Life for the graduating senior really moves way too fast. The last time I posted, I was happily savoring my second academic conference and dreaming about the pleasures of research. Unfortunately, literally the day after the conference, my life became consumed by graduate school applications. From ordering GRE scores to mailing two dozen transcripts to chasing down fee waivers, my days quickly became filled with frantic runs to the post office and calls to departments about tedious procedural issues. Not to mention personal statements and writing samples to edit and personalize for each program. Every school has different requirements and little details like “Do you send it to the Graduate Division or the department?” or “Official or unofficial transcript? (And all colleges attended or just your degree-granting institution?)” will slowly start to drive you insane. I think I really underestimated how stressful it would be to apply to twelve PhD programs while still taking 17 units worth of classes and working on a senior thesis. It definitely didn’t help that my first and second round of deadlines were during and immediately after finals. For the massive number of schools with a December 15 deadline (Tuesday after finals week), I basically ended up ordering pizza, making ramen, and working on applications around the clock. While I made all my deadlines and do feel like I represented myself very well, I would have appreciated having a bit more time (and being less stressed out).
So I guess my most important advice to future applicants who aren’t taking a gap year is this: start early and allocate as much time for applications as you would a core class. Take your GRE and subject test early – preferably during your junior year. Research and finalize your program choices over summer. During Fall quarter, take a light course load and ease off the extracurriculars. Of course there are a lot of other things you should do to increase your chances of getting into a program, but the bottom line is that if you don’t take the time to present yourself in the best light, then all the work you’ve done to make yourself competitive will be completely useless.
However, even though application season was like a hellish nightmare, there were also moments when the process really made me appreciate why I wanted to go to graduate school in the first place. While researching faculty interests, I quickly found myself immersed in the research of those professors whose articles I had cited and whom I greatly admired. In reading their works, you indirectly engage with the greatest minds in your specialty and you desperately hope to one day get the opportunity to learn anything and everything from them. At some point in the application process, it dawns on you that this time next year, you might be studying under the likes of Stephen Greenblatt, Jeffrey Knapp, or David Scott Kastan. And it’s absolutely thrilling.
Since the new year, I’ve given myself a few weeks to wind down, but recently things are picking up again. I’m going over the unit cap again with 22 units and 5 classes this quarter so there really isn’t that much room to slack off. My senior thesis (40-60 pgs!) is due in March (my tentative draft deadline though is February 15) so I think I’ll be focusing mostly on that for the next few weeks. I also just got a research assistant position under my Shakespeare professor this week AND I still have two midterms, a few quizzes, two papers, and three finals left in the next six weeks so it will be a hard run to the finish.
The view on the other side of this quarter is going to be great though. I will be presenting at the Sigma Tau Delta International Convention in St. Louis in March the day after my last final and at the University of Montana, Missoula in April for the National Conference for Undergraduate Research (NCUR). By then, I’ll have heard back from all my schools and the annual Westwind/Aleph Conference in May will be a nice cap to my senior year. Then graduation!
In four months and one week, my “college years” will be over and the days of just pretending to be grown up will be gone. Am I ready to be a grad student, live alone in a new town, and fend for myself? Am I ready to be a grown up? Just thinking about it takes my breath away.