Advice on applying to an MLS program
October 1, 2007 10:24 AM   Subscribe

How difficult is it to get accepted into a highly-ranked, ALA-accredited MLS program?

How about the one at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign?

Hopefully, this is neither too specific nor too stupid of a question. I'm running very little sleep today, so hopefully it's at least stupid and specific in a coherent way.

I'm looking for personal experiences/insights that I can't really get from the admissions page.

I think I'm technically qualified, but the only grad school application experiences I have to compare it to are those of my friends in PhD programs. It seems like a terminal Master program may be a different beast.

My stats:
I live in Chicago and am interested in the LEEP online education option. I'm in the latter half of my 20's and graduated in 2004 with a BA in Sociology from a tiny hippie liberal arts college. It was an academically tough school (we have to write and defend an undergraduate thesis to graduate), but we had a pass/fail system instead of grades.

I scored 600+ on verbal in the GRE, but abysmally low on the math. I'm retaking it, but math scores will stay in the below average range for sure.

My work experience is in offices, doing office things, like Excel charts and scanning into PDF.

I have zilch experience with programming, etc. I want to learn, though! I'm excited about the prospect of building databases and making web pages, despite my fear and hatred of math. Weird, I know.

I think I'm a good writer and love to read. I devour books. I'm all ADD and my room is a mess, but I enjoy filing and organizing things, especially with headphones on.

Should I be all hopeless or all hopeful? Anyway, appreciate your help, thoughtful and clever MeFi people!
posted by thewrongparty to Education (14 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
My mom went through the LEEP program not too long ago, and, anecdotally through her, UIUC is pretty much the best/most competitive library school in the country, and LEEP is the most competitive part of their library science program to get into. I don't really have any first-hand familiarity, but I know that my mom related that it's veeeery hard to get in. Good luck!
posted by Rallon at 10:34 AM on October 1, 2007

I'm finishing up at Dominican University right now in River Forest, IL. Their application process was quick and painless and I've never heard of anyone not getting in. I've been told that UIUC is a bit tougher to get into but if you have a solid undergrad performance and a decent GRE (which it sounds like you do) then I would imagine the only thing missing is experience working in a library (you don't mention any). In an case, since you are already in Chicago, you'll always have Dominican as a (very expensive) fall-back option.

What makes you think working in a library is what you want to do? Do you know which types of librarianship are most appealing to you? You might want to try volunteering or getting a job at a local library to see if you like the work and demonstrate to a potential grad program that this is a serious career choice that you want to make. I also despise math and fortunately have not been called upon to do a single math problem in a year and a half. There are plenty of html tutorials on the internet that you can start using to get a head start on learning web design (which you will need).

My experience has been that working at a public library has been enjoyable and rewarding work while library school is less so. You will learn a lot more on the job than you will in the classroom so I would recommend getting a job in a library as soon as possible.
posted by danb1 at 11:32 AM on October 1, 2007

I agree with danb1 that you should try to work in a library before grad school if at all possible. Not to help you on your application, because I think from your description of your grades and background you'll get in easily, but because you won't know if you really like library work until you try it, and it's better to know before you start spending the money for grad school.

I got my Master's in LIS at UIUC, and am currently doing a Certificate of Advanced Study in digital libraries here too, and I think it's a great school. The LEEP program is fantastic, and filled with nice people. If you have more questions, feel free to email me at the address in my profile, or email the address on the GSLIS homepage. The school secretary posts questions from potential students to the bulletin board all the time and asks for students to answer them.
posted by MsMolly at 11:44 AM on October 1, 2007

hey, twp, you're asking about the school i went to, so maybe i have some insight for you.

first off, i'd take danb1's advice, and crank it up. for example, i had no worthwhile library experience, and a bunch of grad and prof'l. school experience which would only have been tangentially related to my purpose at gslis . . . until i motivated it to match my purpose at gslis.

what i'm trying to say is this: tailor your application to the position you want post-library school. talk about how the highlights of your academic career so far point you into that post-mls position, and how your degree from gslis will be a useful stepping stone (they'll award you the m.s.l.i.s., btw).

also: remember that gslis is no terminal-degreee awarding program . . . they have a good number of doctoral students in residence . . . maybe by scanning some of their pages you'll get a better idea of what faculty are doing at gslis.

from your description above, you sound, quite frankly, like most of the master's students i knew there, if that's any help. in short, you should be all hopeful. you won't have to do any programming, if you don't want. but if you do want, you'll be studying with some of the coolest programmers in the world.

don't believe me? ask mefite msmolly; she was one of my classmates. and though she finished before i did, she's an all-around great librarian, and may be of more use to you than i!
posted by deejay jaydee at 11:53 AM on October 1, 2007

oops! she beat me to it! that's what i get for trying to post a 'thoughtful' answer to the green. next time i'll just stick to shooting from the hip . . .
posted by deejay jaydee at 11:53 AM on October 1, 2007

Thank you for asking this question! I've been looking into similar programs and I hadn't yet discovered how highly rated this one was. Good luck!
posted by sociolibrarian at 12:06 PM on October 1, 2007

I'm another UIUC grad, I don't think it is too hard to get into. If you're in Chicago, you might want to see about arranging a campus visit, even if you are going to apply for the LEEP program. I visited a few classes when I was thinking of applying, and that ended up being very helpful.
I took several programming classes when I was in grad school, and while I didn't become a programmer, they definitely helped with the more technical aspects of my job.
posted by gnat at 12:12 PM on October 1, 2007

One thing I used to tell people looking to go for their MLS -- it really doesn't matter where you went to school, just as long as it's ALA accredited. So go local/in-state if at all possible. People are way more interested in what you've actually done in libraries. So yeah, get some library experience if at all possible. If you're in Chicago and an Illinois resident, by all means opt for UIUC for the in-state tuition.
posted by the dief at 12:59 PM on October 1, 2007

hey deejay jaydee, there's no email in your profile but I'm wondering if I can ask you a couple of questions about your MLIS since I recall you mentioning in another thread you're a law librarian and that's a career path I'm considering. If you don't mind, could you send me an email at the address in my profile? Thanks.

sorry for the derail, thewrongparty.

posted by AV at 2:06 PM on October 1, 2007

I'm in the latter half of my 20's and graduated in 2004 with a BA in Sociology from a tiny hippie liberal arts college.

Oh hey, you're me but I was doing this in 1993! Anyhow, I just had a few tips based on about 10 years of watching people do this. I don't know anything about UIUC specifically, but it falls into the "good school" category.

1. it doesn't matter if you worked in a library really. having an interesting background and solid work experience will look better than library jobs unless you've had significant library experience, so don't get a page job just so your resume says "library"
2. best thing to do is to connect wiht some people there -- talk to faculty and ask questions, or email some students, read their blogs and interact so that when you're applying you can really explain why UIUC is where you want to be. You look smart and thorough.
3. Don't know about GRE math at all, though it's good that you did well at verbal. Considered retaking?
4. Don't go to library school because you love books. Seriously, don't even put this on your application. The programming stuff you said? Stick with that. If you're decent and comfortable wiht computers, say that. The fact that you like to read and engage with information is good and a good thing, it's just not a good reason to go to library school and so shoudl not be the culmination of any "I want to go to library school because...." sentence.
5. It doesn't matter if you're messy but you shoudl be able to at least be organized, for grad school as well as for library school specific. Are you diagnosed ADD or just scatterbrained? I ask because I've had a lot of ADD friends and there are decent medications/techniques [either or both] if you decide you're too ADD for school for whatever reason. Doesn't have to be a lifetime thing, you can think abou tit just while you're in school.
6. Online school is a little more self-directed than in-person school, make sure that's the right program for you [I know, off topic, but worth pointing out]

My IM is in my profile if you want to chat more.
posted by jessamyn at 2:48 PM on October 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

If you're going to go online, you should also consider Florida State; they have an online program, and while it is not as highly ranked as UIUC, they are still Top 10 in the latest US News rankings, and I have heard that their tuition is very affordable.

Keep in mind that one of the really valuable things about library school is the opportunity to intern with, and network through, professors. If it is a possibility, consider going to a local school, even if it is not as good. I think that library school's real value is that it serves as an acculturation to the library world, and some people find this kind of information difficult to absorb online.

Good luck.
posted by rachelpapers at 6:32 PM on October 1, 2007

Getting a job in a library without a degree is tough. Most good libraries don't even accept volunteers. I only say this to soften the blow if you get rejected.

Getting into a library program is not that difficult. You're chances are pretty good, and do be crushed if you don't get into UICU. It's kind of a horrible city, and while it may be a great library school, there are many other good ones, such as Indiana University, University of Iowa, University of Wisconsin, and many more.

Getting a first library job is tough. Libraries look for experience over skills. It's the maddening thing about the field. If you end up at a smaller program, you might get more good experience.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 7:15 PM on October 1, 2007

As a new (law) librarian, I jumped in here to echo what the dief and gesamtkunstwerk said: first, it really doesn't matter where you go as long as its accredited and second, getting a library job is tough.

I was considering UIUC LEEP but as an out of state student, the cost wasn't worth it... and I've heard again and again from people that since the starting salaries for librarians are relatively low, its silly to get in a huge amount of debt for the degree. That said, if you can score in-state tuition, UIUC may be the right option.

If being a librarian is what you want to do, you should definitely go for it, but keep in mind the job market is filled with new MLS grads struggling to find jobs. Getting yourself some actual experience before or during your degree will help, but hiring committees can be notoriously picky (academic jobs can regularly drag hiring process out for months).

You may be interesting in the "Librarians in Training" livejounal community that's filled with questions like yours.

Also, for another look at the profession, be sure to check out the Annoyed Librarian.
posted by dicaxpuella at 7:36 PM on October 1, 2007

I think I have passed the window of time for posters to see my response, but thanks a bunch! I am sincerely grateful for the excellent advice, especially those that offered for me to PM them.

Damn, it is not easy to respond to everyone, so some general answers…

The getting some library experience thing:

I think this is good advice, whether it’s through a job or volunteering, but not too feasible with my current work schedule and the timeline for submitting my app. I am thinking I’ll probably volunteer when I’m actually in school (and hopefully working part-time). Librarians who stress the importance of job experience, I hear ya loud and clear on that one.

Also, I know it’s risky to jump into the field without any experience. However, in my particular case, I think it’s better to plow forward and not dwell on potential misgivings. For me, waiting it out would lend itself to procrastination and looking for any excuse to chicken out and put off making a decision. Enough of that. Time to make decisions and move forward. From my general understanding of the field, there is more than enough there to hold my interest.

The “hard to get a job” thing:

Well, I’ve thought and read a lot about this. The way I look at it is, I am not quite ready to commit to a PhD program, but I am also not happy treading water in admin jobs. If I get this degree and I can’t get a traditional job in a university or public library, maybe I can at least get a more interesting admin job. If I actually end up working a library, super! I want to attain a skill set that requires me to exercise my brain a bit. Right now, when I picture myself 10 years into the future, I see a career admin. God help me. No, no, no. It is worth going into to debt to start moving down a different path.

For those of you that expressed enthusiasm about the program, thank you! That is the sort of environment I’m looking for and it’s good to know it’s there. Same thing to those of you who said I seemed like a good fit and that I have a decent chance of getting in. Like, my heart grew ten sizes bigger reading that.

Seriously, this has helped a lot with figuring out how to present myself as an applicant. Jessamyn, I completely agree with about not mentioning how much I love books. I bet it’s akin to writing “I want to help people” on your law school application.

My slightly more focused plan is now to:
a. Think hard about what it is about Librarianship that appeals to me and provide specific examples. Write them down.
b. Work in existing experiences and interests and tailor them to the program, such as the interest in techie and web stuff and experience collecting and organizing data acquired as a Soc. major.
c. Get with the networking and making personal connections.

Also, I shall continue with the GRE prep class I am currently taking.
posted by thewrongparty at 9:14 AM on October 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

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