The grad school blues

Applying to grad school is quickly becoming the bane of my existence: it is time consuming, costly, and more or less unnecessary. Basically, I am shooting myself in both feet, multiple times.

Despite this, I trudge on, simply because I don’t know what else to do with a BA, other than apply to education. And if you have seen me try to teach anyone how to do anything, you’ll understand why that is not a good option for anyone involved.

At this very moment, I am writing this article to avoid doing more applications. This is what my life has come to. I don’t think I would be as annoyed if this process wasn’t taking so long. I was excited to begin applying to new schools in new cities, but that excitement slowly died when reality kicked in and my ever-favourite buddy, paperwork, began piling up once again. I remember when it all started on a balmy summer morning of 2010.

I had just come home from my semester abroad and realized, “Oh shit, I need to do a GRE to apply to schools in the states!” GRE stands for Graduate Record Examination and is more or less equivalent to the SAT, but for grad school. Having never done the SAT, I was a bit concerned. I did my best to prepare myself for the assortment of verbal and quantitative questions, and by “did my best” I mean to say that I would do questions, get them wrong, look up the right answer and tell myself that I was close.

After weeks of doing that, I did not feel prepared at all but decided to go through with my test as scheduled at the end of October. I did pretty okay, receiving an average score on quantitative and above average on verbal, and I was happy with that. Did I mention it costs $200 to take that test? Well, it does.

The next step was to start the actual applications themselves. Most things are done online now, and official documents are mailed in as supplementary materials. After I shelled out another $50 for official transcripts — something I am very bitter about; why do I have to pay to get records of grades from classes I already paid to take? — and anywhere from $60-100 in application fees for each application, I was becoming less and less enthused about the whole process.

Then came the essays: “In an essay of approximately 50 million words, describe your entire life from conception until the last meal you ate today.” How on Earth are you supposed to talk about yourself in such detail and length without sounding like a complete narcissistic jerk?

Maybe that is part of the test. Who knows.

All I know is that I don’t like doing it and am very glad those are done. My absolute favourite part of the applications is the section for work experience, where they ask you to only include full-time experience relating to the faculty you are applying to. I must leave all of those sections blank because, being a full-time student, I cannot have a full-time job, and certainly not one in the field in which I am applying.

Riddle me this: If I could get a full-time job in my chosen field now, why would I be applying to grad school?

Last but not least came the incredibly hard search for references, recommendations and/or referees. For some people, this is super easy because they are outgoing and develop good relationships with their professors early on. I am not one of those people.

I’m quiet and shy and am not usually in a situation where my class is small and my professor gets to know me, whether I like it or not. Luckily, I managed to get one here at U of M and another that I got to know well during my semester abroad, as well as my editor Morgan for the non-academic ones. They were very kind and agreed to do recommendations for all three applications, and then had the arduous task of completing online and paper forms to suit each university’s different requirement.

I am beginning to think that the application process is the first step imposed by institutions to weed out weaklings. It is more difficult applying to these schools than the actual courses will be; if I can make it through this, I’m golden! Even though I do have my moments of weakness, where I throw my hands in the air and shout, “It’s not even worth it!” I still intend to press on. Besides, I’ve already spent over $500 on applications and tests, so to stop now would just mean they win. And I’m a sore loser.