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A pair of grad school admission questions. Recomendation request, now? How are my psyc GRE scores?
December 18, 2012 5:28 PM   Subscribe

Two parter to grad school admission.

1. With the semester ending last week, yet Xmas upon us, is it the best possible time or worst possible time to ask a professor for a recommendation? I have a deadline of Feb. 15th to join her program and until March for another couple programs I will apply to.

2. Help me interpret my GRE psychology subject score. I had posted this back in November regarding scores. and I was shooting for a bare minimum 700 (approx 80 percentile) (I had a terrible allergy attack the morning of the test which I'm sure hurt my score.) 670 (66th percentile) was my score. Fairly mediocre, here is the scoring guide. However I scored in the 96th percentile on the social psyc subscore and 59th in the experimental subscore. I know the subject exam is considered one of the best predictors of graduate school performance and according to this I seem to show promise on the social side. Will admissions take into account my extremely high subscore or just the less than stellar total?

Thanks all!
posted by Che boludo! to Education (15 answers total)
I can help with part 1. I don't think it matters if you ask at the end of the semester -- but it's very important to give her as much lead time as possible. Sooner is always better (at least it was for me, back when I was a professor).
posted by OrangeDisk at 5:33 PM on December 18, 2012 [5 favorites]

Yes, give as much time as possible for recommendation requests. I also think it's best to ask in person, but if that's not feasible, a nice e-mail works.
posted by DoubleLune at 5:44 PM on December 18, 2012

Apparently according to General GRE practice tests I'm going to be as highly unbalanced there as well. High verbal, mediocre quantitative. To you math, I say BLAH!
posted by Che boludo! at 5:56 PM on December 18, 2012

I also think it's best to ask in person

Please don't. You can find several previous Ask MetaFilter threads where academics make it abundantly clear that they would rather be e-mailed.
posted by grouse at 6:06 PM on December 18, 2012

Interesting. Maybe it's just the professors I've had.
posted by DoubleLune at 6:11 PM on December 18, 2012

As a professor, I'd prefer that you email me ABOUT it, but if you're serious about a doctoral program, I had better know you fairly well. A in-person visit is helpful in refreshing me on what you're currently up to and what you're all about.

SOONER rather than later.
posted by k8t at 6:51 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is a perfectly okay time to ask for a recommendation, and as others said, give as much lead time as possible.

I prefer such requests by email, and if I say yes, I typically ask my students for copies of the materials they will submit, and sometimes suggest we talk about programs in person. Be on the ball and have those things (personal statement, transcripts, etc.) ready to go ASAP.
posted by ktkt at 6:58 PM on December 18, 2012

I did not have to take the subject GRE when I went to grad school, but I'd say your score in social psych may be a benefit if you are going to a social psych program. A heavy research program may be dissuaded by your quantitative score, or they may believe that they will teach you what you need to know. It all depends on the programs you are going for and what your focus is.
posted by MultiFaceted at 7:54 PM on December 18, 2012

1. Just give it a go ahead. I can't see any negatives other than rejection (which doesn't really have much consequence).

For reference: I decided to add another program to my application list just today. I emailed two professors if they'd be willing to write me another one (not too big of a deal since they have already written a copy), and emailed another professor who I hadn't asked before if they would write me one. All three gave me the a-ok. This is with an earlier deadline than Feb. 15.
(Of course, results will vary across different professors, workloads, and disciplines)
posted by SollosQ at 7:58 PM on December 18, 2012

College professor here (who is currently in the process of sending out grad school letters for five different students.) Best practice, from my perspective, is the following:
  1. E-mail me. Say that you're thinking about your prospects for graduate school, and that you'd like to meet with me some time to chat about graduate school in general, and the possibility of me writing a letter for you specifically. Ask for a time to meet. (This gives me time to think about whether or not I'd be willing to write a letter for you, and to properly phrase a reply.) Ideally this first e-mail should occur at least 4–6 weeks before the earliest deadline.
  2. Meet with me. If you have a rough idea of when the earliest deadlines will be, tell me that ("mid-February"). If you have questions about the process, about graduate school in general, about programs that would be worth applying to, you should feel free to ask me that in the meeting as well. Listen carefully to what I say about the strength of my letter; if I say I'm willing to write a letter but stipulate that it will not be a particularly strong one (usually because you took an 80-person class from me and I don't remember you that well), reconsider whether there are other professors who might write for you. Ask me if I'd like copies of your CV, personal statement, etc. to refer to in writing my letter.
  3. If I've agreed to write a letter for you, send me a list of the programs you're applying to, with deadlines. Avoid telling me about a deadline less than two weeks beforehand. I'll probably drop your e-mail in a mailbox marked "Recommendations" and refer to it later, but it will be handy for me to have.
  4. If I said that having your CV, personal statement, etc. would be useful to me, send those to me. You should probably send this to me at least a week in advance; I probably don't need a final version, just a second or third draft.
  5. Try to submit your own application at least a couple of days before the deadline. Some online application systems don't let me submit my letter for you until you submit your entire application, and I'd rather not have to race to submit my letter by 5 PM on the day of the deadline if you submitted your materials at 4:00.
In your specific case, I think that the e-mail would be good to send around now. Your professor is probably running around trying to get grades submitted, so if he/she doesn't reply within a week, you can probably send it again without seeming too naggy. Propose an in-person meeting some time in the new year (assuming you're not still near campus) and be sure to keep it.
posted by Johnny Assay at 9:22 PM on December 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

Admissions experience here (grad school)

2. GRE scores -

This will depend on how competitive the program is and what their cut offs will be. However, as you point out, while your overall score is lower than expected, you have sub scores that are significantly higher. You can choose to sit this again, OR, given the deadlines looming, you may point this aspect out in an attached note.

Also check this point with the professors you will be talking to.
posted by infini at 12:46 AM on December 19, 2012

High verbal, mediocre quantitative.

I used to see this pattern all the time from students without a technical or math heavy background. I have it myself. I suspect its due the imbalance seen in scores from certain student groups, where the quant score is 800 but the verbal is abysmal and supported by a TOEFL. So I wouldn't worry about this too much. (Unless the quant is below 66% or obviously just "bad" )
posted by infini at 12:48 AM on December 19, 2012

Email your letter request. Make it succinct and polite. Include your CV, draft personal statement, and copies of any papers you did for that professor, and a transcript of all your classes. Give her/him AT LEAST one month's notice. Gentle reminder of approaching due date one week out, and one day out if it still hasn't gone in (generally with online apps now the applicant gets notified when a letter is submitted).

Doesn't matter if it's break or not. Earlier notice matters. After requesting by email, offer to meet in person if feasible to discuss your applications and career plans, but give the prof an opportunity to decline and just write.

If it is one of the increasingly rare mail-in letters, obviously provide a stamped, addressed envelope and fill out as much as you can of any cover page/info sheet (damn do I hate having to enter all my contact info over and over again, especially on handwritten forms).

If you need a lot of similar letters PLEASE consider a service like interfolio. Please.

GREs are not that predictive in my 20 year experience with teaching grad students. But the minimum threshold is important to me for native English speakers especially (for me it is 650 bare min, prefer 700 or better on verbal; in my field the subject exam is completely deprecated and no one requires or wants it). Can you retake or is it too late?
posted by spitbull at 6:25 AM on December 19, 2012

2) Almost certainly depends on the departments you're applying to. I had a similarly mediocre subject GRE score (not in psych). I applied to a bunch of fairly comparable departments. Some clearly wanted me, some just rejected me, but one sent the 'what would you say if we made you an offer' email on like April 12 and another rejected me after April 15. There's no way to know if I fell to the bottom of the pile at those two because of my mediocre GRE score or if they thought my Statement of Purpose was too sarcastic (it was) or because I didn't look that great on paper overall to them. This is a long way of saying some departments care about the GRE and some don't.

It's known that it's much easier to do well on the math portion of the general GRE than the verbal in terms of getting questions right. The flipside to this is that it's hard to get a very high percentile score--all the questions right is something like only the 95% percentile. (Wikipedia has a table.) I want to say my verbal percentile was 8-10% higher than my math percentile, but my math score was higher.

infini is also right that the verbal is biased towards native English speakers, though I don't know what they're trying to imply with the 'certain student groups' comment. It's logical that non-native English speakers in technical subjects will do well on the math, because everyone in a technical subject does well on the math, and equally logical that those who don't read a ton in English will not do as well on the verbal. Throw in the fact that some subjects/programs don't value the general GRE at all, precisely because the math is really easy and the verbal is biased by language, and you've got some lopsided scores.
posted by hoyland at 7:05 AM on December 19, 2012

infini is also right that the verbal is biased towards native English speakers, though I don't know what they're trying to imply with the 'certain student groups' comment.

Overly delicate framing of the what you just said, except for the fact that I have a 96th percentile score and i'm not a native speaker. I was referring to engineers as "certain student groups" as they too apply to graduate design programs and their scores reflect that as opposed to those from graphic designers or fine art grads applying.
posted by infini at 8:06 AM on December 19, 2012

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