NOTE: This post is for scholars getting themselves into grad school right now.
The semester is done. The holidays have passed. Your December 1st and December 15th deadlines have come and gone. How are you feeling? What’s the status on your apps? Chances are you each experienced something radically different when it came to getting yourself ready to apply and then actually starting to submit your applications this fall. We talked about this at great length throughout your stint as a McNair scholar, but until you’re actually in the thick of it, you can’t really know what it’s going to be like. Of course our goal is to help make the process as smooth, painless and issue-free as possible. Hopefully you found some of our insights and recommendations to be helpful. If not, hopefully you developed your own system that is working brilliantly.
Winter break is like a dream come true in many ways. Certainly it’s a respite from the normal hustle and bustle of the semester. But for those of you applying to grad school, it’s a much-needed breather to recount, regroup and figure out what else needs to be done.
Take inventory of what items have arrived at each of your schools. This means making certain that you have confirmed receipt of each application item – the best way to do this is to actually speak with a human being to make sure all of your application materials are in order. I can’t stress this enough. Things happen and you can’t be sure until you’ve confirmed the situation.
The most important thing you need to be doing at this point in the process is confirming that every single piece of your application has arrived at each of your schools. This means your online application, transcripts, GRE scores, letters of recommendation, and in some cases, a writing sample.
Some of you may be able to put a check in the box for all of your applications and that’s great. Some of you might have a few things left to complete (read: tailored personal statements) and submit, but for the most part, you’re in pretty good shape. Others still may be solidifying their “game plan” and determining those final schools to which they will apply. Less than ideal, but can still be the case – especially when the summer was spent either a) being overwhelmed by the possibilities and never really nailing down what people you really want to work with or b) being confused (and maybe overwhelmed?) about the path you should take for grad school since there can obviously be multiple routes to the same goal – thus you also didn’t solidify your people or programs and you’re still left having to decide.
In either case, you simply need to decide. Chances are, your “best fit” option is already in the mix of schools and people you have investigated. Follow your gut and make the decision on how many more schools (i.e. those with deadlines still remaining) you will apply to. Now (during break!) is the time to finalize the rest of your materials before you get caught up (again) in the busyness of the new semester.
Establishing meaningful contact with prospective faculty advisors – whether it’s via email, phone or in person – is the single most important thing you can do to facilitate your acceptance and funding package at your top-choice school.
Now. Here’s what I really want to talk about (no surprise, right?) – the making contact with people part of this process. Similar to completing your applications, you are all on a “continuum” when it comes to this – some of you busted ass and visited multiple schools this fall, some of you have been really good about sending emails and setting up phone (sometimes Skype) conversations in lieu of making an actual visit (can also be very effective) and some of you have been more in the “hit or miss” category of intending to reach out to folks, maybe sending a few emails here and there, but never really establishing the kind of connectivity that is necessary to really make something happen (meaning get yourself accepted into their program).
I’m encouraging all of you to “take stock” of where you sit on this continuum. While it is pretty late in the game to be reaching out, there can still be time to do so in some cases. Here are a few scenarios where this could be the case.
Reaching Out & Connecting
>>> For those with some January/mid-February deadlines, it’s still possible for you to send that email to your top-faculty stating your interest in their work and asking whether they will be taking on new graduate students come this fall. Since the deadline hasn’t passed, it’s still reasonable to approach someone in this way.
>>> For those of you who haven’t visited your top-choice school, you can still make that happen, although at this point (especially for your December deadline schools), you may find that faculty will suggest you wait until they make their decisions before making a visit. This is certainly the risk you run by waiting until the New Year to try to visit. Having said this, I have personally witnessed a number of McNair scholars make it happen – the key is making contact and situating the visit FIRST THING when everyone is back from break.
We all know how important it is to make contact; visiting prospective faculty mentors in person is the best way to find out if a certain place is a good fit for you, in addition to solidifying them really liking you and what you have to offer their program. If there is a school that you still need to make this happen for, now is the time to do it.
>>> With many application deadlines now passing, you may find that you are invited to a program’s open house or interviewing process. Bonus! This is where you will have the chance to meet multiple faculty and WOW them with your stuff. In this scenario, you want to fully research potential mentors and really practice talking about your work and your strong points – as well as your “big picture” and reasons for wanting to pursue an advanced degree in your field. We always have a good number of scholars invited to such events even if they haven’t established solid contact with a particular school – so there is hope in this regard!
Take home points:
- CONFIRM that all of your application materials have been received for each of your schools.
- Continue to reach out to faculty if you don’t feel like you’ve done so enough yet.
- Be reassured that you will end up where you are meant to go!
Stay tuned. More info to come on what you can still do at this point once all of your applications are in order AND a conversation about this April 15th deadline business and how to handle offers once they start streaming in!