Statement of Purpose
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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
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. See Sample E-mail
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. See
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
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 relatively easily.
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 the program. See
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
It's sort of good news. You're on the wait list. At least you weren't
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 accepted list:
I suggest you write an email,
no more than one page long, containing as much of the following as
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.