Saturday, December 15, 2007

Good year to apply to grad school

If you are a graduate that went directly into the local church intending to go to seminary/Grad school later on...this is a good year to do it.

It is no secret that many of the top grad schools (Princeton, Duke etc) informally "reserve" a spot or two for IWU grads each year. Well, they don't exactly have an official quota system, but it often works out that way.

Why is this year a good year to apply? Because hardly anyone from this year's senior class is applying. It's funny--some years we have several dozen applicants and other years we have few. In a quick check last week I discovered that only five recommendations for grad school have been written so far by our REL profs... last year we had written maybe 25-30 by now. More students seems to plan to go to a local church first then later go to grad school. This provides a special opportunity to people like you, if you graduated, went to a church, and plan to later go to seminary.

There should be a number of "semi-reserved spots" available this year and the competition for them will be considerably reduced... so if you are thinking of seminary--this could be year when you could get a handsome scholarship at a school you never dreamed you'd get into.

Reminders about grad school rreferrences

1. Ask a prof first if they will write a reference for you. You don’t want a prof filling out a reference saying, “I don’t really know much about this student.” Who to ask? You should already know which prof has already expressed confidence in you. If none have then you are in deep trouble when applying for grad school. Usually you ought to tell the reference which schools you are applying to if there are several. As for me I even want to know what they are in order of preference. There are only a few stellar references a professor can write each year and they certainly don’t want to waste them on a student who really prefers another school. Students often see a reference as an extension of their own relationship. But a prof also has a relationship with the school for which he or she is writing a reference. A prof doesn’t want to waste their “reference clout” on a student who really wants to go to another school. Most profs are interested in how you rank the schools to which you are applying.

2. Waive the right to see references. Somewhere on your own application you will get a chance to waive your right to read the references or you can refuse to waive it and insist on the rights to see whatever the prof puts in your file. Profs with any brains or legal sense never write a reference for a student who does not waive this right. Profs can be sued for the tiniest little statement in response to the “weaknesses Question” expected in most references. So wise profs simply do not write references when they find out the student has not waived this right. One alternative for profs is this: they simply write a bland reference with nothing good or bad—e.g. “I had this student in several of my classes and they attended regularly” like an HR department now does to protect their assets from suit. What’s a prof to do? We must assume either (a)the student is sloppy and did not even notice the waiver checkbox, or (b) the student actually intends to insist on reading all the recommendations in their file. In either case the prof gets bad vibes about this student. So check the box if you expect a good reference.

3. Apply early. The quicker you apply the better off you’ll be. Early acceptance can also mean more money. Something else occurs here too. Many profs have a personal quota system for references to certain schools. I do. I will write only two strong references a year for my alma mater, PTS and also for Duke. I usually write those by Christmas, or sometimes by January. Glowing references are like printing money—the more you write the less they are worth. So, I only write two really strong references a year per school. I can’t say five students are “one of our best students in the last ten years.” I can say that for one, or at the most two. And when I write two one of them is usually stronger than the other—I have to be honest. If you dilly dally around and ask for a reference in March many profs have already “used up” their glowing recommendations quota. And it should be like that—any person who fiddles around and waits until March shouldn’t get a glowing recommendation anyway—they probably would fiddle around and do their papers the night before they’re due—and this kind of student would fail in grad school anyway.

4. Remind your reference people. Most schools now use an online reference company like . Writing a rec through these online companies is a royal pain in the neck for your prof. Like most IT people they program everything to make it hard for the person submitting and easy for themselves. For instance to upload a reference letter recently the letter would not load... next I had to strip out of the letter the jpg letterhead symbol and it still woul dnot load, finally I had to re-title the letter describing the year-edition of Word then it loaded and I had to then review the letter as an Adobe file. All this is easier for the company collecting the references but harder for the prof who used to scribble on a prepared form and drop these references into to a pre-stamped envelope in 5 minutes. Since we hate wrestling with complicated online references with newly assigned passwords and sign-ins for each student most professors put off doing their references until they have to. Theoretically I do references on Fridays, but I often skip a week--I'd even rather grade papers than write references online. The student who shows up Tuesday telling me their reference is due Wednesday gets no reference. Also, at the end of the semester when profs are grading a bezillion papers and are crabby don’t expect the prof to be in a good mood when writing your reference. All the new pain-in-the-neck online reference procedures have made profs delay even more, so sending a short cheerful email reminding them is a good idea. Your original email to them, and the email from the computer assigning a password and sign-in for your rec can get buried behind a hundred emails in less than a week and might soon be forgotten if you don’t give a soft reminder.

5. Thank your reference people. Getting a reference is not an entitlement--you did not purchace a good reference when you paid tuition. References are a generous gift of time a professor gives an outstanding student. Thanking her for that time is only proper.

6. Keep the prof up to date on news. I wrote a glowing reference for a student a few years ago and the student got into an ivy league grad program especially because I went out on a limb for him in my reference letter. He never told me he was accepted, never told me he was also accepted in another prestigious school, and never contacted me to tell me where he decided to go. Once he went to the final grad school he has not once written a note telling me where he was and how it was going. All he did was use me as a rung on the ladder of his educational career. I was a reference to toss away like Kleenex. So if you ask your prof to take an hour to craft a recommendation letter for you, at least give that hour back to her or him by writing some notes in the future about what you decide to do and how you did once you got into the school they helped you get into.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Grading & exams now...

I had my last class of the semester Friday at 3:30…the last class period of the semester… now it is to grading….

I love and hate grading at the same time. I love it in seeing the wonderful work student do on their “papers” which are really “books.” (In LCE the average pages was 117—single spaced.) I Hate it in that I can’t give everyone an “A” and keep my job. That means I have to give B’s and lower to students who did far better work than five years ago got an “A.”

I know how that happened. I generally ask a few students who did superb jobs to let me have a copy of their paper. When each new unit starts I casually give a copy of their “chapter” to each small group ‘as an example of what some past students did in this course.” They finger through it and decide to meet or exceed their example. BAM! When I get the papers in from that group they often do stand on the shoulders of past students and do even better! Where this ends I don’t know! All I know is I gave B’s to students this weekend that would have gotten a perfect A five years ago. And I hate that.

But I’m done with LCE. Tomorrow they have their exam. They’ll be writing for two hours straight answering “interview questions” from a local church on Christian education and Spiritual Formation/discipleship. In two hours many of them can write 4000 words. This means that starting tomorrow I have start reading (and grading) a total of 120,000 words—the equivalent of two paperback books. {sigh} BUT this is motivating for me—because all they really learned is what they can write out of their heads… so I get to see what is really in there. I’ll be veeeeery tired tomorrow by the time I go to bed… but it will be a “good tired.”

Then Tuesday I grade CLPL “papers” and on Wednesday CLPL students take “the hardest exam I ever took” and I have to grieve for those who only “got exposed” to things and didn’t learn them. Oh well, I always curve that exam so there is some mercy in the system ;-)

If any of you former students out there took the CLPL exam and have any tips or hints to current students go ahead and post your hints here… I made a new exam but it might help some to know what to expect anyway.