US grad school applications in three steps

So I haven’t been blogging as regularly as I had planned. I blame grad school applications. I would like to do a PhD at the University of Texas in either German or foreign language education. The application process took about two months and cost over $200 ($160 GRE exam + $65 application fee). That was a hard pill to swallow, as the application process for my MA in Germany took about two days and cost nothing. But if things work out, it will certainly be worth the cost and effort.

Step one: GRE exam

After avoiding it for nearly ten years, I finally took the GREs. This exam consists of three sections: analytical writing, verbal reasoning, and quantitative reasoning (math). Yes, there is a need to assess all applicants using a standard tool. But unless I teach bilingual math, the equation of a line y = mx + b will probably be irrelevant to the rest of my academic career. Also, non-native English speakers are at a definite disadvantage on the writing sections. I wonder if the GRE is the best standard assessment tool for all fields. The scoring was completely changed in August 2011, so admissions officials will need some time to get used to the new numbers. In any case, I just saw taking the GREs as a necessary evil.

Step two: Apply online

This is where I made myself database compatible. I compressed years of original thought, formal training, and job experience into fill-in-the-blank texts, pull-down menus, and uploaded transcripts. Then came the statement of purpose… I had a meeting with Professor Urlaub (love the name) from the Department of Germanic Studies at the University of Texas. He’s a specialist in foreign language acquisition and applied linguistics. We also published in the same journal last summer. My initial inquiry was to determine if my project would fit better within the frame of the foreign language education program or the German program. This developed into a two hour discussion which caught me up with current trends in the field and helped me decide on a specific learning group for my dissertation project. My friend Gwen, who teaches undergrad writing at Boston University, gave meaningful notes on my proposal. Notes considered, changes made, statement uploaded, “whew!”

Step three: Recommendation letters

How are professors still keeping up with research and teaching? After reaching a certain critical point of former students, recommending them could be a full time job. I assisted a Canadian prof at the University of Hamburg who was at the height of his career. He had to manage 5-10 rec letters per month. Getting rec letters from professors is much less common in Germany. Therefore, when I requested rec letters from my former profs in Germany, I included bite sized chunks of information about my previous academic endeavors, internships, projects and how they were relevant to my proposed PhD project. While this was a big undertaking, it was necessary so that they knew what to highlight in the letter. It was also valuable for me to clarify my current ideas in the context of my past work.

Bonus step: Wait

I should find out in March if I am accepted and whether or not they can offer a funding package. I would ideally like to either teach German for undergrads or work in the UT study abroad office. I could imagine advising science and engineering majors who wish to study abroad or do research in Germany. There are so many English language programs and funded research opportunities in Germany that it really warrants hiring a full time coordinator. Well, now that I say it, if there was funding a full time position, I would probably defer grad school to create it!

3 thoughts on “US grad school applications in three steps

  1. Pingback: Update since leaving Germany: Oct. 2011 – Jan. 2012 | USA-Auswanderer — (Re)immigrants