Procedure schools use when scanning candidates?

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gliese876d
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Procedure schools use when scanning candidates?

Postby gliese876d » Mon Oct 20, 2008 2:26 pm

Anyone know the inside scoop on what the graduate admission process looks like from the universities' end? Do they wait til they get all your materials then sort through all the applicants? Do the ones who were automatically sent your PGRE scores (the four free ones ETS gives you), just look at those first and put you in a "no consider" pile if they were low before they even get the rest of your materials? Or does it just depend on the institution? I'm asking because I know my PGRE score will not be the high point of my application, and I wonder if there's any way of strategizing so that schools got my other materials first and maybe would be more willing to overlook low PGRE scores by the time they receive them if the rest of my application appeals to them? Or is that basically a futile strategy? Also is there any advantage or disadvantage to applying early or closer to the deadline?

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Helio
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Re: Procedure schools use when scanning candidates?

Postby Helio » Tue Oct 21, 2008 1:39 am

it depends from school to school. some have a cut off others don't... some do my emphasis on PGRE others don't all depends on who on the admissions committee and who has what influence

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noojens
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Re: Procedure schools use when scanning candidates?

Postby noojens » Tue Oct 21, 2008 4:18 pm

That's a really good question. It'd be nice if there were a little more transparency in the process.

Here's a sketch of the admissions process at the two schools I've attended (undergrad and graduate).

Caveat lector: these ideas have been pieced together from conversations with professors and administrative staff, and are by no means universal, or even particularly accurate. That said, it seems a decent place to start. Critiques are welcome!

---

The first phase of the process is generally handled by the administrative staff. They toss out applications that don't meet a certain minimum cutoff determined by the admissions committee -- based on GPA, GRE, PGRE, i.e. the quantifiables. If your application doesn't meet those standards, then "bye." If it's incomplete, then it probably gets put aside or perhaps thrown out. If you pass, your application is forwarded to the admissions committee.

The committee that actually reads your SoP, recommendations, publication lists, etc. gets the applications next. This entire process is likely done by email, with perhaps one or two meetings around the decision deadline. The pool of second round applicants gets split evenly between perhaps 3-6 professors, depending on school size. Each professor is instructed to choose the top X% of the applicants they review for a final cut.

The admissions committee knows they will accept a certain number of people, based on how many spots they have open and how likely they think it will be that people will accept their offer. This depends on the size and prestige of the program, and the other schools that students have stated they're applying to.

That entire process is done multiple times, as applications roll in to the department. Earlier applicants may have a slightly better chance; also, the admissions committee typically has a small pool of fellowships they can award in order to encourage the strongest applicants to choose their school. It's therefore to your advantage (in terms of whether you get in, and how much they'll pay you if you do) to get your application in well before the deadline.

At any point, this process can likely be short circuited by a professor in the department asking for you specifically; this is why networking is, imo, the most important part of the grad school application process.

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Unnatural Log
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Re: Procedure schools use when scanning candidates?

Postby Unnatural Log » Tue Oct 21, 2008 6:09 pm

The first phase of the process is generally handled by the administrative staff. They toss out applications that don't meet a certain minimum cutoff determined by the admissions committee -- based on GPA, GRE, PGRE, i.e. the quantifiables. If your application doesn't meet those standards, then "bye."


Just to add a little bit to this, my understanding (correct me if I'm wrong anyone) is that there are a surprisingly significant amount of applications that have a MAJOR error that causes them to get thrown out from the beginning - negative rec letters, GPAs well under 3.0, total GRE scores under 1000, etc. So, unless your application has a really glaring hole in it, I don't think you need to freak out about what noojens mentions here.

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gliese876d
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Re: Procedure schools use when scanning candidates?

Postby gliese876d » Tue Oct 21, 2008 7:18 pm

At any point, this process can likely be short circuited by a professor in the department asking for you specifically; this is why networking is, imo, the most important part of the grad school application process.


Now I understand why my advisor has been encouraging me to send emails to professors whose research interests me at different schools. That's good to know; thanks!

Unnatural Log, thanks for the encouragement--my application is going to be pretty solid aside from the PGRE scores; even my general quantitative scores were pretty good. And it's possible I may be assessing my performance a little too pessimistically, and perhaps I didn't do quite as poorly as I'm thinking. But even so, I know the ballpark is nowhere near what a lot of people on this forum are scoring... :oops: Thus my concern, but also, I'm applying for astronomy, not physics and I'm not trying for the most presitigious of schools. My undergrad school ranks 48th; if I can get into a school of that caliber, I'll be happy...




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