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How I Screwed Up My Grad School Application and What I Did Next

I did something really dumb in January. I was hoping that it wouldn’t come around and bite me, but it kinda did. And you know something, it could’ve been a lot worse. But it wasn’t because I got up my courage and asked for something and now it’s not as bad as it could be.

I didn’t write about it at the time because I wasn’t sure how it was going to end (and in the long run I’m still not) but after an update I got this week I’ve decided to share the ups and downs.

In January, I was finishing my applications for graduate school. I’d planned to work on them over Christmas, but some bad things happened over Christmas & New Year’s and then into January. Between my job, my consulting, and these extra factors (you’ll see below), I had a very hard time handling the stress of applying.

I was applying to three schools and got two applications in before the deadline. The third I got in just a couple days late. It would have been only a day late, but I decided to give myself another couple days to polish things once I realized the problem. Supporting docs were in within a week.

Rather than settling for the date I applied for, I decided to write to the college, explain my situation, and ask for consideration.

What I Wrote

Edited for some identifying information, of course:

Dear X,

My name is X and on February 6th, I completed my application to the X. I missed the deadline for Fall 2010 due to an ongoing family emergency and was hoping that because I submitted it so soon afterward it might be counted towards application for the Fall semester.

I had planned to use the time I took off for Christmas & New Year’s to complete my application to X and the other library science programs to which I’m applying. However, when we arrived for Christmas we found that my mother, who is fighting terminal carcinoid cancer, had taken a very bad turn the day before and was no longer able to eat or drink. As the eldest child, I took over making Christmas happen and helped my sister and father take care of her. Once we got ahold of her doctors, we discovered that the cancer had closed off her GI tract and that she’d need to be hospitalized until a surgery could be done.

I spent January balancing my day job, commitments to clients I’d booked for my small business back when I thought I’d have already finished my applications, and visiting Delaware in order to take care of the cleaning, and some of the cooking, and my mother herself. During January, my 87-year-old grandmother also broke her ribs in a car accident, so while I was up there I visited her too and helped out a little.

I worked on preparing applications, but between the time crunch and the mental and physical strain, I wasn’t able to get X’s submitted by the 31st. Once I knew I’d missed the deadline, I decided not to push everything in but took a couple days to get it right. I waited on sending this e-mail until the school reopened after last week’s record snowfalls.

I understand that my family’s crises are not anyone else’s crises. So I understand if you are unable to change the semester for which I’m applying. But I ask because I hope that there is something you can do for me. As you can see from my application, I have been an excellent student, I scored a 1580 on the GRE, and I believe my letters of recommendation are excellent (though I haven’t read them). I would like to get started on my graduate school career and my career as a librarian sooner rather than later.

If accepted, I would be attending part-time and would prioritize my life accordingly so that my studies don’t suffer. Since I have fulfilled my obligations at both my job and my small business and have cared for my family, I believe I can be an excellent graduate student as well. I underwent similar family emergencies in college and still graduated with a 3.91 GPA, with only one accommodation (taking a late final exam early in my Sophomore year so that I could be home when my mother got out of the hospital after a similar operation).

I am deeply grateful for your time and consideration.

Why I Wrote It

Because the worst that they can say is “no.” An admissions office isn’t going to say “No, and we hate you and never want to see you again so we’re going to throw out your application.” In fact, if one did I’m pretty sure you could appeal it. If they don’t say no, then you’re better off. If they do say no, then you’re no worse off.

And I wrote it because while, as I said, my family’s crises are not the school’s crises, I think that this was a legitimate reason to ask, even if they said no. And I wanted to make that clear, as well as the rarity of this occurence and my general ability to get things done, so they didn’t ask themselves “why admit her if she’s always going to need special consideration”? It’s true that I haven’t asked for special consideration from an employer or school since that one occasion.

Lastly, I wrote it because I think that I’m a student they would want. Not very modest, but when it comes to applying for things one can’t be too modest (I swear I’m much shyer about my achievements in real life).

What They Said

Yes. Sort-of. What they said was that they could shift me to Fall, but only by putting me on the waitlist so that the students who’d applied on time & been accepted had had a chance to accept/decline first. I could re-apply again if I wasn’t admitted. Of course, going on the waitlist would depend on the strength of my application.

It was about what I was expecting. I was late and therefore I shouldn’t be at the front of the line. This was also not my choice since it was local and the excellent online program I applied to would allow me to move out of area if necessary.

Where This Went

The first two schools accepted me. That would be great except that my top-choice school didn’t offer me enough of a scholarship for me to be able to attend full-time. I’m out-of-state and online, which means tuition would be $900+/credit hour if I went part-time and I can’t afford that.

The second school is a good one and I’d have 50% off tuition, but I’ve decided that I don’t want to go there. I found some information about the program at the third school (the deadline-missing one) which made me far more interested and even willing to wait a semester or two if I have to.

So the good news is that I did make it onto the waitlist until mid-July (when it dissolves). The bad news is that I have to reapply if I don’t make it in and I have to tell two of my references about it and ask for them to resend their recommendations (at least this school only asks for an e-mail). That’s far more embarrassing than writing about it on here. I’ve told the third reference already because she’s my boss and has been really supportive and we’ve been talking about this.

What I did wrong:

I didn’t apply earlier to give myself plenty of time. That was a big screwup on my part. I’d even gotten all the information together, I just waited to apply until too close to the deadline. I didn’t know something bad was going to happen, but if I were more responsible I would have allowed for that possibility.

I also should have prioritized the schools that I wanted to go to. A caveat on that one is that I this is my first-choice school NOW, but wasn’t when I applied. At the time, I didn’t have a particular piece of information which pushed this one solidly to tie for first-place, but that’s not an excuse because I didn’t look for it until after I applied and I should have before applying. If I had, this whole thing wouldn’t have happened.

The upside:

They didn’t say no, not at all. I felt a lot better about it after I wrote the letter and got a response. I screwed up, I decided to take initiative, and now it’s possible that my screwup won’t be as bad as it could have been.

And worst case-scenario, I’ll start late (I do think they’ll accept me based on my other two acceptances and what I know about the school, otherwise I can go to the school which gives me 50% off). There’s even an option to take a couple classes ahead of time as a non-matriculating student and then apply them to my degree once I’m accepted.

My outlook is hopeful and positive, if a bit stressed over knowing exactly what I’ll be doing in the fall (it’s the uncertainty that’s getting me).

Why I Wrote About It Here

I had several reasons. I got the waitlist news this week and it’s been on my mind a lot since then. Also, this is kind of a follow-up to Monday’s post of advice…I sometimes give advice but some of it is based off of my own idiocy. And if I’m going to share the advice, maybe I should share the failures.

I see it as a concrete illustration of something I wrote about two years ago: the worst they can say is “no”. I was going to try to draw some sort of useful conclusion but I think I’m just going to share the story and how it worked out instead.

Also, this is a really convenient way to update my family and my blogging friends all at the same time about my general plans for the next year and where we are in those right now.

So there you have it. I screwed up. I made an attempt to fix. I partially succeeded. I’ll let you know whether I get in or not.

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Heather Solos April 7, 2010 at 7:43 am

Bravo. I’m being serious. One of life’s lessons that I struggle with constantly is learning to embrace the fact that I will screw up from time to time.
I think it’s great to announce our goals, plans, and intentions, but it’s truly admirable when we own our fallibility. Our culture seems to have this twisted admiration for total success or complete failure, these middle grounds are where most of us struggle.
I hope you don’t have to reapply, but your references will understand if you must.
.-= Heather Solos´s last blog ..Food Labels, Controversy, and MSG =-.

Jackie April 7, 2010 at 8:30 am

Good luck, I hope that you get accepted. And you’re right, this is a great example of why it doesn’t hurt to ask. You would have been an automatic no had you not asked, but because you did you might end up with a yes.
.-= Jackie´s last blog ..Is an iPad Worth the Money? =-.

Bucksome Boomer April 7, 2010 at 8:44 am

Thank for your sharing this with us for two reasons.

1. I think you have it together very well at this point in your life and it shows the rest of us that anyone can, and will, make mistakes.

2. We can learn from your experience. Don’t wait until the deadline because sh** happens.

Good luck!
.-= Bucksome Boomer´s last blog ..Tuesday Tidbits: Birthday Edition =-.

Vicki April 7, 2010 at 9:30 am

Good for you for hanging in there- and for your importunity. Got your foot in the door. The adventure will continue.
.-= Vicki´s last blog ..Prayer at Easter Season =-.

Emily@remodelingthislife April 7, 2010 at 9:30 am

I think that you handled the situation perfectly. Sure, you can beat yourself up that there wasn’t enough time to do it, but none of us know what will happen tomorrow and not all of us are a month ahead of deadlines. Life happens.

I really hope you get the acceptance.

Lisa-Jo @thegypsymama April 7, 2010 at 10:23 am

Dang, that’s a lot to be juggling all at once! Good for you for taking the initiative to step up and try and redirect your timeline. Seriously, that’s awesome! way to go. Hoping it all works out as you would like it to!

Red April 7, 2010 at 10:50 am

See!? I told you no one would be too critical! 🙂 (They must have read my Twitter threat and thought better of it…)

I think you’re amazing for getting the applications in at all. And it shows great initiative that you sent them that letter. It shows that you can recognize your failings and still prove yourself to be a worthy candidate. Most people in institutions of higher learning recognize that school is not your life; things come up, and when they do, you have to deal with them.

Bravo for posting this! It’s nice for readers to see that they’re not the only ones who make mistakes. Heck, that’s a better reason to read than anything else. It’s hard to take advice from someone who’s never made a mistake.

I’m crossing my fingers for you!
.-= Red´s last blog ..Wedding Wednesday: Planning a wedding in 30 days =-.

GreenEyedLilo April 7, 2010 at 11:15 am

I always *say* “the worst they can say is no,” but you lived it! I admire you for writing that letter and taking that step. The possibility of getting rejected sometimes makes me really fearful about sticking my neck out. It’s an awful thing–by imagining that others will say not just “no,” but “hell no,” you really say a pre-emptive “no” to yourself. Thank you for illustrating what happens when you run past that fear. Good luck!!!

I’m sorry about what your mother (and you, and the rest of your family) has been going through.
.-= GreenEyedLilo´s last blog ..Happy (not to have to celebrate) Easter! =-.

Mrs. Micah April 7, 2010 at 11:31 am

Thank you all for the support. It’s good to have friends. 🙂

RainyDaySaver April 7, 2010 at 11:49 am

You did exactly what I’d have done had I been in the same situation. It was a smart move, and I hope it pays off with admission for the fall. Best wishes — you have a lot on your plate and you’re handling it all so well.
.-= RainyDaySaver´s last blog ..What Happens to Debt When You Die =-.

chitown April 7, 2010 at 12:43 pm

You did great and your priorities are together. I will say a prayer for you and your family. Good luck with getting into the program. I am pulling for you. =)

Dad April 7, 2010 at 4:10 pm

I think your response was very good. My father pushed me hard on just what you said, the worst is that they can say no and rarely does the refusal hurt you (there are times where it might so think it through). After two situations in college where the most intransigent and unsympathizing authorities I could think of at the school (one of which was a required ROTC military course instructor) granted my carefully requested request for mercy, I became a believer in what my father kept telling me. I later learned of his experiences that encouraged him and from what I’ve heard of his father, his father probably told him the same thing.

The biggest think is don’t give up too easily. Best of luck in getting in. Maybe an accepted candidate will decide the waiting a year would be in her/his own better interests. So some such thing that doesn’t mean bad things for the other person.

Mrs. Money April 7, 2010 at 5:09 pm

I think you wrote an excellent letter! I hope it all works out for you. Everything happens for a reason. 🙂 Let us know how it turns out!
.-= Mrs. Money´s last blog ..What Would You Do? =-.

Kimberly @ Credit Card Hub April 7, 2010 at 5:49 pm

This is a great story, thanks for sharing. I learned a similar lesson when I was graduating from college. I made a big mistake and didn’t get my graduation tickets by the deadline, so my family wasn’t going to be able to see me graduate (which would have devastated my parents). Tickets were in very high demand and if you didn’t get yours they were quickly given to someone else.

I decided to write to the Dean of my school (a school of about 25,000 students) and ask him to make an exception for me. My reason for missing the deadline was definitely not as good as yours, the only excuse I had was that I had been overwhelmed with final exams and projects. But I decided to write him anyway and tell him my story. Like you said, the worst he could say was no. I didn’t really expect any response at all, but to my surprise he e-mailed me back about an hour later and told me he would take care of it and where to go to pick up my tickets. So I definitely agree that if you screw up, it never hurts to make an attempt to fix it! I wish you the best of luck.

Lia April 9, 2010 at 8:27 am

If you don’t get into the school right away, I would definately take classes as a non-matriculating student. That way you are already there and when you apply again, they already sort of know you and I will be much easier. Also, this way you don’t have to wait a semester to take a class. They will just apply the classes when you get into the program.

frugalscholar April 10, 2010 at 6:46 pm

I am impressed that you posted about all this here. One suggestion: in future, I would not include so many personal details in a letter. I would mention the emergency situation, with a note offering details on request.

This information can make the reader uncomfortable.

Hope that helps a bit.

moom April 10, 2010 at 8:01 pm

I used to direct a grad program. We had a deadline of course, but this was just the date after which we were going to start processing applications. Those of us making the decision would have the files circulated to look at first. So any coming in a week or two over the deadline probably wouldn’t be disadvantaged at all. Then we’d meet to make a decision on admittance and funding and make our initial offers. Some people were likely to turn us down so good late applicants could still be considered. Some years we looked at good late applicants months later after people turned us down and we had slots open again. Now not everywhere may operate like this but I bet most do.
.-= moom´s last blog ..HFRI Preliminary Performance March 2010 =-.

eemusings April 10, 2010 at 8:16 pm

Ups to you for juggling all those things, and for having the courage to write and send that letter. Glad it paid off, and that you learned a lot from the experience – otherwise, you would never have known if you never asked.
.-= eemusings´s last blog ..Lessons learned from living alone =-.

Sofaer April 14, 2010 at 8:46 pm

Thanks for sharing your story. What about another theory? You were late and couldn’t meet the deadline b/c you really didn’t care about going to that school? For if you did, you would not only be on time, you’d be early given I’m sure you knew months in advance when the deadline was.

The only thing I caution you on is making too many excuses. It’s great the admissions committee responded, but in general, making excuses doesn’t help your cause no matter how good your excuse is.

No big deal waiting another semester to get in. Sounds like you will!

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