It’s the time of year students are applying to graduate and professional schools, so I thought I’d share my guide, based on 14 years of experience as the admissions coordinator of a selective admissions professional program, called “How to be an unsuccessful applicant to graduate and professional school.”
Lest you wonder if this will really work, just ask all the people who did or said these things just how well it worked for them. These are in no particular order and the more of them you do, well, you can thank me later.
Read the admission requirements. Then assume they apply to everyone but you.
Tick off the gatekeeper (GK) (aka the person who is responsible for making sure your application gets processed and reviewed). This can be done in numerous ways. For example:
Repeatedly contact the GK and ask for special favors like dropping the accreditation report that is due to the president in two hours to see if you signed your name on the recommendation waiver.
Repeatedly contact the GK about anything he/she has already told you he/she will contact YOU about if necessary.
Show up without an appointment “just to ask a few questions,” all of which are already answered on the program’s website or in their published material.
Change address and phone numbers without contacting the GK with the change and then spend 30 minutes complaining to the GK that the reason you didn’t respond to the invitation to interview is because he/she didn’t send the letter to the correct address. Also complain that you didn’t receive an email (although you didn’t list an email on the application).
Have your mommy and/or daddy call the GK to ask about your application status. The exception to this is if you meet any of the following criteria: You are not old enough to drive a car or vote, you currently live in the far reaches of Outer Mongolia and the nearest phone is 872 miles away, or contacting the GK is specifically forbidden by your religion.
Have your mommy and/or daddy ask her/his boss (who is in no way connected the program) to call the GK and “put in a good word for you” or to ask why you didn’t get an interview.
Call the GK once, get voicemail and hang up without leaving a message. Then wait a day or two and call back and when he/she answers, say, “I’ve been trying to reach you but you’re never in ...”
Secondary to this is to call the GK, leave a message and then call back 10 minutes later and say, “I left you a message and haven’t heard back from you yet, so I thought I’d try again.”
Assume that of all the applicants the GK is working with, you are the one he/she is going to make a priority when you tick him/her off.
When the GK sends paperwork to be completed (that means filled out), by all means, don’t send it back.
When you don’t get an initial offer of acceptance, do one of the following:
Demand to know why you weren’t accepted because by gosh you are the second coming and how the program could NOT accept the one student who walks on water is just beyond your understanding.
Tell the GK and anyone else who will listen that your interviewers weren’t worth squat and that you didn’t get a chance to tell the right people just how much you want to be a (fill in the blank).
Have your boss (or someone else not related to the program) call someone he/she knows and ask him/her to find out where you are on the waiting/alternate list.
In addition to the tips above, let me offer a few words about your letters of recommendation. Ask people who have little or no knowledge of your ability to handle graduate level work or who have never worked with or supervised you to write them. It’s even better if you can get a relative, preferably with your same last name, to write one. Second best is having a member of Congress who has no idea who you are except you’re in their voting district to send a form letter, just like the one he sent for 10 other applicants, all of whom “have a deep and abiding desire to be a (fill in the blank).”
Susan Epps of Johnson City is an associate professor in East Tennessee State University’s Department of Allied Health Sciences and director of the ETSU 1000 University Seminar Program.