How to deal with the grad school waiting game?
March 3, 2020 7:53 PM   Subscribe

So, I applied to 5 different schools, most haven't answered, except one, which was a no, which also just adds more anxiety to this whole process. There are still 4 to go, and this one that said no wasn't really high up my list. I still would've preferred a yes. Nonetheless, this really threw me off.

Now I'm thinking about what happens if they all say no? Whether my GPA was enough? Did I pick the right recommenders? Are they going to care too much about my GRE(only one school asked for it, my grade wasn't the best, and this is my first choice)? Am I going to have fierce competition? I'm good but I wonder if I can outmatch a Chinese or Indian student on math.

So what do I do? I mean I really get anxious with this stuff, and it appears that the wait will probably go on longer. I dislike this process so much. It's just a nerve wracking thing, and it is the worst thing ever.
posted by Tarsonis10 to Education (11 answers total)
Best answer: >I'm good but I wonder if I can outmatch a Chinese or Indian student on math.
Well... avoid saying sentences like this, for starters. "Chinese and Indian" people don't have some sort of Magic Math Gene.


The options are:
- You got into 4/5, or 3/5, or 2/5 of the schools. If so, you'll choose your fave.
- You got into only 1/5 schools. If so, you'll go to that one and never think of the other 4 again.
- You got into 0/5 schools, and have to come up with another plan for next year. I guess you could spend a bit of time making that plan but personally that would make me super anxious, so I wouldn't cross that bridge early.

In your shoes, I'd just aim for distraction. You got your marks, you did the applications, it was hard and draining, now take a few weeks to relax.
- Pick up some interesting books
- Start a TV series.
- Plan lots of social events and party a bit
- Channel your fidgets into exercise
- Spring clean and declutter your home.
- Do any medical or cosmetic procedures you've been putting off, since you have some down time.
- Work extra hours to make some cash.

Time will pass either way, so you may as well try to make it either enjoyable or productive.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 8:28 PM on March 3, 2020 [6 favorites]

>I'm good but I wonder if I can outmatch a Chinese or Indian student on math.
Well... avoid saying sentences like this, for starters.

Yah, if it comes up I suggest phrasing that as "I don’t know if I can outmatch someone who is a product of the Chinese or Indian education systems in math." Otherwise people may get distracted.

In your shoes I would get away from home. A road trip would be good, but so would hiking or just camping. The open road and/or being close to nature are both places where my troubles have difficulty catching up to me.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:34 AM on March 4, 2020

You could consider that there’s a possibility your lack of enthusiasm showed in your application / communication with that school and that’s the reason they said no. Clearly you’re still in the running at the other schools.

For the anxiety, do you have an effective way of managing it generally? That’s what I’d focus on, rather than this specific area of anxiety.
posted by DoubleLune at 4:33 AM on March 4, 2020

If it helps at all, I got rejected from my safety school and offered scholarships to considerably better schools, which was pretty weird. My top choice rejected me (for academia-understandable reasons) but a professor from that school that I'd been in touch with contacted me and offered me a job in his lab with encouragement to reapply the next year. So there can be other routes than the one you're aiming for now. I don't have any specific advice but can just confirm that it is hard to be putting so much of your future into a totally opaque process, and anxiety about it is pretty normal.
posted by tchemgrrl at 4:58 AM on March 4, 2020

After admissions season you can call the grad admins and ask how you can improve your application.

As someone who has been on grad admissions committees many times I want to tell you that good applications don't get accepted frequently. Sometimes it is something like the person that would likely advise you has too many advisees currently.
posted by k8t at 5:19 AM on March 4, 2020

Best answer: I went through this years ago. Mid-March was when I started hearing from grad schools. I had reached out to my two top choices to see if I could get an interview by phone or in person. Both said yes to the interview. Both were in the same city across country. By requesting the interview it showed enough interest that I got an acceptance a week later and kept the interview to evaluate it as a top choice. The other I received acceptance the day before my flight, but kept it to evaluate it as well.

I found out for my top choice I was in their second tier of acceptances as about half of the incoming class was from Ivy League schools. I was coming from a small college across the country, but found one of my classmates was someone a year behind me from my small college. There were a couple people who received acceptance late July and early August to fill in a class that had potential students opt for other programs or defer.

It doesn't matter what selection group you are in if you are selected, you still get in to a program you would like to be in.
posted by vanderwal at 8:04 AM on March 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth, grad admissions was the most frightening and ugly experience in my life. I sympathize. It sucks. But, you'll get through it. If not this year, then soon.

In the admissions committies I've been on, Chinese and Indian students suffer such a huge disadvantage compared to North American and European prospectives that I suspect your fears are misplaced. If you want to be angry at someone, it's the white guys from Harvard who are taking you place.

For what it's worth, a year off with research experience looks good on applications and will lead to even better recommendation letters, assuming you're game to work hard. By mid April, you should start making inquiries among any local faculty you find interesting.
posted by eotvos at 8:22 AM on March 4, 2020 [5 favorites]

After admissions season you can call the grad admins and ask how you can improve your application.

Meh. Grad admins hate that question. The answer usually is, "Your grades and scores are fine but for whatever really undefinable reason our faculty wasn't excited by your application." If the person has graduated or will graduate this May, there usually isn't much they can do about grades. This year, I have seen the worst GRE scores ever from US applicants, and our department is probably going to drop requiring them, so it might not be worth it to retake that exam.

Sometimes I could make a suggestion to re-apply when their top faculty choice isn't on sabbatical, or to get more research experience, or not include useless letters from non-faculty BUT I usually won't get into that much detail because I've found it just leads to arguments with rejected applicants that I have no interest in having.

I'm sorry that many, many schools do not properly prepare their students to apply to grad school, but it's not my job to then counsel and advise those students for free.

I will say, for the top 5 grad department I admin for, if you haven't heard from us yet, you probably won't get an offer. We've invited all the top recruits for a grad visit and all the other applications are just sitting, because faculty hate giving permission to deny applications, for whatever reason. When applicants email me at this stage, and we haven't invited them or put them on specific hold, I do tell them they are not likely to get an offer.
posted by See you tomorrow, saguaro at 8:32 AM on March 4, 2020 [5 favorites]

I was accepted to all the grad schools I applied to *except* my safety school—one school’s rejection doesn’t predict much about the other schools’ responses!
posted by Edna Million at 9:29 AM on March 4, 2020

Most schools will provide the median GPA or GRE score of their admitted students, either on their website or if you ask for this data.

I definitely agree that depending on the field/degree, you can be a wonderful candidate on paper but if there's not a good advising match, it might still be a no. This is genuinely in your best interest- you don't want to go to a program with someone who is meh on advising you.

This may be US-specific but many schools require candidates to respond by April 15th. You may have been waitlisted while they make a first round of offers. I think it's more polite to tell you you're waitlisted, but not everybody does. If so, there is no shame in getting in from the waitlist!
posted by nakedmolerats at 12:36 PM on March 4, 2020

I’m in a similar limbo—waiting for results from the medical residency match. Here’s what I’m doing:

• Not talking to others who are doing the same thing
• Giving myself another big project to work on
• Going to classes at my gym every day (helps me because when I’m doing, eg, burpees, all I can think about is how much I hate burpees)
• hanging out with small children when possible
posted by ocherdraco at 3:02 PM on March 4, 2020

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