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.


Dave Smith said...

As usual, Coach D has covered the bases for “Reference letter” etiquette. I might add just a few items. Whether you are a current student or a graduate from a few years out; bring your letter writer up to date on a few issues in your life. For example, if you know what you would like to have as an outcome from a program, inform your reference letter writer. Thus, you might provide them with an up-to-date resume, recent local church work, or newly formed passions for “fleshing out” your calling. If this is to be an academic reference, remind us of your successes in the classroom (GPA), academic awards, scholarships, or even activities which received your attention while on campus (RA, ARD, etc). In the end, it’s quite helpful to give your reference letter writer a “cheat-sheet” package to trigger ideas. You probably have this at your finger tips, so pass it on!

Kevin Wright said...

Might I also add that a nice way to remind your professors of your classroom work, give them a copy of your transcript. It's easy to read and they can have a more honest view of your academic record.

pk said...

Where was this 2 months ago! ;-)