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Waiting for Decision

You probably already know that after you have sent your application materials to the universities you work has not ended. You know that the same information can be read and interpreted differently by different people or under different circumstances. Thus you task now is to persuade the admission committee that you and their program make a perfect match. To do that you continuously show your strong interest in the program, your particular interest in the research done by some of the professors, explain your strengths and contributions that you can make to the program, etc. This is the main topic of the following.

While Waiting...
Contacting Faculty Members
More Drastic Actions
Waiting List

While Waiting...

Okay, so you've sent your applications in, and you know you got them there, they are complete and being considered. (If you are not sure about the lot of your application materials, e-mail the secretary!)

Now what?

This is where many graduate applicants fall into the fateful mode of thinking, sit down and wait politely and worry where they might get in and think "oh, won't it be great if any one of them accepts me?"  Yes, it's true, many people get accepted exactly this way. In fact, probably the vast majority do. Few people think to act differently, but those few can greatly enhance their chances of being admitted and being admitted  to better universities compared to their applications alone. You can and should be one of those few (unless your application is absolutely outstandingly brilliant, e.g. you're about to get Nobel Prize, your father is about to donate huge sum to the chosen U, etc.).

The following are some suggestions which have been previously used by other applicants and which you can try to implement. You don't need to do all of these choose whatever feels right for you.

Call/E-mail To Inquire: Unless you received a postcard stating that everything in your file was completed, you should call the admissions offices to make sure that there are no lingering problems with your application packet (such as missing test scores, no application fee, etc.). Phone calls are usually more effective, but most Russians use e-mail and it is also fine.

Call/E-mail Politely Again: It is okay (and even good) to make one or two brief calls (send one or two e-mails) to the admissions offices, gently reminding them of your continuing interest in the program. You can contact either the secretary or the head of the admission committee or both. Ask about the current status of your application, emphasize your interest in the program, if you want you might ask about the number of applications received, or how many acceptance/denial letters have already gone out, or other such things.

Send an E-mail or a Letter: Unorthodox but surprisingly low-risk strategy is the idea of contacting graduate programs after applications have been sent. Perhaps you worry that you have created a mistaken impression of your interests or strengths, or fear that successive denials threaten your chances for admission at all. For whatever reason, you may decide to send a letter to the remaining schools to reinforce your interest and to reacquaint them with you. Tell them if they're #1 (of course, you can tell it to all of them) or let them know that you've just received a fellowship, submitted a paper for publication, won a contest, etc. Whatever the source, the purpose is to separate you from the crowd, increase familiarity with your name, and demonstrate your particular interest and knowledge of their program -- all worthwhile causes.

Recommenders' Aid:  If one of your recommenders happen to know certain faculty members or be an alumnus/a of the University in question or have some friends or connections to this University, he/she may be able to aid your application in a personal way. This approach works really well in practice, the only difficulty is to find such recommenders.


Contacting Faculty Members

Contacting professors at the universities in which you are interested is an important part of graduate school admissions. Though an Average applicant never would have considered this, it is an extraordinarily valuable experience. Many positive things will emerge from your efforts, including your own evolving recognition of the application process as essentially interpersonal, not impersonal as it most often is viewed.

As a practical matter, you probably should contact at least one professor at each school to which you are applying. This is quite a lot of letters, but after the first is completed the rest will flow relatively easily.

First, do your homework. Check through the web-sites and brochures of all the schools you are seriously considering. Using the faculty listings and research interests as a guide, check whom might you be especially interested in working with, or under. Even if this professor does not end up being your advisor, you will have engaged an important collegial relationship, and gained useful information as well. Certainly it won't kill you to be wrong about whom to choose, but you might as well be right.

As far as the letter itself, you will first need to explain who you are. Don't begin by apologize for writing or being interested in their program; you are grateful for their time of course, but remember professors are interested in admitting good students into the program especially if they end up in their lab. Discuss professors' research interests and why you are particularly interested in their lab; the more specific you can be, the better. You'll probably also want to know whether they would be available as an advisor next year, or some such thing pertinent to your case. Send a copy of your statement of purpose and r�sum�: it will readily introduce you to them without having to come right out and say how great you are, and will allow them to judge your qualifications for the program.

Not all of the professors will return your letter. Understand that these are busy people and no one gets awards or recognition or higher pay for responding promptly to prospective graduate students. When you do get a response, be happy. This is a momentous opportunity to gauge your candidacy and to correct any mistaken impressions. If they loved your credentials, thank them; or if, as is likely, they were wishy-washy, you can reinforce the more positive aspects. You can then choose either to continue the correspondence, or wrap it up and let them know how much you appreciate their help. Whichever it is, you now have someone on the faculty who at very least will recognize your name. And if you've contacted the faculty member before submitting your application you got a name to mention in your personal statement, indicating both your enduring interest in the program and the maturity of your decision to apply. And you probably understand the school or department a little better. It was an effort well spent.


More Drastic Actions...
(suggested for use after all else fails)

Send An Additional Recommendation:
Now we are getting into some more serious measures. While it is generally wise to stay within the proscribed limits as far as recommendations and essay lengths are concerned, you may decide that your application could use a little lift and that, with a certain amount of tact, you might help it by sending along an additional recommendation. Tell them, for instance, that you originally had intended to include this recommendation but that it had arrived late, and you were sending it along now whether they would/could use it or not. Of course, this is only one possible scenario, but your general strategy is clear: show an abiding interest in their program, offer additional resources for their decision-making, and subtly provide another reason for them to learn your name. Slightly risky, yes, but not much. The worst they can do is not read the recommendation, and you will have openly recognized that option unassumingly. This is not a conventional strategy, but it is indicative of the opportunity to be both creative and persistent in your efforts.

Rejection with Suggestion: If you have friends or acquaintances who have been admitted to some of the universities you have applied to (but have not been admitted yet) and these people are not going to accept those offers. Ask them in their rejection letter to mention your name as a possible good candidate with qualifications similar to theirs. They can send the letter to the secretary and/or better to the head of the admission committee.

Ask Your Friends in US: You probably have some friends already studying at the universities in which you are applying. Ask them to go to the head of the admission committee (or to the member of the committee) and discuss your candidature. They can ask about the current status of your application, say that they worked with you closely at MIPT and say some good things about you. Not all of your friend will be comfortable or willing to do that but some people will easily agree to this idea. I have used it during my application process in 1997, I can not say that this particular approach worked but all approaches combined have definitely worked :-)

Visit Schools: If you happen to be in US at this time (very unlikely, but it does happen to some people), use your chance to visit the institutions you are most interested in. This is the perfect time to travel, they're currently looking over your application, and meeting each other now may be just the thing to dispel any questions or doubts either you or the program might have. Moreover, by making your name and face familiar to them, you will gain a qualitative advantage over other candidates. The more familiar they are with you, and the more they connect that name to a living, breathing person, the better off you are. Caution: if you think that for some reason you are not as bright as your application, don't use this approach, you'd be better off communicating by phone and e-mail.


Waiting List

It's sort of good news. You're on the wait list. At least you weren't rejected.
Now what do you do?

Well, you can do nothing and hope for the best. Or you can try to improve your chances of receiving a letter of acceptance. You have little to lose and much to gain.

Here are some suggestions to improve your chances of moving onto the accepted list:

I suggest you write an email, no more than one page long, containing as much of the following as possible:

1. Interest in the school's program. Briefly thank the school for considering your application and mention how the school's philosophy and approach complement your outlook and goals.
2. Recent developments. Did you have a 4.0 during the last quarter? Have you led a group project or organization? Volunteered? Have you taken your department, business, or school club in a new direction? Have you had an article published? Received a promotion or additional responsibility? Succeeded in a particularly demanding class or research project? You should bring out any recent accomplishments not discussed in your application and ideally tie them back to some of the themes or experiences you raised in your Statement of Purpose.
3. Additional courses and plans until matriculation. If applicable, agree to take any additional courses recommended in the letter informing you that you are on the wait list. Finally, tell them concisely about the trip, internship, research, or project in which you will be participating over the summer.

Implement one or two of  the suggestions from More Drastic Actions, for example, submit an additional letter of recommendation from someone who knows you well and can comment on your qualifications.


Good luck!

 


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