Thursday, March 29, 2007

Parades: how to rain on

One of my very favorite students--a student I had last semester, who I have again this semester, and who is already signed up for my 400/500-level class next fall--just asked me to write a rec letter for her when she applies to grad schools next year.

Of course! I said. I'd love to.

"Well," she said, "I thought I'd ask because I'm applying to INRU." She laughed and added, "Of course, I'm also applying to [INRU's Big Rival], and I don't know how you'd feel about that. . ."

I smiled and said that I could probably bring myself to write a letter for both institutions--and, since she was running out the door, I simply added that she should definitely bring her writing sample and personal statement by me when the time came.

But when she left I closed the door and thought, Jesus Christ. I sure hope she's applying to a few other schools, too.

Because--and I probably don't have to spell this out here--even the best students at RU are unlikely to go straight to a top-10 Ph.D. program. It's not the world's rarest occurrence (I've heard of a few students who have, and I've even met one of them), but it's unlikely for reasons both of preparation and of institutional snobbery. My best juniors and seniors are strong students, but their work bears the marks of people who blossomed intellectually only rather recently. They write well, but their writing usually doesn't have the fluency and sophistication that you see, sometimes, even among freshmen and sophomores at a certain kind of college--those students who grew up devouring books and travelling abroad and who graduated in the top 5% of their well-funded suburban high schools.

I'd defend to the death the ability of many of my students, but their training is patchier and they've had less practice applying their skills. They've also, usually, not been pushed as hard--I know that this particular student wants to be pushed, but I also know that some of my colleagues give her papers As and tell her how great they are. Her papers? They're definitely good work, but they're not As, not yet. They're more like very promising B-pluses.

I would never tell my student not to apply to a couple of top Ph.D. programs, but what I strongly believe is that she should apply to terminal M.A. programs, go to the best one she can get into (and I suspect she could get into a very good one) and refine her skills there. Get her ass kicked. Read more widely and more deeply. With that experience and that degree, admission to a top Ph.D. program would be a very real possibility.

But she's not asking me for that advice. And I certainly can't tell her that her skills aren't there yet--there's no way, really, of saying that without her hearing "you're not smart enough," which I don't mean and don't believe. I also don't think that I can tell her that Ph.D. programs like INRU's are often snobbish and don't tend to admit students from regional comprehensive universities. I like RU, a lot, and I think my department is every bit as strong as many a department at, let's say, a lesser research school--so I resist giving the impression that I'm participating in that kind of snobbery.

The real problem here, I think, is one of a lack of perspective. This student is friends with nearly all of my smartest students, and they all hang out together; they're an awesome, funny-intense group of students. But they are, basically, The Smart Kids. There aren't many other students who have the quirky geeky intellectual interests that they have, and there aren't many students who do better than they do in classes. So on some level they think of themselves as the smart kids, just as my friends and I did in high school. There's nothing wrong with that, but they haven't yet been fully challenged or fully humbled by all the other kinds of smartness out there.

I guess that that's a beautiful thing in many ways. I spent most of college (and, oh yeah: graduate school, too) consumed by academic self-doubt and the belief that I wasn't remotely the intellectual equal of half of my peers. But I worry that my student's expectations are unrealistic, and that her disappointment could be the more extreme because of it. If she truly wants to get a Ph.D. in English--and you'll notice that I've completely sidestepped, for the moment, the question of whether I ought to be encouraging her to go to graduate school at all--I may be able to help her do it. But I think that one of my colleagues in particular is giving her some bad advice, and I'm uncertain how to counter it without making her feel that I don't believe in her abilities.

24 comments:

adjunct whore said...

flavia--god this brings me back to my own application to grad school experience and the extreme emotional swings that accompanied it.

my two cents: since she obviously loves and respects you, have her come in and chat about what she hopes for, what her back up is, give her some real statistics on grad school, those who make it out of ABD, jobs. not to scare her, but just to let her know that it is a long haul and it begins with careful consideration of grad programs. you might be able to encourage her, then, to throw in some really solid MA programs to up her chances for the top PhD program.

i think you could give her more information and help balance the euphoria of the dream without hurting her feelings. i know people did that for me as an undergrad and it made a huge difference.

either way, she's clearly lucky to have you on her side.

anthony grafton said...

What a great post. This is really hard, in more than one way. Every year, as I read applications for our graduate program and advise those of my own undergrads who apply to do graduate work, I see the advantages that come with four years in an elite school. These do NOT include better teachers, thanks to the market which has scattered academic talent far and wide, but they do have access to better libraries, travel and research grants for undergraduates, and a cohort of buddies who all share talent, passion and the polish that comes from excellent educations. Every year colleagues and I push to get kids from less renowned state and private schools onto the list. Some make it, but we don't take many. The competition is intense, something like 20 applicants for every offer we can make, and the applicants from elite schools come with amazing qualifications that we can't ignore.

Like your last commentator, accordingly, I would urge that if you possibly can, you should have a talk with this student, and make clear both how much you esteem her and her work and what the realities of grad school competition are. Tell her--it's absolutely true--that every top school turns down people with high and highest honors and powerful recommendations from its sister schools, every year. And lay out your plan, as an alternative that she could pursue side by side with the ambitious one.

I agree: what luck for this student to have your support.

Anonymous said...

Flavia -

I bet your student'd appreciate your advice.

While applying to (a bevy of) engineering Ph.D. programs, my undergrad advisor @ INRU expressed perfectly diplomatic surprise, since I don't really have the "temperament" for a Ph.D., and that I was more entrepreneurial. I was deaf to his comment at the time ("surely he's wrong!"), but his comment popped back into my mind next year, in grad school -- while trying to decide if I should leave INRU-rival to start a company. I appreciated his comment in retrospect.

Long-winded way of saying: I bet your student would appreciate your advice, worded just as you did in your post.

-me

Anonymous said...

I think this is a really important post to have written. Thanks for doing it. The comments have been interesting too. Right now, I'm in a somewhat similar situation. I'm very involved in my college's alum association and, in doing so, I'm often on campus for student events, career forums where I am called on to speak about "what it's like to go to graduate school" and "what you can do with a Ph.D." It's pretty obvious from the students that I meet and the questions that I get that the students at my college are getting some vague and unhelpful advice both from our career center and our faculty. Being that I went to a SLAC where most faculty in English (my field) only go to MLA for job candidate interviews it's fair to say that there's a significant gap between faculty knowledge of the field and the grad admissions process and what's actually happening in RI English programs. Likewise, my college's career center is basically clueless when it comes to advising humanities students regarding M.A. and Ph.D. admissions in the humanities.
What I'm trying to do to help this problem is, through my position in the alum association, to push our career center to fund a grad school admissions counselor position or something along these lines. My alum school has so much money--enough that they should be able to help students figure out what are good options for grad admissions. I'm also starting a more formalized network of alums who have gone on to grad school that can be contactable by undergrads looking to attend grad school. In doing so, I really hope that students will see where their classmates have gotten in to school and, also, who is available as a resource to see what grad school is "really" like. Flavia, maybe you could help to spearhead an alum network of students at your school that have gone on to grad school in English? That might help students like the one that you're currently advising get a sense of where folks are going and what they're doing with a grad degree in English.
--Sarah (the anon. poster that wrote the post about bumper stickers yesterday--sorry I forgot to sign my name!)

Hieronimo said...

This year I was on our department's admissions committee, and it was a real eye-opener. We had 500 applications for 25 offers (1 in 20, like Anthony Grafton says). I don't think we were at all biased against someone based on the school he or she came from--honestly, there was barely enough time per application to even notice the student's alma mater--and in fact those students who seemed to have been "self-made" because coming from a very out-of-the-way place may have gotten a little boost. But, as Anthony Grafton also says, those from elite schools often just looked so much better that it was hard to ignore. In any case, we turned down a ton of people from both elite and non-elite schools, so many rejections that it was hard to discern any patterns. It was pretty crazy.

Also, we admitted a lot of people who had MAs already. I don't love this, because it's the same effect as some schools not hiring people straight from grad school, but waiting until they've had a job elsewhere for a few years. The trickle-down effect of hyper-professionalization is insane: a not insignificant number of our applicants (undergrads!) had published essays in peer-reviewed journals, and not just weird unknown journals, but places that we admission committee members are perfectly happy to publish in. Insane.

Finally, I recently recommended 2 terrific undergrads. One from a state U and one from an elite private U. Both are among the best undergrad students I've ever taught. The first one got completely shut out last year, won a Fulbright to England, and reapplied this year, and got in to only 1 of her 10 or so schools--a very good program but not a top 10 school. The second student, from the elite private U, got completely shut out this year from about 10 schools. I was truly shocked. But when you let in 1 of 20 applicants, there's so much randomness involved that it seems equally possible he could have gotten into 2 or 3 of those 10 schools with the exact same credentials. Out of our finalist list of 75, I felt like we could have randomly chosen 25 and ended up with the same caliber of admissions (and saved ourselves a lot of effort!)

Basically, I hate grad school admissions and never want to do it again. And I agree with everyone else that you should talk to this student--which you can just say you do with every student who asks for a rec--and suggest a few MA programs, and a few 2nd-tier grad programs. I saw a ton of applications from students who had absolutely no chance of admission (unlike, it sounds, your student), and who really could have used some advice before they wasted hundreds of dollars on applications. And, by the same token, I bet your student (like many) believes that if you don't go to INRU or its rival for your PhD, you have no chance of getting a job when you finish, which is completely untrue. So I'm sure your student would appreciate advice from a younger prof who knows the profession better than your very senior colleague--or at least, I'm sure she needs the advice even if she won't (immediately) appreciate it.

Dr. Crazy said...

One question you might ask the student is why the student wants to apply to those schools. The answer you'll probably get is because they're "the best" but one thing I learned in my application process (from an undergrad degree at a school like RU) is that I was applying to places not because I was interested in the program but because of the rankings. Luckily, I was rejected by all but one school where I applied to a terminal MA program, went there, and went on to a good - though not top-10 in the rankings - grad program. I chose that program based on the _program_ and my second time around in the application process I didn't apply to INRU or its biggest competitor because I knew they wouldn't be right for me. The point for me is that she should apply to places she'd want to go and that would be well suited to her. For many of us, that's just not INRU or its rival.

Other than that, what everybody else said :)

Tiruncula said...

I face the same problem all the time when I advise students from Old (regionally-known but otherwise obscure) SLAC, and I can echo everything hieronimo said about the admissions scene in a top-ranked/high-profile program. If you're looking for a way to tell your student honestly what the lay of the land is without crushing her spirits, you can tell her with perfect candour that she'll be competing against people who are significantly older than fresh-out-of-undergrads and normally have master's degrees already. Even in my less-competitive subfield, we only admitted people this year who had MAs or MPhils already, and sometimes more than one. I do everything I can to persuade my undergrads to take time off before grad school anyway, and getting them to agree that they need a master's for exploration and polish is one way to do that, if I can't persuade them to spend some time out of academe. Of course, funding for terminal MAs is virtually nonexistant - another barrier for those who are already less advantaged in their preparation.

Flavia said...

This is all such good advice--thanks to everyone for taking the time to weigh in.

I think the suggestion, which several people made, to talk about applying to a variety of kinds of programs--both different kinds of PhD programs AND MA programs--in the context of discussing the badness of the job market and all the disadvantages of graduate school is a great one. I was definitely planning on having the do-you-really-know-what-you're-getting-into conversation with her before writing her a letter, but I hadn't really thought of that as a way of framing these other issues for her.

The best piece of advice that I ever received when I was applying to grad & professional school--dunno if I've mentioned it, but I applied to law school & grad school at the same time--came completely out of the blue from an otherwise pretty jerky former instructor of mine, whom I'd asked for a rec letter. Obviously puzzled as to why I was applying for two totally different kinds of programs, he said, "you know, when you go to a school like INRU, sometimes it seems like there are only a few possible paths, like law school or grad school. but in the real world there's so much more than that, and it's only by being out in the world that you get a sense of all the possibilities. There's no rush. Law school will still be there. Grad school will still be there."

And I think that's true for this student--what do you do if you're good at school and like analyzing literature? Grad school! And if you're going to grad school, where would you go? A top-10 program!

It's so much harder to try to figure out what's truly right for *oneself*. I guess I need to help her slow down a little and try to figure that out.

Flavia said...

P.S. Sarah: that's a really great idea. As RU has been tightening its admissions standards and raising its profile in the region--as well as going on a major hiring binge and getting some great new faculty--we've definitely been seeing an increase in the number of students interested in (and capable of) going to grad school. So I think that establishing some kind of network of alums-now-in-grad-school would be an amazing resource & a good reality check. I'll have to talk to my chair about that.

Sisyphus said...

Good discussion!

I would show her a copy of _Getting What You Came For_ and tell her to buy her own copy right away, in the course of describing how bad the job market is and how long it *really* takes to get a PhD. I would also agree with the people who say you should go work for awhile and then try an MA program --- (you can write the letter now and your career center can hold it for 5 years, if it's like here) I came in my current school with an MA and there is a definite difference in both cynicism and survival rates between those of us who have applied to and survived grad school once and the wide eyed 22 yr old BAs. Professionalization, yes, but also a 2-year out if you need it, rather than staying as an eternal ABD unhappily because you can't finish or leave.

And the first time I applied out I went all-ivies, straight down the top ten rankings, didn't get accepted anywhere. I wish my recommenders had taken a little more time to look over my lists and suggest I include some mid-range and safeties rather than assure me I could easily get in to Yale. (Yale! heh!) That's common advice for the go-getters applying to undergrad now, so it should make sense to her.

Brigid said...

hi!

i really don't know why i've been lurking here since wednesday--i'm not an academic, but i actually feel qualified to comment on your post, as i was in the same situation as your student quite recently. i graduated from a tiny, very stifling, very conservative school in the midwest last may.

One of my more lecherous professors (that adjective has nothing to do with anything--it's just how i think of him) told me not to set my sights too high, always to have a safety school. at the time i felt stung ("this from the man who makes me feel so infantile when he encourages me to speak in complete sentences? who is so surprised that i can communicate in writing? why would i take the advice of someone who has no faith in me? others know me better; others know how intelligent i am" blah blah blah), but i ended up taking his advice.

i also took the advice of the Best Professor Ever, who asked me why i wasn't applying to more top-notch institutions and encouraged me to do so. i did, and now i cherish the rejection letters that cost such a pretty penny. (they are funny, some of them very "while there is nothing i can do to lessen the feeling of loss..." and the recipient (myself, for example) thinking, "has someone died?")

what i'm trying to say is this:
i appreciate that someone was practical enough to tell me that i should aim low. i appreciate that someone had enough faith in me to tell me to aim high. and here i find myself, accepted to a school that's somewhere in the middle, and perfectly content with that. the BPE will always be the BPE. the lecher will always be the lecher. but the advice of both of them was equally helpful. perhaps there are no helpful lechers at your school though, in which case i'd recommend , as you've decided upon, telling it like it is...even that sad truth about differences in preparation and opportunity among schools. it is, after all, the truth, and we all have to face it at some point or another. your student obviously thinks that you think highly enough of her (which you do) to recommend her, so it probably will sting a little bit. or a lot. but seriously, you're doing her a favor if you suggest a program that will a) accept her; and b) help her in the long run.

grad student to be

Anonymous said...

I've been reflecting quite a bit on this lately, as my school is overrun with prospective grad students. I'm in my fourth year now, but I can remember so vividly going through the application process, not just from a public school, but from a public school in Canada, no less.

Basically, all the older English lit students I knew told me that no one from my school got into the top American programs directly from undergrad, that the only way you could get in was by doing an MPhil in England (which I didn't have the money for), and that the best I could hope for was to do an MA at my excellent public, Canadian university, and hope for the best after that.

My professors, on the other hand, just quietly smiled and agreed to write letters.

I applied to the MA program, knowing I'd get in, and I only applied to my top three choices in the States, knowing I wouldn't get in. (Why apply to ten when it would be a waste of money, I thought.) The entire time, I felt I was wasting the money on GREs and grad school apps, and wondered desperately how I would explain to my parents that I would have to go through this again the following year.

So what happened? I got in to all of them. Every now and then I think how, if I'd listened to the advice of the worldly older students around me, I would have wasted a year of my life in a program that was really more of the same. Maybe it was even a fluke -- my year has an unusually high number of students who came in directly from BAs at good state or Canadian public schools (i.e. 4 out of 10). But I'm still glad I tried.

It's true that since then I've cringed every time I see how much of the entering class has an ivy undergrad, an Oxbridge MPhil, or both to their name, but there are also years with lots of students from schools I've never heard of. The point is, you never really know until you apply, and every now and then, admission committees get really excited about funny, quirky, geeky kids who aren't yet full-grown scholars.

Just my two cents.

Prof Mama said...

I think much great advice has been given so far. I just want to emphasize the idea of applying to multiple types of programs. I think it is beyond foolish for ANY student--no matter HOW wonderful--to apply to only the ivies, Top 10 programs, etc. I think everyone needs to apply a mix of schools. Your student should think back to applying to college and the strategy that is often recommended: apply to some "reach" schools, some schools that could go either way, and some safety schools. That's good advice for grad school applications, too.

I also *strongly* agree with the advice of applying to MA programs and using that degree as a stepping stone to a stronger PhD program. I know several people who did this--self included--and all of us benefitted. I have known students who went with a subpar PhD program because they wanted to go straight through, thought it was more prestigigous, that sort of thing. They were misinformed, IMHO. Better to spend more time and to get a MA along the way to a PhD from a strong program than to go the direct route and get a PhD from a program no one knows or cares about.

Anonymous said...

just wondering--can we talk about the money? I entered my PhD program with an MFA, keenly ambitious to get my degree and be done with it. Five years later, I am on my last diss. chapter (whoo-hoo!), set to defend by early fall.

But, my reasons for entering the PhD program were largely financial: I had huge debt not only from my highly selective SLAC BA, but from that fancy MFA, too. I needed to put a hold on those loans until I could get some better credentials and hopefully a decent job in the future.

So the advice to get a terminal MA is indeed a good one, but a VERY expensive option. I'd encourage you to advise your student to think about her present debts, and her debts to come. This means: apply widely, and only accept offers that come with some funding. There is no reason to indenture yourself for an already shaky, uncertain, poorly paid career. Encourage her to do the MA as part of a funded PhD program and if she hates it, leave! Or, if she loves it and wants an INRU doctorate, apply with her MA/MPhil to those.

Also, I am always heartbroken about these "grad school talks with students." Mainly because it sounds like total BS coming from us--those who already have the golden ring, telling those coming-up-the-ranks to not even consider it a possibility. There's something disengenuous about it, and there was when I was similarly advised as an undergrad NOT to do a PhD. (My advisor actually said, "I'll rec. you for an MFA, but not for a PhD." He never explained why.)

Flavia said...

Most recent Anon:

The expense of an MA is definitely a concern of mine. I started out as an MA candidate at INRU (applying for the PhD the fall of my MA year, getting in, and going straight through), so I KNOW what a ridiculous decision that can be financially. However, you're focusing, I think, on private schools--there's are some very good public schools that offer funding for MA candidates (predicated upon teaching, of course). Or my student might be interested in working part-time while getting her MA, or she might (I don't know her family situation) be able to live at home if she attended Best Regional School. Going to a lesser PhD program with the intention of dropping out after the MA and applying elsewhere is also an option, as you note, though maybe not one I'd *recommend* to her.

sailorman said...

don't forget the POST-PhD part.

I think a lot of students--oh, say, 95% of them--have an overly inflated idea of what jobs will be available to them when the graduate.

20:1 to get in to a PhD program, hmm?

Anyone want to posit on the ratio of highly-qualified, published, PhD-holding, interesting, applicants for every tenure track faculty position?

40:1?
50:1?

And then, how about the ratio of said applicants for "the jobs that everyone wants", e.g. those tenure track positions at a school that is interesting, well regarded, in a decent and affordable spot to live, with good support, reasonably intelligent students, and/or not a community college, etc etc...

100:1?
200:1?

And then, anyone want to deny that at the job hiring process, WHERE you go is damn important? That colleges like to list Harvard et al on their faculty lists? That the same factors that apply to undergrads from RU vs. a T1 university, will apply MORE to PhD graduates from a non-t1 university?

The only thing more depressing than a student who can't get into grad school is a PhD who can't find a job paying more than 30k a year. I know a lot of them. Many of them are amazingly smart. Some of my friends HAVE degrees from the top universities in their fields, AND are extremely smart, and still can't find a job.

I think you owe it to her to be polite. And harsh. that is to say, honest.

squadratomagico said...

I think one element that has been left out of this discussion is the place of research interest. I always advise students who are interested in graduate training to spend time researching the faculty. I start by asking them which scholarly works they have read in the past four years that they find most interesting. Then I suggest they find out whether the author is alive and training graduate students. Beyond that, I ask them about their interests and suggest other scholars for them to read (and also ask them to do some research on their own). The end result is that they become more likely to apply to programs with which they have an affinity, rather than to base their decisions on prestige alone. I ask them to consider: whose thinking-processes do you most admire? While I stress that they will not end up as clones of their mentors, they will absorb a certain way of posing questions and framing answers from the person who trains them.

This preparation may give them a potential edge in the decisions process, as well. Graduate training is a two-way street: faculty want to accept students whose intellectual maturation they will find stimulating to witness. It takes a great deal of time and energy to train graduate students, so the individual has to seem interesting enough to be worth the effort. A student who makes the case for a strong match of interests and methodology can have extra appeal for this reason.

Dr. Virago said...

Flavia,

Everyone has already said what I would've said in terms of advice, so I'm going to whore my program instead.

Our terminal MA program funds most of our students!!! We don't give them a lot, and we make them teach for it, but the cost of living here is cheap, and for the students who are serious about PhD programs, we do a pretty good job of getting them into PhD programs. Not INRUs, and not the Berkeleys, UCLAs and Michigans of the world (at least not so far), but the next tier of solid flagship state R1s. And so far under my direction, I'm pushing students to expect more of themselves and their profs, and pushing my colleagues to hold them to higher standards, *especially* if they have dreams of PhD programs.

For those of you who know where I am, send them my way.

And I'm also going to say: my god, I could have written that post. Every last word of it, down to the senior colleagues giving easy As and bad advice.

Oh, and btw, it was interesting to hear so many speak of a trend towards MAs having a easier time getting into PhD programs, because a couple of people on the ADE Grad Directors listserv actually said *they* prefer the top undergrad to an MA.

Mr. B. said...

Hmmm...

As a sort of outsider - scientist - but with a son who was a PBK English major at a good state university...

When my son was thinking of going to graduate school he was strongly discouraged from doing so by his English professors. I thought this was strange. But then I looked on the web site of the University of Virginia where it listed the things that one could do with a Ph.D in English. What was even stranger to me was that the first thing mentioned was to go to Law School.

My son elected not to go to graduate school in English and is currently employed in a commercial art gallery. There he even gets to use his writing talents once in a while.

A bemused Bonzo

Ancarett said...

I second the advice to research the school and faculty extensively -- knowing there's someone there who WANTS you to be their student can mean the difference between admission and rejection. A good fit is better than a big name, if it means that you'll get the right attention, support and environment.

I administer a small M.A. program. Our incoming class is usually not more than half a dozen to a dozen a year and we're able to give each student a TA-ship, a summer fellowship, intimate classes, one-on-one time with faculty, some research and/or conference trip funding and we're working on trying to guarantee a larger minimum funding package to all of our students. Graduates from our program usually leave with at least one publication or conference presentation under their belt and many have gone on to doctoral schools across the country. A substantial number have won provincial and/or national awards. We're a little school who does a damned fine job of turning out well-trained, disciplined and innovative junior scholars.

That said, we get a steady stream of what I call "insult" applications where some desperate student from a major university elsewhere, who hasn't gotten a history mark above a B+ in his or her life, and whose overall and disciplinary average is a C+, expects to be admissable at our little U. I want to slap their referees (figuratively!) and remind them that a C student, even one walking out of Big Name U, doesn't belong in grad school, anywhere, at all.

I hope you encourage your student to try all of her options -- apply to M.A. as well as doctoral programs. Help her come up with a list of the same. Maybe try to attend a conference in her senior year to see if she really likes this gig? Make sure she considers all the possible career paths that might be suitable! It's a tall order, but it sounds like you're her best hope given what you've written about the less-than-helpful advice from senior colleague.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

I left a comment last week, but it's gone ...

Flavia said...

ADM: I'm so sorry! I never saw a comment from you.

But I've had that happen on other people's blogs: I'll leave a comment and even see it post with my very own eyes--and when I come back, there's no trace of it (and I have no reason to think they're being deleted). I wonder whether someone can explain this phenomenon.

gwinne said...

Hi. I don't think I've ever commented on your blog before. Anyway, I've also run into students who want to get into grad schools that they are quite unlikely to get into. And I encourage them, as others have said, to apply to a range of schools, including at least one "backup."

But, FWIW, here's my own story: I went to a state school (not the flagship school, not branch campus, just a run-of-the-mill big state school) as an undergrad. That decision was largely economic (got a full scholarship as an honors student). Came out of school with a 3.9 GPA and an *abysmal* GRE score. Had no help from profs in putting together applications. Applied to 8 schools, mostly Ivies. (Dumb, dumb, dumb.) By some odd luck, I got into my "backup" school, which happened to be a top 15 program, but without funding. I went anyway. And came out the other side with a PhD and now a tenure track job at an R1. I'm really glad that that admissions committee saw something in me that got me in. And I realize just how *lucky* I have been every step of the way.

Anonymous said...

I know I'm late to the party here, but I think there's a major gap in this conversation.

You're worried that this student may not get admitted to the two top-tier programs, nda you're also worried that she doesn't understand how bad the job market is, but these two problems solve each other.

When I was an undergraduate, I realized, on some dim level, how bad the job market was. And I decided to protect myself by not applying to any program that wasn't ranked top 10 in my field. True, a fancy name on your doctorate doesn't guarantee you a job, but it certainly improves your odds.

Your student may have very cleverly decided that only prestigious schools are worth the costs of graduate school, and I think that's shrewd. She may have low odds of being accepted, but better to never attend graduate school than to get a useless Ph.D. from a no-name institution and burn out as an indebted adjunct.