Judging Grad School Applications
Colleagues, 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 modelling. 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 nights. *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.