Waiting for Decision
You probably already know that after
you have sent your application materials to the universities you
work has not ended. You know that the same information can be read
and interpreted differently by different people or under different
circumstances. Thus you task now is to persuade the admission
committee that you and their program make a perfect match. To do
that you continuously show your strong interest in the program, your
particular interest in the research done by some of the professors,
explain your strengths and contributions that you can make to the
program, etc. This is the main topic of the following.
Contacting Faculty Members
More Drastic Actions
Okay, so you've
sent your applications in, and you know you got them there, they are
complete and being considered. (If you are not sure about the lot of
your application materials, e-mail the secretary!)
This is where many graduate applicants fall into the fateful mode of
thinking, sit down and wait politely and worry where they might get
in and think "oh, won't it be great if any one of them accepts me?"
Yes, it's true, many people get accepted exactly this way. In fact,
probably the vast majority do. Few people think to act differently,
but those few can greatly enhance their chances of being admitted
and being admitted to better universities compared to their
applications alone. You can and should be one of those few (unless
your application is absolutely outstandingly brilliant, e.g. you're
about to get Nobel Prize, your father is about to donate huge sum to
the chosen U, etc.).
The following are some suggestions which have been previously used
by other applicants and which you can try to implement. You don't
need to do all of these choose whatever feels right for you.
Call/E-mail To Inquire: Unless you received a postcard
stating that everything in your file was completed, you should call
the admissions offices to make sure that there are no lingering
problems with your application packet (such as missing test scores,
no application fee, etc.). Phone calls are usually more effective,
but most Russians use e-mail and it is also fine.
Call/E-mail Politely Again: It is okay (and even good) to
make one or two brief calls (send one or two e-mails) to the
admissions offices, gently reminding them of your continuing
interest in the program. You can contact either the secretary or the
head of the admission committee or both. Ask about the current
status of your application, emphasize your interest in the program,
if you want you might ask about the number of applications received,
or how many acceptance/denial letters have already gone out, or
other such things.
Send an E-mail or a Letter: Unorthodox but surprisingly
low-risk strategy is the idea of contacting graduate programs after
applications have been sent. Perhaps you worry that you have created
a mistaken impression of your interests or strengths, or fear that
successive denials threaten your chances for admission at all. For
whatever reason, you may decide to send a letter to the remaining
schools to reinforce your interest and to reacquaint them with you.
Tell them if they're #1 (of course, you can tell it to all of them)
or let them know that you've just received a fellowship, submitted a
paper for publication, won a contest, etc. Whatever the source, the
purpose is to separate you from the crowd, increase familiarity with
your name, and demonstrate your particular interest and knowledge of
their program -- all worthwhile causes.
Recommenders' Aid: If one of your recommenders happen to
know certain faculty members or be an alumnus/a of the University in
question or have some friends or connections to this University,
he/she may be able to aid your application in a personal way. This
approach works really well in practice, the only difficulty is to
find such recommenders.
Contacting Faculty Members
Contacting professors at the universities in which you are
interested is an important part of graduate school admissions.
Though an Average applicant never would have considered this, it is
an extraordinarily valuable experience. Many positive things will
emerge from your efforts, including your own evolving recognition of
the application process as essentially interpersonal, not impersonal
as it most often is viewed.
As a practical matter, you probably should contact at least one
professor at each school to which you are applying. This is quite a
lot of letters, but after the first is completed the rest will flow
First, do your homework. Check through the web-sites and brochures
of all the schools you are seriously considering. Using the faculty
listings and research interests as a guide, check whom might you be
especially interested in working with, or under. Even if this
professor does not end up being your advisor, you will have engaged
an important collegial relationship, and gained useful information
as well. Certainly it won't kill you to be wrong about whom to
choose, but you might as well be right.
As far as the letter itself, you will first need to explain who you
are. Don't begin by apologize for writing or being interested in
their program; you are grateful for their time of course, but
remember professors are interested in admitting good students into
the program especially if they end up in their lab. Discuss
professors' research interests and why you are particularly
interested in their lab; the more specific you can be, the better.
You'll probably also want to know whether they would be available as
an advisor next year, or some such thing pertinent to your case.
Send a copy of your statement of purpose and résumé: it will readily
introduce you to them without having to come right out and say how
great you are, and will allow them to judge your qualifications for
Not all of the professors will return your letter. Understand that
these are busy people and no one gets awards or recognition or
higher pay for responding promptly to prospective graduate students.
When you do get a response, be happy. This is a momentous
opportunity to gauge your candidacy and to correct any mistaken
impressions. If they loved your credentials, thank them; or if, as
is likely, they were wishy-washy, you can reinforce the more
positive aspects. You can then choose either to continue the
correspondence, or wrap it up and let them know how much you
appreciate their help. Whichever it is, you now have someone on the
faculty who at very least will recognize your name. And if you've
contacted the faculty member before submitting your application you
got a name to mention in your personal statement, indicating both
your enduring interest in the program and the maturity of your
decision to apply. And you probably understand the school or
department a little better. It was an effort well spent.
More Drastic Actions...
(suggested for use after all else fails)
Send An Additional Recommendation: Now we are getting into some
more serious measures. While it is generally wise to stay within the
proscribed limits as far as recommendations and essay lengths are
concerned, you may decide that your application could use a little
lift and that, with a certain amount of tact, you might help it by
sending along an additional recommendation. Tell them, for instance,
that you originally had intended to include this recommendation but
that it had arrived late, and you were sending it along now whether
they would/could use it or not. Of course, this is only one possible
scenario, but your general strategy is clear: show an abiding
interest in their program, offer additional resources for their
decision-making, and subtly provide another reason for them to learn
your name. Slightly risky, yes, but not much. The worst they can do
is not read the recommendation, and you will have openly recognized
that option unassumingly. This is not a conventional strategy, but
it is indicative of the opportunity to be both creative and
persistent in your efforts.
Rejection with Suggestion: If you have friends or
acquaintances who have been admitted to some of the universities you
have applied to (but have not been admitted yet) and these people
are not going to accept those offers. Ask them in their rejection
letter to mention your name as a possible good candidate with
qualifications similar to theirs. They can send the letter to the
secretary and/or better to the head of the admission committee.
Ask Your Friends in US: You probably have some friends
already studying at the universities in which you are applying. Ask
them to go to the head of the admission committee (or to the member
of the committee) and discuss your candidature. They can ask about
the current status of your application, say that they worked with
you closely at MIPT and say some good things about you. Not all of
your friend will be comfortable or willing to do that but some
people will easily agree to this idea. I have used it during my
application process in 1997, I can not say that this particular
approach worked but all approaches combined have definitely worked
Visit Schools: If you happen to be in US at this time (very
unlikely, but it does happen to some people), use your chance to
visit the institutions you are most interested in. This is the
perfect time to travel, they're currently looking over your
application, and meeting each other now may be just the thing to
dispel any questions or doubts either you or the program might have.
Moreover, by making your name and face familiar to them, you will
gain a qualitative advantage over other candidates. The more
familiar they are with you, and the more they connect that name to a
living, breathing person, the better off you are. Caution: if you
think that for some reason you are not as bright as your
application, don't use this approach, you'd be better off
communicating by phone and e-mail.
It's sort of good news. You're on the wait list. At least you
Now what do you do?
Well, you can do nothing and hope for the best. Or you can try to
improve your chances of receiving a letter of acceptance. You have
little to lose and much to gain.
Here are some suggestions to improve your chances of moving onto the
I suggest you write an email, no more than one page long,
containing as much of the following as possible:
1. Interest in the
school's program. Briefly thank the school for considering your
application and mention how the school's philosophy and approach
complement your outlook and goals.
2. Recent developments. Did you have a 4.0 during the last
quarter? Have you led a group project or organization? Volunteered?
Have you taken your department, business, or school club in a new
direction? Have you had an article published? Received a promotion
or additional responsibility? Succeeded in a particularly demanding
class or research project? You should bring out any recent
accomplishments not discussed in your application and ideally tie
them back to some of the themes or experiences you raised in your
Statement of Purpose.
3. Additional courses and plans until matriculation. If
applicable, agree to take any additional courses recommended in the
letter informing you that you are on the wait list. Finally, tell
them concisely about the trip, internship, research, or project in
which you will be participating over the summer.
Implement one or two of the
suggestions from More Drastic Actions, for example, submit an
additional letter of recommendation from someone who knows you well
and can comment on your qualifications.