Adulting 101: How To Get Into Grad School

I feel like this is the only actual “Adulting 101” topic I’m actually qualified to write about. I’ve gotten into grad school three times so I guess that makes me an expert. But, turns out, the process is different based on what sort of program you’re aiming for. So this is mostly for social sciences or humanities, but in general, it applies to STEM programs as well.

I’m posting this now because the grad school process starts before your last year in undergrad. A lot of the time, you should be prepping your second to last year. The first thing you have to do is research schools and programs, and most importantly, find out their application deadlines. And, application deadlines can vary within a university. While the general university deadline can be sometime in July, the program you’re aiming for can cut off applications in February. So make a note of when everything needs to be completed.

Once you have your deadlines settled, take all the tests you need to take. At the very least, this is the GRE. Some schools, especially if you’re an international student, require english proficiency tests as well. Depending on the program, you might have to do the GMAT as well. It takes about three months to study for the tests, so plan accordingly, and make a note of what your school requires, and what they admit. My university and program officially requires a 300 on the GRE, but almost everyone admitted was closer to 320 and higher. You can find that out by looking at the incoming student profiles somewhere on your university website. Unfortunately, grad schools don’t have a convenient site like LSAC to figure out where you stand like law schools do.

Another reason you should be starting this process early is because most grad programs require at least three letters of recommendation. Figuring out which professors to ask is the tricky part. Ideally, you should have multiple classes with that professor, and have gotten decent grades in them. Depending on the program, pick professors who have read your work, or required a lot of writing. Ideally you should ask in person first, but if you absolutely must, send a polite and professional email. This also depends on the relationship you have with your professor. If it’s someone you’re one of 300 students in a general education class to, go see them in their office at least a few times so they become familiar with who you are beyond your grade. But really, you shouldn’t be asking those professors for recommendations. The perfect professors to ask are the ones whose research interests are similar to your own, whose smaller, upper level classes you’ve taken. They get to know you and are genuinely interested in your success, so they’ll be willing to write a glowing recommendation. Either way, when they say yes, they would be happy to write a letter for you, send them an email that includes your grades in whatever classes you took with them, both your program and overall GPAs (so they can see you’re brilliant within the program even if you suck at math), your academic interests, and your GRE score, broken down into written, verbal, and quantitative.

Give professors plenty of time to write your letters. A month at least. If it comes to two weeks before the deadline and you have no idea if they’ve sent in the letter, sent a brief but polite reminder, implying that you’re sure they’ve already done it but the website isn’t showing that they’ve sent in their letter. And once they do, send a thank you.

When I was applying into my master’s program, I first applied as a non-degree seeking student, to get a few good grades to offset my tragic undergrad GPA and that nasty semester in law school. I had luckily maintained relationships with my undergraduate professors, so they were more than willing to send in recommendation letters. Once I did a semester there, I asked some of the professors in the master’s program to write me recommendations to be in the program as a degree seeking student. Somehow I managed to get half the admissions committee to write me letters, so I got in before I completed my application. And when I was applying into the PhD program at the same university, I asked my thesis chair, one of the professors I had asked before, and a professor who had taught three of the classes I took. And just like that, I scooped up the other half of the admissions committee.

What I do want to mention is that letters from tenured professors carry more weight than non-tenured professors, as does the level of research the professor as done. If they’ve edited a journal or two and hold an endowed chair, then their letter is worth its weight in gold. That’s not saying that letters from non-tenured or clinical professors are worthless, they are fantastic in their own right, especially if it’s a really small department and everyone knows and respects each other. But you really have to research your writers.

That’s all I’ve got for now, happy summer, I hope you’re all enjoying it. I’ve been working on my thesis, so once I’m done on that front, I’ll be posting much more regularly. In the meantime, you can find me on Twitter or Instagram, and by email, thisisnotaquickstory@gmail.com.

Things you should know as a college freshman:

Clearly I am too lazy to make a new post, but since I’ve been away for so long (thesis writing, ughhhhh) I felt I should link to this post I made about helpful advice for entering college/university. It’s that time of year when everyone gets their roommate assignments, so I figured it was timely.

I’ll be back in August!

Eavesdropping in coffee shops.

I packed up all my school stuff this morning because I just could not concentrate at home, being super stir crazy and constantly distracted by every little noise (the neighbors were running what sounded like a massive fart machine in their driveway), and set out in the direction of a coffee shop with very specific criteria as to what sort of coffee shop it was going to be. It had to have a lot of tea on the menu, because milk does bad things to my innards and I haven’t quite acquired a taste for black coffee. They had to have wifi, and it had to be free because I am cheap. And it had to be super sunshiny inside because that’s the sort of mood I’m in. I don’t want to sit in sunshine, but I want to sit near sunshine. The first coffee shop would have been promising, and it even had gluten free pastries, but no tea, and the barista looked at me funny when I asked if they had lactose free milk. Whoops.

So I’m at a Starbucks, guys. That’s basically what this post is boiling down to. I packed up all my shit and drove to a Starbucks to study but instead I’m pretty much doing a running commentary about the people around me. At the next table there’s a guy being interviewed for a job here and that’s reminding me of the three interviews I did for Starbucks (but never got hired) and he seems to be doing a lot better than I ever did so good for you, dude. I hope you get the job. Behind me there’s a small group of maybe college freshmen (they look super young but it’s noon on a Thursday so they can’t be in high school) girls and they’re discussing another girl’s Instagram and apparently she posts too many selfies and now they’re talking about what an appropriate amount of selfies is. Whatever, man. If you think you look good, and you’re feeling about yourself, take that selfie.

I think I’m avoiding my statistics homework.

Go through Kat’s stuff

I’m starting a sort of series where basically I ask people to dump out their bags and write about what’s in them. This is from my friend Kat, who I met the first day of living in the dorms in college. She’s a sweetheart. We lived together my last year at OU, and once when I burned my arm on the oven while baking cupcakes, she walked a considerable distance across a field to bring me hydrogel patches because I was carless. Kat is one of the best friends I have, and when I’m freaking out about something in my life, is one of the first to remind me that it’s not as terrible as I think it is, and even if it is exactly that terrible, it’s not going to stay that way forever.

stuff

Hello :>

My name is Kat, and I’m Vrishali’s friend from college!
The items numbered in the photo above are the things I typically have in my bag, save for my laptop.
1. The first thing I’ve numbered is my iPad Mini. I do everything on this device – things ranging from paying the phone bill or rent to playing Clash of Clans. I’ve got my calendar and to-do list synced up to my iPad, iPhone 4s, and Macbook. (My phone is in the picture, but it’s camouflaged by the notebook!) I like to document every-day occurences on Instagram.
2. This is an overpriced notebook from Walmart. It was placed on a $2 tag, but it apparently cost #7 at the counter……… anyway, in it I practice writing in Arabic. I’m not very good at it.
3. This is my wallet. I don’t have much to say about it…I can’t even remember where I got it from.
4. This is a pair of RayBans regifted to me by my father. He got them from a patient who trades these things for medicine, I guess.
5. This is my fake-Lacoste coin purse from the Philippines. I love fake brand stuff.
6. Hair clips for my short hair – in terrible need of a haircut, always.
7. A copy of my favorite prayer by Sta. Teresa de Jesús. The text goes, in Spanish:
Nada te turbe, 

nada te espante,
todo se pasa,
Dios no se muda;
la paciencia
todo lo alcanza;
quien a Dios tiene
nada le falta:
Sólo Dios basta.

Now, in English:
Let nothing disturb you,
let nothing frighten you,
everything passes,
but God stays.
Patience reaches it all;
he who has God
nothing lacks:
God alone suffices.
8. A pair of my favorite Sony earphones, also in black!
9. I’ve got to have something to write with, you know.
Obviously I like things in black and white and gray – I’m into the minimal aesthetic because of its clean feel! I actually only took this picture in grayscale because of the weird lighting in the room. Anyway, there you have it! 🙂
You can follow Kat on Tumblr at rivailev.tumblr.com.
If you’d like to submit your own, email them to thisisnotaquickstory@gmail.com. Include a picture, labelled, and a description of what everything is and why you have it. 

Things No One Tells You About College.

My younger brother is starting college this fall, an he and his friends have been asking for a list of things they should have in their dorms aside from the obvious, and of course I can’t help but attempt imparting knowledge at his face. THINGS TO TAKE TO A DORM THAT NOBODY MENTIONS

Small vacuum cleaner: Either a stick vac or a little hand held. You WILL drop things, and eventually you’ll have crumbs everywhere. You’ll make more than a few friends if you’re the only one on the hall with a vacuum cleaner.

Swiffer (if you have a tiled floor): In the winter, you’ll somehow manage to track mud, dirt, and salt in. And if you spill something sticky on your floor (you will), this is loads easier than wiping things down with water and tissues.

Lysol spray/wipes: Someone in your hall will get sick, and that will start a chain reaction of EVERYONE IN THE HALL GETTING THE PLAGUE. There is no avoiding it. But when your roommate gets sick, or the guy two doors down starts sniffling, whip out the germ killer and try to contain the epidemic. You will be hailed as a hero. Also good for if you leave for the weekend and your roommate doesn’t. You never know what’s going on all over you shit when you’re gone.

Lockbox: This is especially important if you don’t take your computer to class and everywhere you go. It’s not hard to break into a dorm room. People steal shit. Put your shit in a lockbox and hide the lockbox (or else that will get stolen too).

Pyrex containers: You know the Tupperware-esque containers made of glass instead of plastic? Get a few of those. They can be microwaved, and then you can store your leftovers in one go. And they’re easy to clean.

Dish soap: Get a small bottle to wash out the Pyrex containers, plus the bowls/mugs/cups you’ve got.

Small fan: If you can’t control the room temperature of have a rude roommate who won’t compromise and insists on having the room feel like the Sahara desert. Also good for drowning out noises from that one person in the hall who comes home at 2am and insists on chatting on their phone on the top of their lungs all the way down the hall.

Brita pitcher/extra filter: Dorm water is disgusting. Filter it before you use it to cook, make coffee, or drink. May also help to have a reusable water bottle because buying bottled water on campus is a ripoff and college towns don’t always have the best water. Also, some dorms have free filtered water machines in the lobby (mine did. It was awesome) and you can fill up before class.

THINGS ABOUT FIRST YEAR THAT YOU SHOULD KNOW

-For things like cans of pop, ramen, and other snack that you and your friends all tend to eat, make friends with someone who has a wholesale club membership, and go buy them in bulk and split the cost. But take advantage of your meal plan. Find out if you weekly allowance rolls over (mine didn’t and I never used it all) or if it has to be used up in the week. If that’s the case, find out where on campus you can use your meal plan, sometimes you can buy a few boxes of juice or other food for one meal exchange.

Set a bedtime for yourself. The first few months in the dorms is really weird and it feels like you’re supposed to stay up late and either study all the time or party all the time. Don’t be afraid to be the first person to go to bed. You’ll thank yourself in the morning.

Set homework time. Come back from class and relax, and then sit down and work, or go straight to the library or another quiet place to get things done. Since you live and study at the same place, unless you’ve been to boarding school, it’s gonna be hard to make yourself follow any sort of schedule.

Do laundry once a week. Doesn’t matter how much stuff you have to do. Pick a day and time, and treat it like any other commitment. It gives you some regularity, and dorms are small, so if it starts to pile up it’s gonna overwhelm the room fast.

Make friends with your roommate, but don’t push it. If they don’t want to be friends, keep it civil. Just keep up some sort of relationship so that you can somewhat depend on them. In case you get locked out, or run out of something important, or desperately need a ride somewhere. Also set some ground rules, like no overnight guests (trust me, make this a rule at the very beginning. Aside from the potential awkwardness, a lot of times it just isn’t allowed and you can get penalized if the RA finds out.) or no loud music/audio after 10pm.

-Get to know your RA. They’re not just an enforcer. They’re a student too, and can offer some pretty helpful advice about the building, and the school. My freshman year RA is still a good friend of mine, and was super helpful when we had an issue with someone on our hall.

Get to know a few people in your hall, especially if they’re outside your major. My best friends now all lived on my hall freshman year. I lived off campus with one of those girls each year of college, and the others joined us for my last year. The people you live with will know you better than anyone else. And if they’re outside your major, the temptation to constantly talk about school is gone, and you have other things to talk about. This is the main reason I don’t like Honors Dorms or major specific dorms. That leads people down a rabbit hole of self-doubt and worry because they’re all taking the same classes and are in some form of competition with each other.

-Don’t call home at first. You’ll be homesick, that’s a given. But give yourself a few days before you call or Skype. You’ll be able to handle it better. And don’t go home every single weekend your freshman year. That’s when everyone is making friends and going out and bonding, and you really don’t want to miss out. If you absolutely have to be home, go either once a month or every other. My freshman year I didn’t go home at all, because I was across the country. If you’re feeling homesick, text a sibling. Your parents’ first impulse will be to coddle and baby you and offer to come get you, your sibling will remind you that you that you can handle this shit, so get over yourself.

Keep in touch with your high school friends. You’ll find that soon you’re only really in touch with one or two. And they’re the ones making an effort to talk to you.  A lot of high school friendships end spring semester of your first year in college. Be prepared for that, and don’t be too upset. You don’t need them anymore, and the friends you’re making now, some of them are going to be your friends for the rest of your life. When I was going to a really rough time the year after I finished college, it was my freshman dorm mates getting me through it, not my high school best friend, who had stopped talking to me.

Join a club that has nothing to do with your academic major. It brings you close to people who are interested in the same thing as you, but who you may not have met otherwise.

Don’t be afraid to eat dinner alone. Sure, there are always groups of people going to the dining hall in swarms, chattering about banal bullshit like frat parties and chapter meetings, but don’t be afraid to be there alone. There’s no shame in having different eating schedules with your friends. Bring a book, sit with someone new (this is only okay in the first two weeks of the semester, otherwise it’s a little weird), do your thing.

Register your bike with campus police. It will likely get stolen. A friend of mine got his bike stolen seven times in one semester. Registering it with campus police may not get it back, but it will help if you have it insured or if it’s found and someone is claiming it’s theirs (happened to my friend).

Make friends with older students. They’ll subliminally help you get your study habit straightened out, can offer advice on professors, and can just generally be there for you. Since I got into a lot of upper level classes freshman year thanks to my AP credits, I made friends with a lot of older students and I wouldn’t trade them for the world.

Get to know your professors. If you’re planning on needing recommendation letters for jobs, grad school, or internships, find a few professors within your major department that you like, and take every class they offer. Get to know them, raise your hand in class, keep it professional and courteous, go to office hours, and when you ask for a rec in three years, they’ll jump your request up to the top of the pile.

Have fun. It’s school, you have to study, yes, but remember that how you feel now will affect how you feel about your career path. If you’re miserable doing it now, you won’t want to do it for a living when you have to. Take care of yourself. If that means changing your major or picking up a minor, carefully consider it and then go for it. It sounds cliché, but you really need to find what you’re passionate about.

Conversations with my best friends: new military training tactics.

If you’ve read this post, you know who I’m talking about. For those of you too lazy to go read it (seriously, it’s like three short paragraphs and hella funny), the basic run down is that my friend Desiree and I both studied International Security and have a general contingency plan in place in the event that one of us (most likely her) gets kidnapped by terrorists. So now you know where we’re coming from and how most of our conversations go. 

This one started when I remembered it was graduation weekend at my university, so I texted her to say I was proud of her and that  wished I could be there.

Her: You and [Boyfriend] should have road tripped!

(note: her boyfriend lives on the east coast and would have to detour to Ohio to get me before going to Oklahoma)

Me: A road trip with me would prepare [Boyfriend] for an AlQ interrogation.

(He’s military)

Her: Haha he’d be ready for anything!

(See how she’s not concerned with the fact that I may take sandpaper and saltwater to her boyfriend? Best friend right there.)

Me: THAT’S how we should train the military. Send them on a road trip with their significant other’s best friend.

Her: And see if they make it out alive! Spec ops here they come!

(She’s totally on board with my plan. Someone call the guys in charge.)

Because what is more terrifying than meeting your significant other’s best friend? You know that once you’re out of earshot the hammer will come down. The fate of your relationship may hinge on that impression you make on that five-foot-two girl your girlfriend went to college with. Probably not, but let’s be real. The second you screw up, the best friend will get a text about it and will send eye daggers in your general direction. Real daggers if you’re especially unlucky. 

And Des, happy graduation. I know you’re reading this because I texted you the link. I’m so proud of you, and so glad you burst into my dorm fall semester of freshman year and camped out on my floor when you didn’t understand the Arabic homework. And when you dragged me and half the floor out of the study room because you wanted to go to Tea Cafe. And drove two days to get to Disney World to spend spring break with me. ❤ 

Also, happy birthday.

What went through my head as I took the GRE (lots of cussing)

What is that awful beeping? Shit fuck hell damn it’s my alarm. What time is it? 6:00. Who the fuck wakes up at 6:00? Sociopaths, that who. This is the murder hour. 6am is the reason for road rage. Those fuckers are sleep deprived.

……Beeping again. God damn I hit the snooze button. Why did I hit the snooze button? Now I don’t have time to shower. Fuck. Okay I have to wake up and get dressed…

Dammit. Hit the snooze button again. Okay. Up for real this time.

God damn why did I turn on the light it is so fucking bright in here is that an extra lightbulb?! No, wait, normal amount of lightbulbs. I have to pee. Bathroom bathroom bathroom. Dammit, cat, why are you sleeping in the tub? Turning the shower on just to spite you…hehehe. No, get out. Out, out, out, I will let you drink from the faucet later, let me brush my teeth, wait no I have to pee. Okay. Teeth. Where the fuck is my toothbrush? Did mom get a new cleaning lady? Did she hide it? Why would she hide my toothbrush? Oh wait. I left it in the shower next to my toothpaste. Fancy ass toothpaste. Better whiten my fucking teeth…

Okay clothes. Dammit I left the pants I wanted to wear at dad’s house. Wear are my legging? Oh. Laundry. Should have done that three days ago. Oops. Do these leggings smell weird? *sniff* Nope, we’re good. Leggings it is. Sweater…where are you sweater? Dammit cat, your fur is all over my sweater. Big shirt…let’s go big shirt…covers my ass,good enough.

Hair. Shit ow ow ow ow why am I brushing this?! Detangler where are you?! Ugh. Mom took it. Not going in there. Um…it looks okay right? Right. I’m hungry.

Breakfast. Ugh I hate breakfast. Who drank half my smoothie? Motherfucker’s gonna get a beat down with my tiny fists of fury! Hahaha Nick Fury. Avengers. Jeremy Renner…wait. Breakfast. Half a smoothie. Let me stick an applesauce pouch in my bag for later.

Fuck it’s cold out. But I’m not going back in for a sweater, mom will just say told you so. In the car. Wake up, GPS, time to go. Come onnnn. Fine. I’m starting without you. Dammit, I forgot my water bottle. Not going back. Radio. Talk show. Talk show. Talk show. WHY do we need to hear your opinions on tattoos? No one cares. Wear sleeves. Done. Where am I? Oh. Wait. When did the ramp get to the other side of the highway. Fuck you, road construction. HOLY SHIT WHERE DID THAT SEMI COME FROM?! Okay I’m still alive. Let’s make it there in once piece, okay? I can’t get into grad school if I’m dead. Okay. Off the highway. Why is my GPS telling me I’m here when I’m clearly in front of a Walmart? Oh. There it is. 7:30, right on time, let’s go.

WAIT. WHY ARE THEY CLOSED?!? Is it the right day? What time is it? What’s going on?!?!?! Okay. Just gonna sit in my car and wait. I’m watching you, Prometric Testing Center….why are these radio hosts still talking oh my god. Oh look, they turned on a light. I’m going in. Okay. Forms to fill. What, I have to write in cursive?! Who writes in cursive? I haven’t done this since the third grade. “You’ll use this all the time in high school” my ass. I barely handwrite anything any more. Forget cursive…

Okay. Starting the GRE. The hell sort of writing prompt is this? Wouldn’t a better way to judge my writing be by asking for a writing sample on something I have more than thirty minutes to write? I have a twenty five page paper about legalizing prostitution to lower the overall crime rate I could submit. Or fifteen pages on how Sadaam Hussein was a megalomaniac. But this? This I can do nothing with. Good thing it’s only three points. Bullshit cannon, go! Okay. Next prompt. This is slightly more manageable. Slightly. Still, that prostitution paper got me an A in capstone, you should really read it…

Alright. Verbal. I’m good at this. Shit. What does that word even mean? It’s got way too many letter. Damn damn damn damn damn. Okay. No. Reading comprehension. Shit fuck hell damn I hate this it’s so boring whyyyyy…. I’m so tired. Why am I so tired? Did I even sleep? Ugh. I hate taking tests. I’m a bad test taker. Can I write these guys a note saying I’m brilliant in real life but suck at taking tests? Probably wouldn’t fly. Okay. Done. Math. I fucking hate math. Hey, this isn’t so awful. SHIT. What the fuck? Are these numbers even real? How? I- I’m just gonna cry for a sec, okay? I know you can see me, test proctor, but just ignore me for a sec.

Okay. Let’s finish the test. Verbal. Math. Verbal. Math. Verbal. Okay. One of those was experimental, right? Let’s hope it was the math because man I fucked that shit up. What time is it? Holy hell, 10:20? I finished the GRE in just two hours and twenty minutes? Am I super human? No. Damn. Okay. Let’s go home without getting squashed by a semi.

Nap time.