Judging Grad School Applications

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The graduate admissions committee invites you to a tutorial:  How to Judge
Applications.  The tutorial will be held at 4pm on Friday at Good Time
Charley's on South University Ave.  Enclosed is an brief overview of the
lesson plan.  There is limited space for this session, so please arrive
early.  We hope to see you there!

* The Application Form Itself

Intelligence is sometimes defined as the ability to adapt to novel
circumstances (e.g., Sternberg, 1984).  Therefore, the intelligence of many
applicants can be estimated based on the state of their applications.
Essentially, by asking applicants to type their answers directly onto the
form we are forcing them to attempt to master an until recently unknown
device, the typewriter.  

Much like the record player, the typewriter is a mystery to most graduating
students.  Sure, they may have seen one on the Brady Bunch, and they may
correctly infer the relationship to the computer word processing program,
but chances are, they will encounter severe problems pretty quickly.  In
reading over an application, it is important to note how typing errors were
handled.  The neatness of the application can provide valuable insights
into the candidate's psyche.

For example, a form that has errors that have been covered with a drop of
correction fluid indicates a healthy dose of responsibility and respect for
the school.  A bottle of White Out on each error indicates that the
applicant may be unstable.  If errors are corrected by neatly typing a
string of "X"'s over the offending lines, this indicates that the student
is honest and thoughtful.  Typing over each erroneous character with every
single key, and leaving an inky stain indicates a bit of hostility - a poor
choice as a potential student.  Finally, if the form is neatly typewritten,
with no errors you've got an obsessive applicant on your hands.  This can
be either a hindrance or an advantage.  If you're looking for good data
management then this is your person, looking for a successful graduate
student who will graduate on time? stay away!

*The Personal Statement

The personal statement gives the applicant a great opportunity to shoot
himself or herself in the foot.  Basically, the author of the personal
statement is saying, "The whole purpose of my existence is to attend your
school.  You would be stupid to turn me down.  I even know the names of
the professors in your program."  What separates the merely boring
personal statements from the truly horrible statements is the self control
to avoid really stupid introductions.  If a statement begins with any of
the following opening lines, run, don't walk to the filing cabinet and put
it back! 

"Ever since I was a small child it was my dream to attend ..."
"I am much smarter than most people in your program, so you should accept me."
"Webster's defines psychology as ..."
"Don't you hate it when old people drive really slow in the left lane?  And
why do they keep that turn signal on the whole way?"
"If you had told me when I entered college that I would be applying to
graduate school in ....  I would have killed you and buried your body in a
shallow grave"
"I want to study consciousness"

or, in a clinical program:

"I really just want to help people"
"Since I was diagnosed with (favorite mental disorder)..."

At its best, the personal statement is a forgettable series of ramblings
culminating with a final paragraph that states that this school is the best
school in the world, and that Prof. X is the perfect match for the
applicant.  By actually naming the school and professor, the applicant is
doing two things:  1. showing that they know how to use the mail merge
feature of their word processor, and 2. betting that Prof. X is still alive.

*Test Scores

GRE scores are obviously the most important criteria to consider when
judging applicants.  Research has shown that there are certain very precise
predictors of graduate school success embedded in these scores.  There are
a few rules of thumb you should follow:  

1. never accept anyone with scores more than 10% higher than yours were
2. never accept anyone with scores more than 5% lower than yours were
3. never, never accept anyone with verbal scores that are more than 150
points higher than math scores - if they screw up any data analyses,
they'll make a convincing argument that they were right.

Here's what different scores actually mean:

A score of 800 in:
Math - potential psychopath - only accept if they want to do computational
Verbal - person has an unhealthy attachment to their mother - don't expect
work to be done on weekends.
Analytical - person has no social life - can do work for you on Saturday

*Letters of Recommendation

The letter of recommendation can be a very valuable tool.  You have an
opportunity to see how the applicant is viewed by his or her supervisors or
instructors.  Certain key phrases can clue you in to potential strengths
and weaknesses of the applicant:

"... is the best student I have ever worked with" means that the author is
afraid the applicant will read the letter.

"... was among the top X students in my class" means that the letter writer
doesn't remember the applicant, and had to look at the grade sheet.

"... is a hard worker" - not particularly bright, but they try hard.

"... works at the level of a first year graduate student" - lazy.

"... I am proud to say that they worked with me" - I'm glad they don't work
with me now.

"... is very self-confident" - will argue with you about everything.

Of course during the tutorial we will focus on these issues as well as many
others.  Please make every attempt to be there.

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