Last-minute university application apprehension

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agelessdrifter
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Last-minute university application apprehension

Postby agelessdrifter » Sun Feb 27, 2011 2:40 am UTC

I'm getting ready to graduate from community college this semester and all of my confidence about transferring has gone out the window as I've sat and wrestled with transfer applications in the past weeks. Deadlines are rapidly approaching and I'm still not ready to submit. I feel like I don't really have a lot going for me, but I can't stand the idea of transferring out of one mediocre school into another, more expensive, mediocre school. I've got the grades -- I've had a 4.0 since I transferred out of art school (though the grades from that foray have dragged me down to a 3.66, which makes me nervous). I was on the school's math olympics team, and our team won. I was honored as the school's most outstanding math student last year. But I was never really involved in much beside that. I never volunteered for anything, or participated in student government, or joined any honors societies.

I know I've got the moxie to be a good math/physics student at a good university, but if I'm reduced to a brief, itemized list of my accomplishments and left to compete with other applicants from around the world who've known exactly what they wanted to do since they were 3 months old as these applications will have me be, I don't have a leg to stand on.

Take UF's application: Basically, it poses the question, "What have you done with your life since high school (work, travel, military, etc)?", and gives you four text slots (not boxes, mind you, slots) with accompanying start/end date slots within which to answer. I just don't know how to respond to something like this. I took several years off after high school and worked full time at jobs like cooking and auto repair. Should I use up slots on this information and thereby account for those two-and-a-half otherwise-deadbeat years? Or should I skip over them and cram all four spaces with stuff I've done in the past two years since I got back into school (the limits of which I've already expressed)? I haven't traveled significantly, I was never in the military. I don't feel like "line cook" really contributes to my application.

And I dunno what kind of stuff to put about myself in my 1000 character personal statement. They want to know what I hope to learn and achieve by attending. I feel like saying anything to the effect of "I want to be a professor and do research," however elegantly phrased and embellished, is going to come across like "I want to be a famous rock star and make lots of money" to the people reading these, who, I'm sure, see that response on one out of every five applications.

Anyway, I just came here to vent, I suppose. I'm not really as bitter about all this as I probably come across ( at least not unless I get rejected by everyone!).

Any words of advice or comfort would be appreciated, though. Or you can commiserate with me if you're going through, or remember going through the same thing.

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Re: Last-minute university application apprehension

Postby _Axle_ » Sun Feb 27, 2011 3:21 am UTC

agelessdrifter wrote:Take UF's application: Basically, it poses the question, "What have you done with your life since high school (work, travel, military, etc)?", and gives you four text slots (not boxes, mind you, slots) with accompanying start/end date slots within which to answer. I just don't know how to respond to something like this. I took several years off after high school and worked full time at jobs like cooking and auto repair. Should I use up slots on this information and thereby account for those two-and-a-half otherwise-deadbeat years? Or should I skip over them and cram all four spaces with stuff I've done in the past two years since I got back into school (the limits of which I've already expressed)? I haven't traveled significantly, I was never in the military. I don't feel like "line cook" really contributes to my application.



For this, I personally would use 1 of the 4 to say that you took time off your continuing education to stop and work. Nothing is wrong with letting a college know that you stopped to work. I wouldn't list each job if they are jobs and not really career types. Just list them as various non-skilled/technical jobs from date to date.
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Re: Last-minute university application apprehension

Postby Spen » Sun Feb 27, 2011 12:42 pm UTC

I'm assuming they want something fairly similar to the UCAS personal statement here (sorry, I'm from the UK and haven't experienced the US system). For writing the statement I'd suggest writing down a list of things which make you a strong candidate for the course, why you're interested in it, what you've done to further this interest (reading books, courses ran by relevant institutions etc), the way in which going to that university will help you to advance with your career plans. Since you seem to want to go into research then say that, an applicant who knows what they want to do with their life is much more attractive than one who doesn't so if you leave that out entirely it will make your application look weak. If the university is particularly good at research in the field you're interested in or has strong links with industry then that may be worth mentioning, oh and also try and show that you're a human being with interests outside your specific field of academic study, pretty difficult to fit into 1000 characters so I suggest picking and choosing.
I'll send you a link to the fairly successful personal statement I used for my university application (4/5 success rate) on google docs if you want, in the UK they're 4000 characters but it'd probably help with ideas.
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Re: Last-minute university application apprehension

Postby B.Good » Mon Feb 28, 2011 12:28 am UTC

Just fill out the application as best you can, say as much about yourself as you can. If I got into a fairly good math school (The University of Maryland, College Park, granted I only got in for the spring semester) then you shouldn't have too many problems, especially because you have infinitely more math honors than I have :lol: . If you're applying to more than one university, then the worst case scenario is that you spend at least one year (or one semester if you send in another application for spring admission) at one of your "fall-backs" and you lost some money on application fees, the best case scenario is that you spend the rest of your undergrad at a very good school, it seems like it's more beneficial for you to just give it a shot.

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Re: Last-minute university application apprehension

Postby Bakemaster » Tue Mar 01, 2011 1:23 am UTC

Don't underestimate the value of a 4.0 GPA just because it's at community college. It will be taken more seriously than a 4.0 GPA in high school would be taken, for several reasons. First, community college students need to be much more self-motivated than high school students; second, community college coursework, provided it is transferable to the universities you're interested in, is actual college coursework and in many cases won't be significantly less demanding than the equivalent coursework at a university. Freshman applications from high school seniors have a very real element of randomness or gambling involved; sure, the student may have achieved in high school, but college is in many ways a very different experience. You can't know for certain how a student will react to that transition. Transfer applications are a little less risky because some of the transition has been made already.

Don't knock yourself for what you feel is an unoriginal career goal, either. What's important in an undergraduate application isn't really what you want to do so much as saying something about why and how you want to do it. As a transfer applicant with a few years out of school, you have more life experience; you should be looking to show that your decision to pursue a teaching/research career is informed by that life experience. Tell them why you didn't just stay at your day jobs, and convince them it's because what you want to do is teach.

When you answer the question about what you hope to achieve, don't think of it as a test question. You can give them a dry response—"I want to be a professor and do research"—and you'll have technically answered the question, but you won't have really told them anything about yourself. Use the matter-of-fact answer to the question simply as the first sentence, a launching-point for you to tell them about yourself and your relation to your studies. Why do you want to be a professor? Does it have something to do with a professor you had, or didn't have? Does it have anything to do with a friend or a family member, a life experience that was important to you? Have you tutored? Have you helped a sibling with his or her math homework, and did you find it enjoyable, or at least engaging? Is there a specific place you'd like to teach, a particular level of student, a particular type of subject? Would you be more excited to teach the brand-new freshmen in an intro course, and be the first one to show them new ideas, or are you attracted to the idea of teaching advanced courses that are only taken by math or physics majors? What sort of things do you imagine would be great to research?

Don't just use the space to answer the question as it was asked. Use the space so that they can get to know a little bit about you. They read answer after answer after answer to these questions, and most of them are pretty dry and straightforward. If you stick out from the crowd and look like an interesting, thoughtful person, it doesn't matter if you used up 2/3 of your space sharing an anecdote from third grade. You still answered their question (it was a pretty easy one to answer in ten words or less), and you made yourself stand out from the page.

Good luck with your applications. I know exactly how you feel.
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Re: Last-minute university application apprehension

Postby jmorgan3 » Tue Mar 01, 2011 5:04 am UTC

Dude, calm down. You're applying to UF, not Harvard. If they ask what you've been doing, tell them what you've been doing. "Full-time employment, 20XX-20XX, XXX Community College 20XX-20XX" is probably exactly what they're looking for.
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Re: Last-minute university application apprehension

Postby agelessdrifter » Wed Mar 02, 2011 3:44 pm UTC

Thanks for the helpful advice, all. Gonna try and get these all finished today.

I am disappointed to discover that my high school apparently never kept a record of any accolades received by their students. I scored in the 90th and above on the FCAT (Florida's yearly standardized test) and I know I got some recognition for that at some point. I also participated in Duke University's TIP program (where they make seventh graders take the SAT just for shits and giggles, basically) and got some award from the state for my score in that. I really wish I had cared more about storing records of things as I was going through school. I guess I always figured it'd go on my "permanent record".

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Re: Last-minute university application apprehension

Postby Bakemaster » Wed Mar 02, 2011 5:58 pm UTC

As long as you remember the relevant dates, or nearly enough to make a good guess ("oh, I thought it was in April but I guess it happened in May"), you don't need the school to back you up. The university's not going to go verifying everything you put on the application. Yeah, some people make stuff up, but usually the rest of their application either makes it clear that they're making stuff up or demonstrates that they're not a qualified applicant regardless of what they put as their activities.
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Re: Last-minute university application apprehension

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Fri Mar 04, 2011 4:31 am UTC

Bakemaster wrote:Yeah, some people make stuff up, but usually the rest of their application either makes it clear that they're making stuff up or demonstrates that they're not a qualified applicant regardless of what they put as their activities.

…And then there's Adam Wheeler.
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