about it, fuck all you online application using schools - y'all are the ones rejecting me!

I really think that doing the whole thing online just makes it much easier to totally reject people out of hand. This is just as true of regular jobs, as it is with grad schools.

It is most maddening.

I'm sorry that my real story is much less interesting - found a textbook from the 60's when I was 12, read it cover to cover, and was hooked on things that weren't even up-to-date.

Yeah, as far as an interest in general psych, that is exactly what happened to me. I was regularly helping out in my uncle's thrift shop and my fav was to sort through the books - I was allowed to have all the text books I wanted.

The women's studies books that had pictures of nekked women were why I knew what a g-spot was and how to manipulate it - before I ever discovered masturbation (also I suspect, why I managed to get laid a lot before I was in a band). The abnormal psych texts were what really got me interested psychology. Started on them when I was ten and was totally hooked.

Though I suspect that therapy would have gone better for me at that age, had I not read the women's studies and psych books. Both the women therapists I had thought I was fucking brilliant and quite charming - didn't do a fucking thing for my neurological issues.....

But could you please tell me what type of writing you're looking for?

They won't and shouldn't. That one actually makes a lot of sense. Why should they tell you? They want what will best describe your interest and abilities - both as a writer and researcher. Whether you wrote it or not, definitely don't send a paper with anyone else's names attached.

Psych Post Doc said...

"I applied to my top-choice programs early, with hopes that maybe my application would be seen ahead of the game. So far, that hasn't made a bit of difference".

Most programs do not even distribute the grad applications until the deadline passes so that is why this wouldn't really help you. Although getting it there before the deadline is super important for most programs.

JLK said...

@Juniper - good, at least I'm not the only one who thinks that way about websites! And my ears are perked up at the comment about CPP.....you must elaborate.

@PD - you are NOT old. You just did this shit earlier than I did. I long for the day when I no longer remember what it was like to apply.

@DB - that's exactly the reason I didn't send the research paper. I couldn't, in good conscience, delete the names of the people who ran the experiment along with me and sending something with other names on it seemed like a really, really stupid idea. I just wish they had offered a bit more information for me to use in making my decision.

@Psych Post Doc - when you were applying did you use the 2 grad psych books to help you? Because apparently they're useless.

Psych Post Doc said...

I don't know which 2 grad psych books you are referring to. :) So probably not, or I just blocked it out (which is very possible).

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