Applying myself (to graduate school)

We are knee deep in No-Shave November for Testicular Cancer Awareness, and I’m seeing more clean-shaven men than women. When I was a senior in high school, and struggling to produce sideburns, I applied to Sam Houston. The application process was so easy, I hardly recall what went into it and regarded my acceptance letter with ambivalence.

Somewhere between work and my last hours before graduation, I am putting together application materials to a graduate English program. This application process is far more difficult and gray-hair inducing. If you are considering grad school, I offer my infinitesimal wisdom and abundant mistakes to learn from.

First and foremost, find out what grad schools you’re applying to, and what their entrance requirements are. The most basic requirements are sets of official transcripts, score reports from the entrance exam (GRE, GMAT, LSAT, MCAT, etc.), a writing sample, letters of recommendation and a letter of intent.

Sam Houston’s Sam Center offers numerous programs to help students and alumni prepare for entrance exams. There are free prep courses for the GRE and LSAT, as well as seminars that ease students into the applications process and provide information about financial aide and fellowships. I advise signing up for these as soon as possible. My biggest regret was taking the GRE without a prep course or enough independent practice.

A friend gave me an alarm clock and the advice, “Get to know your professors,” when I graduated high school. This was the one thing I did right. It is much easier for professors to write a personal letter of recommendation if they know more than your last name and GPA. Considering professors have lives outside of writing your letters of rec, it is important to ask early and make it as easy on them as possible.

I thought I could dust off an old essay and correct comma splices to use as a writing sample. Naively, I submitted this essay to a professor for revision. The professor promptly told me to rewrite the whole thing, or I would be rejected from every college I applied to, and a few that I didn’t. The lesson is: Prepare your writing sample earlier, and have someone review it.

Surprisingly, the shortest part of my application, the letter of intent, has been the hardest to write. My desire to become a scholar and educate is so instinctual that it’s difficult to articulate the why. The letter also requires that I effectively plan out my life for the next ten to 100 years. This is especially difficult for me, since I hardly think farther ahead than to the next meal, or back to the last one.

Until I put postage on my applications and hand them see them safely delivered, I will probably lose many hours of sleep. After that, my excuse for lost sleep will be waiting on the responses. I thank my professors for their honest advice and criticism, and my friends and family for their unyielding love and support.

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