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A Few Tips for the Aspiring Graduate Student

As loath as I am to incorporate any aspects of my day job into this blog, the past few weeks have made it clear once again that people do not have a working knowledge of basic etiquette and proper protocol when applying to graduate school. Yes, I am including everyone in that statement. Even if you believe you may have it down pat (as surely some, given the number of times they apply, must), I can assure you that the following advice will pertain to you if you have any serious post-graduation ambitions. Some skinny guy once said that being change is important, so here is my contribution to the sweeping graduate school admissions dialogues of our times.

1. Read

Basic, right? You know, the thing you’re doing right now? That essential life skill, so versatile, so useful, completely fucking vanishes from a shocking number of people when they begin the application process.  Whether it is during the initial exploration process or three days before a deadline, the meager amount of reading required seems to completely overwhelm them. To demonstrate your superior viability as a candidate for whatever program you happen to fancy, a wise first step is to show that you can do basic research on something that will have dramatic and lasting impact on your educational, occupational, and financial future. Do not call the department to ask questions that are most likely answered by a FAQ page on the department’s website. Not only are you demonstrating a very unattractive lazy streak, you are also proving that you rely on others for your answers. This does not appeal to people who have dedicated their entire lives to the pursuit and proliferation of knowledge.

It's your big chance to prove your cognitive superiority over creatures with a thickened nerve for a brain.

2. Plan Ahead

Once you’ve done your research (to reiterate: not at the expense of the lone department representative who may or may not have time to answer your inane questions), it is best to come up with a strategy for conquering the complex and shifting world of application requirements. Most graduate programs require the submission–electronically or no–of official transcripts and letters of reference. These things take time to collect. Many universities can take anywhere between two days and two months to process a transcript request order and actually put the goddamn things in the mail. References, likewise, can be a solid piece of granite that gives your application weight and support, or they can be an inflatable dock that tosses your ambitious ass into a freezing lake when you try to put weight on it. Approach every reference as though they are the latter until they prove themselves to be the former. Remember: unless the guidelines (which you read, of course  you read them) specifically say otherwise, it is not the university’s responsibility to follow up on your references, your transcripts, or the fact that you are applying from a third-world country 12,000 miles away. Your future, your legwork.

3.Remember the “Dead” in “Deadline”

Deadlines are published, often early on, for a very good fucking reason. Their purpose is to establish a cutoff date for applications so the people behind the scenes can conduct their unpleasant, scatological rituals to determine who will be accepted into the cabal. If this graduate program is THE ONE for you, make note of this deadline and plan to submit everything at least two weeks prior to it. Why, you ask? To allow time to correct for mistakes. As mentioned earlier, references are unreliable. If you wait until the last minute to submit your materials, you won’t know if they actually came through for you until after the deadline has passed. Think of the deadline the way a skydiver thinks of the ground. If you don’t get everything in order before it hits (and you aren’t Peggy Hill), your graduate school plans will end their existence as a gooey, stinking crater.

Above: industry-standard response to all applicants inquiring post-deadline if all of their materials arrived.

4. You Do Not Deserve an Exception

I don’t give a shit if your host family’s only donkey broke all four legs while carrying your pompous Peace Corps carcass to the only mail depot in the entire country. Your reference swore you a blood oath over the corpse of their firstborn that they would have the letter in on time and still failed. You only took one class at that university back in 1764, and it was just some introduction to literature class, so you didn’t figure that the instructions (remember, the ones you read thoroughly because your ENTIRE FUCKING FUTURE might depend on following them correctly?) meant that one when they said to send in transcripts from every school you attended. All of these excuses, no matter how close to the truth they might be, do not fucking matter. If something cataclysmic happened that prevented you from getting your shit in, perhaps a stage 4 meltdown two blocks over, it might not be the best idea to careen headlong into a full-time, grueling graduate education before you get your life back in order. If you were just a short-sighted dipshit who just heard of the program two days ago and it’s only one day before the deadline, learn to plan ahead. Even if you are granted an exception to the deadline (which is just a hair shy of betting on the Infinite Improbability Drive to rescue you from the vacuum of space), you don’t fucking deserve it. Nobody does.

When you ask for one, I fantasize about appropriately-labeled physical violence.

Graduate school is a serious decision, one that can change your life forever (whether for better or for worse is a topic for another discussion). Plan out your application process like you would plan out your wedding, the purchase of your first house, or the acquisition of your first pet aquatic turtle. If you don’t, you will have nobody but yourself to blame (though, based on past experience, you will do your absolute fucking best to blame everyone else). If you still manage to get in despite your disgusting lack of regard for the ulcers you gave the university support staff as they coddled your ass, know that you have earned their unmitigated, undying enmity.

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