***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.