What The Admissions Committee Thinks When They Read Your Application
When you think about getting into a masters program in SLP, it might seem like a big gamble. You send off a few applications and hope the stars are aligned in such a way that you’ll get in. If you’re ambitious you might get some advice on how to improve your chances.
Everyone has different ideas about what exactly it takes. People might say things like: “Be sure to do lots of observation hours,” or “You have to have at least a 300 on the GRE.” But the best advice on getting into SLP school probably doesn’t come from your classmates in undergrad, forums (*cough* thegradecafe *cough), blogs (hey, I can admit I don’t know it all) or even people who’ve been through the process like grad students and SLPs. The best advice for how to get into a masters program in SLP comes from the people who actually read your application and make the decision.
So, what exactly do the people who read your SLP application think?
NPR just published a short piece trying to answer that question. The article gives a brief behind-the-scenes look at a few admissions departments at the undergraduate level. The author, Kirk Carapezza, reports for WGHB news in Boston and covers higher education. While the graduate admissions process is very distinct, there are a few key golden nuggets worth examining.
I’ve divided the post up into main points that I gleaned from the article. First I pulled out a few key quotes from the original article. Then I interpret them a little. At the end of each section, there’s a small segment called “Why does this matter” to help you adjust your application strategy.
The entire committee probably won’t see your application
“Before the committee meets around the table, each application gets a close look from two of the members.”
Depending on the number of applications received and the size of the graduate admissions committee (which is probably equal to the size of the departmental faculty), your application will probably only be read in its entirety by a few people.
Why does this matter?
- It means you have to make everything count. If only 2 people read your application, you only have 2 chances to impress the university.
You will be summarized
At the college featured in Carapezza’s article, “[The application] is condensed into a single one-page profile.”
In other words, your years of education, essays, letters of recommendation, GRE scores, etc will be condensed into a super brief summary. It might not be a one-page profile, but you will be summarized. It may be as brief as four letters. The article gives the example that at one small school (College of the Holy Cross, Carapezza’s alma mater) the admissions committee uses codes like “LBB” for “late blooming boy”
When I served on selection committees for Fulbright, I would often chat with other committee members about candidates and very quickly the nameless applications are given pseudonyms like, “The one with the great LOR,” or “the one who spelled Fulbright wrong.”
Why does this matter?
- You need to ask yourself: What do you want that summary to say? Something like “Promising young professional;” “potential future researcher in adult neuro;” or maybe something like “lacks direction;” “great academically but not good fit.”
- Is there an obvious, overarching theme to your application? If not, the committee will make one up. Taking time to boil your application down to a few words is challenging and boring. But if you don’t do it and make sure it is something positive, the committee will do it for you. And you might not like the results.
Admissions Committee are building cohorts and selecting their future colleagues
At one point the article mentions that some committee members felt one applicant was “just a bit arrogant in his essay and interview.” Apart from an obvious negative connotation, that implies they are thinking about what it will be like to work with and teach that person. One committee member goes on to say, “I think his classmates could bring him down to reality.” That implies the committee is already cognizant of and taking into account the dynamic relationship candidates will have with each other a students.
A cohort is a group of students who will be studying and working together on their degree. They will spend long and tense hours together. Admissions committees generally don’t want to create a toxic environment in the cohort. That said, faculty generally see the value in diversity of thought and recognize that different perspectives, experiences, and educational backgrounds are valuable. That means there is a big balancing act going on.
On top of this, graduate students are most definitely students of their professors, yet in many ways they also interact as colleagues. This adds yet another layer to how they are thinking about your application.
Why does this matter?
- Finding ways to make yourself stand out (in a positive way!) is important. If you are the only one of 250 applicants who has worked with children on the Autism spectrum, it may help you stick out in the mind of the committee. On the flip side, If you stand out as a “know it all” or “someone who can’t handle criticism” that is likely to hurt you. Like the example of arrogance above, certain traits (perceived or real) will make you more or less desirable to work with.
- Look critically at your application to make sure you come across as someone people enjoy working closely with; your letters of recommendation can be of great help with this too!
Feelings & Facts
Ann McDermott, the director of admissions at Holy Cross college says, “We balance our feelings with some facts.”
Like many difficult things, the selection process is both an art and a science. While some institutions may create a formula to help objectify the process, there is still a large part of it based on the unmeasurable.
Why does this matter?
- First off, present good facts (high GPA, good GRE, etc).
- Second, be mindful of little things and subtle ways in which you can create positive feelings. This comes mostly from your personal statement but your LOR’s also play a big role. Don’t underestimate too how your interactions during email and phone calls can play a part.
Take Away Tips
NPR’s author, Kirk Carapezza, offers three tips at the end of his article. I have taken the liberty of adjusting them to focus a bit more on SLP programs and graduate admissions.
Tip 1: Engage
Visiting the department you’re interested in is always a good idea when possible. That said, it is not necessary. I didn’t visit any of the 4 schools I got into. However, I did engage with faculty over the phone and via email by asking sincere yet informed questions about the program, opportunities in the department, and student life.
Find a way to engage! On Facebook for example, I follow a few bilingual SLP groups. I’ve noticed several of the people interacting in the groups are prominent researchers in our field. What a great place to ask questions, learn, and engage!
Tip 2: Don’t “phone it in”
“When it comes to the application, admissions counselors say the biggest red flag is a sloppy, half-baked essay,” says Carapezza (for more red flags: check out this Kisses of Death post). I agree that the personal statement is one of the most important parts of the application. I recommend starting early, preferably over the summer. For more advice on personal statements, check out my How to Write an SLP Personal Statment Guide
Tip 3: Take time to Reflect
The article here focuses again on undergraduate students and encourages them to take time to think about their long term goals and if each school is a good fit. I would modify this advice and encourage applicants to take time and reflect on why they want to become Speech Language Pathologists. This will help create a more complete and well founded application.
If you’re looking for some guided activities, I have a post on introspective and pre-writing activities specifically for SLP students.
What do YOU Think?
Now that you’ve read all of this, what do you think? When you read an application, what do you look for you? Do you have any stand out advice? Share in the comments below!