Fordham GSAS: Grad. Life: "It's Complicated"

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

"It's Complicated"

When you near the end of something, it’s pretty common to look back at the beginning and see how things have changed. Or, maybe that's just true for me. But now that I'm in the 2nd year of my MA, and looking ahead to my comps exam in the spring, I often simultaneously look back to last fall semester (my first here at Fordham), and even to the application process I went through during my senior year at Barnard.

And the more I think about it, the more I feel that graduate admission is more complicated than undergraduate admission…by leaps and bounds. At least it seems that way the first time around.

First off, whether you’re applying for an MA or a PhD, the pressure seems greater somehow. Maybe it’s because you’re competing for fewer spots, and against only the most qualified students. Maybe it’s because most people who apply to graduate school tend to be pretty intense to begin with. But the thing that really makes the grad. school admissions process more complicated is the same thing that makes it hard, once you’re here, to meet anyone from outside of your department. Everything is so subject-specific. All of a sudden, from what was most likely a liberal arts education where you were encouraged to try every subject you were even mildly interested in, you’re asked to write a personal statement on why your subject trumps everyone else’s. And, what might be even more complicated, you have to explain why the school you’re applying for is better for you than any other school.

Sure, you might have done this for your college applications. But this gets pretty rough when it comes to grad. school. Because, all of a sudden, not only is each school different from every other. But each department in each school is different from every other department in the same school. And, even within a single department, different specializations can be stronger than others, or student support may be stronger than research opportunities, etc. etc. And that is why the new grad. school rankings are so confusing.  How are you supposed to rank a program, let alone a school, when there are so many variable factors? The new method  adopted this year may be trying to solve this problem in a good way—by showing the range rather than a certain number—but that ends up making it even harder to interpret the results. If a school is in a range between 13 and 43...what does that mean? In the end the rankings feel completely arbitrary. Added to the fact that your real experience really cannot be predicted by a number anyway (e.g. as an undergraduate, I hated the first school I went to which was technically ranked higher than the school I transferred to and loved), these rankings end up meaning absolutely nothing in my eyes.

So, here’s my solution everyone. And I think you're gonna love it! Remember when Yale’s undergrad. Admissions Office came out with their amazing video campaign, “That’s Why I Chose Yale”? Well, I think every single grad. department and every single school should make one of those. Because musicals are a much easier and “funner” way to decide what school you want to go to, and to understand the pros and cons of each institution and program.

And I’m only half kidding.

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