#PhDOrBust: (Part 4) You Got The Decision Letter, Now What?

This is the fourth in a series of blogposts:

This blogpost will talk about what to do when:

  1. You don’t receive admission to the graduate program you applied for
  2. You are waitlisted
  3. You are admitted, but not offered funding
  4. When you are admitted with funding

A few days ago, I read an excellent article on what to do in each of these 4 scenarios. Entitled “The Grad School Letter Arrives… Now What?” it was written by a professor at Iowa State. I recommend you read it.

Now, while you wait to hear back from graduate schools, it is a very good idea to remain in contact with the professors you reached out to as you began the grad school application process. This is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate your interest in studying and researching in their department or program. It helps to read their work and be able to speak cogently about their research interests while asking them questions about the program. These questions SHOULD NOT have answers that could be found on the school website. That said, once you establish a rapport and the professors remember your name, don’t be afraid to send them your updated Curriculum Vita and ask about where in the process the admissions committee is. Here’s an excerpt from an email I sent to a professor at the University of Chicago (where I was later admitted and offered funding):

“… As such, I am writing this email to follow up as we enter the final stages of the application process. I still believe the University of Chicago to be an ideal space for learning, collaborating and research as I pursue my graduate studies, and am excited  the prospect of working with faculty members such as yourself.

I have attached an updated version of my curriculum vitae.

With gratitude,

The email should make specific references to previous conversations and emphasize your genuine interest in them, their work, and the program at large. The response I got to these emails was positive. I even had 2 professors recommend me to members of the Admissions Committee (these were schools were I was offered admission, by the way.) I, however, would caution against badgering professors- especially those who do not respond. One email is sufficient.

Now onto the 4 scenarios:

#1: You were not accepted into the graduate school/program(s) to which you applied:

If you do not receive admission to the school or program you applied to, but still wish to apply in the future, it is in your best interest to be gracious and thank the admissions committee for their consideration and inform them of your continuing interest. This is true for anyone else you may have contacted and/or established a rapport with.

Don’t get caught in a cycle of self-blame. You are not a failure for not getting into a graduate program. It may well be the case that the program you applied to recently had funding cuts and could not admit as many candidates. It may also be the case that you need to strengthen your application package- your test scores, experience or even your personal statement may need to be improved upon. In short, not getting into grad school is not a reflection upon you or your worth.

#2: You are waitlisted

Congratulations! This is a good time to establish a rapport with the Graduate Director and demonstrate your continued interest in the program. The fact that you are on the waitlist indicates that out of the pool of applicants, you are a strong candidate. This may not sound heartening, but in the event that you do not receive admission by or after April 15th, you are likely a strong candidate for next year AND you have made the necessary contacts to re-start the grad school application process with meaningful connections.

#3 You are admitted, but not offered funding

Congratulations! I hope you’ve told your recommending professors, family and friends the good news! What you want to do now is call the person who signed your letter of admissions to thank them and ask about possible funding. Don’t be afraid to ask about fellowships, research/teaching assistantships, or scholarships that might be available through the school or through affiliated organizations that you can apply for.

Consider the location, cost of living, tuition, and other factors as you secure funding or consider student loans.

#4 You are admitted with funding

Congratulations! I’m sure everyone in your immediate circles as heard the news!

Now, consider what kind of package you received. Is it a scholarship? A fellowship? A research or teaching assistantship that would require you to work while you study (the teaching load is a serious consideration)? Is it a combination? Is it full funding?

These are questions to consider as you move forward. If you’ve been admitted to multiple graduate schools, you can use this as a bargaining chip. “How” is succinctly summarized here:

Before you decide, you should know that you can “play” the schools against each other. Maybe your top choice (let’s say Stanford) has not offered you as good a package as your second choice (University of California, Berkeley). Call (don’t e-mail) the graduate director of your prospective department at Stanford (or whoever signed your letter of acceptance) and tell her what Berkeley offered you. She’ll call you back in a day or two and let you know what Stanford’s counter-offer is. If Stanford decides to stick with the original offer, you will have lost nothing; since that offer will still stand you can nevertheless go to Stanford despite a less attractive funding package.

I hope this information is useful to you. I’d like to hear from y’all: What advice do you offer?

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