Sunday, June 24, 2007

My Application Experience: Phase 2

The Applications

Once I had a short list of places to apply I just had to fill out the applications and send the appropriate materials. I was very organized about the whole process and made a spreadsheet with the specific requirements and deadlines for each university, department, etc. This part of the process would have been really straightforward except that I was in Remote Foreign Country (RFC) connecting to the internet with dial-up.

Did I mention yet that I hate dial-up?

All of the schools I applied to now had online applications. I was happy about that since it meant I didn't have to print applications and send them across the world. However, the online applications presented their own problems. First of all, some of them were just really poorly designed. They were redundant, took unnecessarily long to load, lacked enough character space in text boxes for the requested information (i.e. listing publications you have authored), and even had typos. The worst was the online application for U of Midwestern State. I just couldn't get this application to load. I could sign in but I couldn't see anything else. When I contacted their help center, they said their application didn't work because I was on dial-up. Their solution: go find a faster internet connection. Do they really think I'd be using dial-up if I had another option? To the institution's credit, the department graduate application coordinator said I could turn in the now-obsolete paper application and they would extend the deadline for me considering my circumstances. In the end it was easier for me to talk to my mom on the phone while she read me the questions and I told her what to type.

I simply could not have applied to graduate school without my mom. She signed my name on everything that needed my signature (our handwriting is remarkably similar): GRE score reports, transcript requests, etc. She also mailed and faxed anything that needed a hard copy. For example, I sent her a pdf of the GRE score report form and each time I needed a scoresheet sent I would email her all of the information to fill out on the form and she'd sign my name and fax it in. Or I'd send her a Word document that just needed to be printed, signed, and mailed.

I contacted my three letter of recommendation writers at least two months before the first application was due and when I had a list of the schools I was applying to I sent them a spreadsheet to keep track of the due dates, format, and when they completed them. If they hadn't filled in the "date sent" cell yet then the whole line was highlighted red. I thought this was pretty clever :-)

I managed to get all of my application pieces in my the deadlines for the 6 schools, with the exception of payment for one school because while their online application was ok, their payment system was not. I emailed them right away to say I didn't think my payment went through and they wrote back asking me to EMAIL my credit card information to them! I did this reluctantly and didn't hear from them again so I assumed this worked. Nope. For some reason they decided a snail mail letter sent to me on the other side of the world in RFC, rather than email, was the best way to notify me that my application fee had not been paid. Thankfully I was finally able to call and clear up this mess.

Each school seems able to make up their own conditions for application fee waivers. I only qualified for a fee waiver at one school, University of California Someplace. The rest of the schools did their fee waiver system based on whether or not I had received a GRE fee waiver, which is dependent on you being a current student. UC Someplace had me fill out FAFSA.

Once my applications were submitted I notified the people from those schools who I wanted to work with so they would know to keep an eye out for my application. Then I just had to wait awhile.

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