Gina Vaynshteyn
June 10, 2014 2:32 pm

Not too long ago, I got my bachelor’s degree in English. Because I felt it was so wildly promising, I decided to get another English degree. I spent a few months applying to graduate programs in Southern California, pooling together writing portfolios, transcripts, and letters of recommendation. I studied for the GRE night and day, forcing everyone I knew to quiz me on words like “antediluvian,” and “pulchritudinous,” and brushed up on the trigonometry I had last studied when Oasis was still together.

If you’re thinking about applying to grad school, go for it! But just know that it’s an extremely time-consuming process, and there are a lot of things to factor in that nobody tells you about. That’s where Reddit comes in. We discovered a portal to the secrets of grad school applications deep in the trenches of the online platform. Everything you won’t find in your standard grad school guidebooks exist in the form of anonymous Q&A’s on the site. So we went ahead and hand-picked the best nuggets of advice we could find:

1. It always helps to get a letter of rec from a professor who graduated from the same program to which you are applying. 

With that said, it doesn’t make or break the decision. I applied to UC Irvine’s incredibly competitive and tiny Creative Writing Master’s program and had a professor (who had recently graduated from their MFA program) write a glowing letter of rec. She even knew the writing director! But I still didn’t get in. So, yes it can help, but it doesn’t guarantee anything. Don’t ask a professor JUST because they graduated from the program, though. Always stick with the professors who have mentored you and have seen you grow and succeed as a student.

2. Building a relationship with the program you are applying to is a good idea.

Think about it. If you love a company that you want to work for, and reach out to them several times before your interview, they are bound to remember you. In a large pool of applicants, that’s a good thing (usually). E-mail professors, directors, and if you have time, stop by the school.

3. You can still get into graduate programs with a not-so spectacular GPA.

A low GPA isn’t a good thing, but it won’t kill all your chances at getting your Master’s. You need to do really, really well on the GRE. Like, totally murder it. Leave no traces behind. You also need to contact the programs you’re interested in and really schmooze. Sit in on a class, e-mail a few professors, and talk to a few current students. Look into larger programs. Some programs will only accept four students per year, so your odds aren’t good to begin with. Larger programs like to have diverse students with unique abilities. They may accept a student with a high GPA but low GRE, and vice-versa. You’re also probably going to have to pay your way through your Master’s, since programs tend to fully or at least partially fund students with high credentials. Get some really strong letters of rec, and if you don’t get accepted, try taking some upper-level classes at a four-year university to boost your GPA, and try again.

4. Make sure your program is accredited.

Yup. Don’t pay a lot of money, only to find out your Master’s degree is useless because your school is sketchy.

5. There is no difference between private and public universities for a Master’s degree.

With that said, some schools are just more prestigious than others (much like undergrad). For instance, Harvard will always be more impressive than a degree from Kansas State University. However, UCLA (a public school) is technically more elite than University of San Diego (a private school). Pay attention to the size of the program. If it’s smaller, you’re going to get way more individual attention, which is always a good thing.

6. Be very prepared for an interview.

Have some super solid answers to the following questions: How has your coursework or tangentially-relevant work experience informed your decision to apply? Why did you decide to apply to this grad program in particular? What was the deal with this weird thing on your transcript (if any)? Are there are professors or faculty members here you would like to work with? What would you want to do with your degree when you’re done?

7. Try to find a partially-funded graduate program.

You really, really don’t want to end up in terrible debt. You just don’t. Try to apply in-state (it’s cheaper that way), and try to apply to schools that, at the very least, offer work-study, or a teaching associate position. That way, you can get experience teaching in your field, AND make some money. A lot of programs will give you grants and scholarships as well, which is great. How do you find out? E-mail the program’s director, or their office of the registrar. You can also Google the program and see what other students have said. A lot of times there are chat forums, where you can discover all kinds of things about your schools.

8. If you get rejected, you can always e-mail the director of the program.

They may not respond to you since they are busy, and there also may be a legal issue when it comes to responding to a rejected applicant. However, if you really want to know what you can improve upon, it certainly doesn’t hurt to shoot a quick e-mail. Just be polite and patient.

9. Avoid e-mailing the department about the status of your application.

You will find out when you find out. Sometimes it takes awhile. Good luck, keep calm, and distract yourself on Reddit in the meantime.

(Featured image via)

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