Monday, February 1, 2010

How We Lost Your GRE Scores

Or better known as how graduate admissions committees work.

I am serving on the Graduate Admissions committee this year in hopes of recruiting some fresh blood to my lab. I have found that the Admissions committee works very fluidly without real mathematical statistics for selecting candidates, as I previously thought. Instead, we have big stacks of paper copies of applications. We sift through them one by one and mark which ones we like. In the shuffle, papers get lost, files become de-alphabetized, and people's transcripts become mixed up. Its best to be the first one to attack the files. If you're the last, you're looking at a big disorganized mess. After about a week of sifting through the applications, we email our list of top picks around and see which candidates' names keep popping up. From there, we rank the 'popular' students and submit them for acceptance.

What makes me put a student on my top list? Grades, GRE scores, undergraduate school, recommendation letters from other people I know, publications... I hardly ever read their personal statement because they are all SO bad. 90% start with some stupid inspirational quote, and this is honestly not the time for me to be inspired. I get a little mad when people write generally about why they want to go to my school. They should be listing specific areas that we are good at, or specific faculty that make them interested. The last thing I want to read is "I like [insert name of wrong university] because it has top professors." Maybe I should forward your app to [wrong university] since you obviously wasted your admission fee on us?


Anonymous said...

Oh so very favorite is "when I was 8 years old....." as if they had this life changing moment. How many people actually have that.

MGS said...

I'm very interested in selection methods for admissions. I have been very impressed with the quality of student in my program so far, so I'm hoping, as a grad student, to be allowed to sit it on the process. Somehow my department manages to pick out very smart, creative, nice people who don't necessarily look good on paper.

I think I personally wouldn't put too much stock in GPA because many very intelligent, hardworking, creative grad students I know did not get good grades in undergrad. I have noticed a correlation between quality of undergrad school with ability, though, at least in my cohort. It will be interesting to see how people look on paper compared to real life.

Labness said...

Oh, dear. Tonight at midnight was the deadline for my applications - including the infamous LoI.

I used [correct university], [correct faculty], and [spelled own name correctly].

Now, it's all in the hands of those who decide what our future will be!

I have to admit, I am eternally grateful to those who agree to serve on those committees - must be tough to read quite so many LoI's!

Patchi said...

FSP had great advice last (?) year on Grad school applications and what not to write on statements of purpose. Maybe universities should link to those on their application guidelines page...

Comrade PhysioProf said...

Yeah, I never read the personal statements, either. My main focus is on the GRE verbal core, then the GRE math score, and then--much lower in importance--undergrad grades/undergrad institution. Then I look at letters of reference. GRE subject tests are worthless.