You’ve finally finished applying to Grad School, what a relief – congratulations! You should start receiving decisions from your universities of choice at the beginning of March, but remember to check each online application regularly for any changes, as not all universities will notify you by email. You might think that there’s nothing else for you to do albeit wait for a decision. You would be wrong! After giving yourself a good rest (I know how exhausting the application process is firsthand!) for a few days, or a week (however long you need to feel restored), there are a few steps I recommend you take while you wait to hear back from universities:
Figure out a Plan B:
I don’t mean to be pessimistic, but it is better to prepare for the worst than to be left without a backup plan. If you don’t get any offers, or decide that the offers you do receive from the US universities you’ve applied to aren’t what you want, it’s always good to have a Plan B in place that you can fall back on if necessary.
My Plan B was fairly simple: apply to a couple of graduate programmes in the UK that you’d be happy to take if the US plan falls through. It turns out that this step was vital in orchestrating my graduate plans for the next academic year, as I actually ended up accepting an offer to study on an MPhil programme at the University of Cambridge.
After you’ve applied to US graduate programmes, applying to universities here in the UK is pretty easy and straightforward. You can just reuse most of the documents and proposals you’ve included in your US applications, but catered to the requirements of your UK choices. It won’t take you long to apply, and since there is less competition for graduate spaces in the UK, there is also a higher likelihood that you will get accepted into at least one of your choices.
Optionally, your Plan B could be something entirely unrelated to academia: you could plan ahead for the next year and decide to look for a job if you don’t get a place in graduate school, or, you could take the year out to get more research experience under your belt (okay, that is related to academia…). Either way, your Plan B is yours, and should be something that works for you and your goals for the future.
Plan for alternative offers:
This step is particularly for those of you who are applying to PhD programmes. What I’ve found is that if you’re a PhD applicant and the admissions team think that your application is strong, but you didn’t qualify for a place on the PhD programme, you may be offered a place on an alternative programme. Usually, (from my own experience and what I’ve heard from other applicants) your alternative offer will most likely be for a Masters (or equivalent) programme. It is important you consider this as a possible outcome when you’re waiting to hear back from universities. To plan for these alternative offers, it is important to consider a number of things:
– Alternative offers for Masters programmes are usually partly funded, but rarely fully funded – this is because universities make a lot of money through Masters tuition fees, so it is important to budget for this possibility (particularly if you were originally applying to fully funded PhD programmes).
– Think about whether you would benefit from taking up a Masters programme at this specific university – be ready to investigate the details of the programme and whether it suits your academic interests and goals, once (and if) you get an offer. Sometimes, the Masters programme(s) offered to you may not be suited to your academic plans or cater to your research interests. If this ends up being the case, list out your alternatives, and do not by any means feel that you are ‘obliged’ to accept an alternative offer just because it has been offered to you – think about yourself first and what is best for you.
– When and if you’re made alternative offers – before you decide to reject or accept these offers: double check whether your offer includes a scholarship, and if it doesn’t, CALL the department heads and student coordinators ASAP to check for alternative funding options, and ask for more information/answer any questions you may have; look for feedback from past and current students online (The GradCafe and The Student Room are two good places to look); write down a pros and cons list for each alternative programme you are offered; and finally, calculate the total costs of each programme including maintenance and tuition.
If you have found this blog post useful, then check out the other three blog posts in my Grad School series at:
Is Graduate School Still Elitist?
Applying to Graduate School in America: What to do before you apply
Applying to Graduate School in America: How to Apply