Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Endings And Beginnings

"There will come a time when you think everything has finished. That will be the beginning." 
- Louis L'Amour

    As some of you out there know, I'm applying to Graduate school. Or, more accurately, Graduate schools. Eight of them. Eight. So much energy, stress, anxiety, happiness, frustration, and confusion goes into this process that I felt I needed to use the blog as a platform to share and vent. First off, let me say that nothing can prepare you to go through the admissions process. Nothing. Not having previously applied for, been accepted to, or graduating with an undergraduate degree. Grad school admissions are a whole different animal. Undergraduate admission is a cute, furry little bunny named Mr. Fuzzy. Grad school admission is a three ton hippopotamus named Thor The God Of Death. Got that visual in your head? I mean, Thor takes one look at Mr. Fuzzy and says, "Puh-leez, that little thing isn't a freckle on my hippo ass". So he eats Mr. Fuzzy and spits out his bunny bones as a warning. Say bye bye to Mr. Fuzzy, and with him, all of your notions of what the admissions process is like. 


A file for each school

   We seem to have wandered off the point a bit. Right now I am applying to eight schools. Usually this means two applications for each school. One is for the university and one is for the individual program. So, eight schools, sixteen applications. There are transcripts to request and mail out, letters of recommendation to ask for, the GRE to take, fees to pay, and a 'letter of intent' to write. Sound like fun? No? Well then add in the fact that it seems like all of the universities have had a meeting to make sure that they all want different things. Oh, Northwestern University you want a 500 word statement and four letters of recommendation? Well then, University of Washington, you should ask for a 1000 word statement and two letters of recommendation. That will mess with them! Some schools want all three GRE area scores (verbal, quantitative, and analytical writing), and some only want one area.

    Now I'm going to take a sidebar here to discuss the GRE, the Graduate Record Examination. This test is the work of the devil himself. It is unlike any test you have ever taken, from first grade through college graduation. First, it's fast. Really fast. 30 questions in 30 minutes per section fast. Also, it is now only offered on computers. By itself, that could be a good thing, but here's the kicker - you can't skip around through the questions and answer the ones you know then go back and answer the ones you were unsure about. This was the testing strategy drilled in our heads for standardized tests, especially the SAT. On the GRE, the screen pops up with one question at a time. If you get that question right, your next question is harder, but worth more points. On the other hand, if you get it wrong, your next question is easier and worth fewer points. You have to learn a whole new test taking strategy for this test. Here's what's even better, the Quantitative section (I guess calling it Math frightened people) encompasses all the math you learned from 9th grade through the end of college. Geometry, Algebra, Statistics, Fractions, Exponents, etc. You have to remember it all and know when to use which equation. Doesn't that sound like a blast?! I took the GRE for the first time in December. I say 'for the first time' because I am taking it again next week. In the Verbal section I scored 630 out of 800. In the Quantitative section I scored 590 out of 800 and on the Analytical Writing section (writing two essays on the spot) I scored 5 out of 6. Not terrible, and certainly better than I expected. After some intense one on one tutoring, I hope to get my math score up into the 600s. I will be sure to let you know how it turns out. It is liberating to know that after I take it again next Wednesday, I won't ever have to take it again. Never. Never ever. 

   Okay, back to the general admissions process. So you have collected your transcripts from the university where you got your undergrad degree and have mailed them out to your prospective schools. You've taken GRE, usually more than once. You have written, re-written, completely thrown out and finally completed your letter of intent. You've asked college professors and colleagues for letters of recommendation, always a strange request. You have filled out two applications for each school, some online and some on paper, always keeping in mind each school's individual deadline. Basically you've done everything in your power to make your application packet scream 'Pick me! I'm special! Your school needs me!" This is the step I am at right now. Some schools have a deadline of February 1st, others are later in the month or into March. I have multiple online applications in various stages of completion right now. Each is on a different website, each has a different username and password, each asks different questions. 

    Here is where I tell you why I'm only crazy and not INCREDIBLY CRAZY. My parents hired a company, the ESM Group, which offers one on one admissions counseling and GRE prep. I meet on Skype with my tutor and advisor regularly. Knowing that there is someone else keeping track of everything that needs to be done allows me to breathe a bit easier. My advisor is so familiar with the process that he knows how best to present me to each school. He knows how to tweak my statement here or use this recommendation there. His job is to do everything in his (and my) power to get me into each school. And he is good at his job. He is like a college advisor on steroids with eight arms. I can't say enough about this company. I was crying and pulling my hair out when I was trying to go it alone. Now I only occasionally curl up in the fetal position and mutter something about the Pythagorean Theorem. 

   So, what is the point of this huge long post? Well, there really isn't one. I just wanted to vent. No one ever told me what applying to graduate school entails. I'm really not writing this to discourage anyone from applying. But I know it would help me to know that the whole thing is overwhelming for someone else too. Most universities, at least in my field, admit less than 10% of applicants (say 40 out of 500). I am applying to Communication Disorders programs with the goal of becoming a Speech Language Pathologist. I'm incredibly excited to start working on my degree, I just have to get through the admissions process. I think I am writing this to ask you, The Internet, to send some positive thoughts my way. I don't want pity, I'm incredibly excited about my future. I just need to know you are rooting for me. 

    I will update you next week on my second round of GRE scores, be they good, bad, or ugly. Then I will tell you when I send out my last application and breathe a sigh of relief. Finally, I hope to share with you the schools I (hopefully) get accepted to. Maybe when I'm done with the applications I will share the names of the schools I'm applying to, maybe not. I'm still not sure if I want to put that out there. 

   If you got to the end of this post you should get a medal. Thank you for tolerating my rant. You are all flowers in the garden of awesome.

2 comments to blog for:

pro said...

Nice blog! I like your writing way. I'm doing practice GRE here: masteryourgre.com . I hope it's useful for GRE test takers.

Karen said...

Oh man! I only applied to 2 schools and that was stressful enough. Sending lots of positive thoughts your way!