Oberlin Blogs

Applying to Grad School, Ch. 2

September 26, 2010

Will Mason ’10

(Chapter 1)

Loathsome though it was to apply to college, at least there was an established infrastructure. Expectations were pretty clear: to go to the University of Maine, you needed to have at least done X, Y, and Z. SAT score ranges were provided, median high school GPA of the freshman class, et cetera. And because so many people applied to most of the schools, those numbers were somewhat normalized and thus comparisons between yourself and the average were useful.

Not so with graduate school. The applicant pool for most Music Theory programs, even the most prestigious, is quite small--maybe 100 applicants for 2-6 spots. One year, you might be able to get into Harvard on the strength of an honors thesis and some good letters of recommendation. The next year, you might need to have already published an article. There's no way of knowing, and so all you can do is identify faculty with whom you'd like to work, apply, and hope for the best. I'm not applying to many schools, and the ones I am applying to are all places where I could imagine enjoying six years of uninterrupted academic work.

My professors here have been extremely helpful with all of this. When I told one of my professors that I wanted to apply to study at the school where she received her PhD, she practically leaped out of her chair offering to send an e-mail to her former adviser, the chair of the department, to set up a meeting. Another of my professors knows literally every faculty member at every school, as well as what they've written. He also puts up with my stupid questions about as well as could be hoped. ("Should I do this?" No. "What about this?" No. "What should I do?" Whatever you want to do, rather than what you think you need to do.)

I must imagine that, in general, professors enjoy when someone has taken an interest in their field to such a degree that a PhD holds appeal. Still, as I feel about in the dark trying to figure out my future, about the only comfort I've found is that the faculty here are consistently willing to take the time to help me sort things out.

* * *

I'd like to digress briefly to complain about the GRE. Let's look at a sample question from my textbook:

They ______ until there was no recourse but to _______ a desperate, last-minute solution to the problem.
a) berated . . . try
b) delayed . . . envision
c) procrastinated . . . implement
d) debated . . . maintain
e) filibustered . . . reject

I "get" that the answer is C, but am I crazy for thinking that B and E work equally well here? These questions are horrifying and asinine and I hate that I am taking an important test that measures my ability to ascertain what the authors of the GRE think the answer is. And that's not even to mention the fact that I no longer remember how math works.


* * *

The faculty have been a great resource, but Oberlin (like most colleges) also has a Career Services office, which provides invaluable help. As part of my application I need to prepare a CV. Career Services has CV samples and staff who will help me (once I get a draft going) to polish my CV. I definitely haven't utilized Career Services enough here -- ideally, I'd have both a CV and a resume on file that I would update and check with them regularly. It's worth checking out the website if you're curious, because this is a really neat service that the college provides. As my recently-graduated friends can attest, it's hard to get even a crappy job these days, and so we all need all the help we can get.

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