Friday, April 10, 2009

Yo Come On Move This

Applying to study law or build robotic lobsters or do whatever ecologists do is one thing. Sometimes life (read: applying to another graduate program) isn't that simple. For those times, GAP-in-the-gentle-imperative is here for you. We generally dislike the imperative voice unless it's an encouraging command to move this but we're gonna use it today to be concise. Take the below tips with lots of salt as we know you take everything. Mostly it's common sense that you musn't interpret as an insult to your intelligence. You're a GAP reader so you likely knew all this and more light years ago.

1. Ask around. Say hey to undergrad professors and ask about other alums' experiences in the programs of interest. Determine if the field is experiencing an identity crisis in terms of academic vs. professional and explore that. Take a careful look at course syllabi and program reqs to help determine which programs could be more personally rewarding. Spend a night at the school to hang with students for fun and for comparison (and that California sunshine). Meet with Admissions, interesting professors, directors of centers, associate deans, the career guidance director, the program coordinator, and professors who direct research labs and co-chair departments to get a feel for types of incoming students, program size, past and future program changes, thesis/capstone and internship opportunities, alumni networking, student-professor relationships, post-grad employment stats, and funding sources. In certain cases, persistently email the lab heads at large universities to seek the "right" research assistant position. Cyber-stalking or spamming alumni of special interest about the program rigor and their professional paths isn't particularly painful either. Oh, and ask early and often.

2. Apply already. Don't be dilatory: you're not forever young. Delaying application because of standardized test anxiety or underestimating ability to be admitted is kind of, well, lame. Know that not all grad programs require the GRE, especially those abroad that are not heavily quantitative. Get the good course - not bookstore - books and go to it with a study buddy. Or prepare to take a zillion dollar review course that may just be necessary if, say, you're math phobic or you're an English-Spanish major, Bio minor applying to med school. If you found yourself disappointed by rejection for undergrad, or if you are going for gold, consider applying to more programs that your credit card or essay writer is comfortable with. When in doubt, apply for non-traditional programs such as dual degrees or Peace Corps combo and decide later. Remember that fellowships and scholarships are for the early birds in some cases, and contact references long before the holiday season begins, providing a nice little summary of each program and your interest, if the programs vary or your references are uninformed. Don't forget that those darn ocean floor internet-enabling cables are sometimes snipped. Rolling and non-rolling application processes are also to be noted; schools such as the London School of Economics accept applications until their programs are full, but applying in, say, early July may leave one in a terrible month-long limbo that ends in news of program at-capacity. Return to step 1 if you started at step 2, or revisit step 1 if you so desire. And in doing so be aware of irregularly long or strangely scheduled school holidays.

3. Decide. Waiting until the last minute dramatically decreases chances of finding good, affordable and convenient housing in some cases. Agonizing is no party anyways. If financial aid is a distressing issue, talk with Admissions, faculty such as your assigned advisor, and the financial office. Begging, or rather frankly stating the situation, has been a successful strategy by a select and highly desired few. If it's a school abroad remember to start early on loan forms as they can't necessarily be electronically submitted. And, even if the scholarship form says no scholarship can be deferred, ask the financial aid office if support from faculty can override that. Attend Admitted Student Day or e-talk with other admitted students for additional insight. During the entire process don't forget to chat up your bestest friends who have both well-honed critical thinking skills and informed concern for you.

4. Attend and enjoy. After all is studied and done, you may be (f)unemployed upon graduation, so pump up the jam with your social-intellectual community while you can.


Ben Connor Barrie said...

I miss being (f)unemployed.

bridget.s said...

That's a risky statement to make as some of us would kill for a job.