As Assistant Director of Graduate Admissions at the University of Texas at Tyler, I’m in a position where I am asked dozens of questions every day. Aside from the basics (“What GPA do I need to be admitted?”), these are some of the questions I am asked most often.
1. Why do I have to take the GRE/GMAT/other test?
Most of the time, examinations are there for a specific reason. No program demands them just for the sake of requiring another test. Some programs have found a high correlation between success on a test and success in their program. Others, specifically those programs that have cumulative examinations at the end of the program, are looking to see what sort of test-taking skills that you have. Still other programs use them as a way to offer admission to people whose GPAs or other admission criteria are not sufficient for admission by themselves. At the very least, they are used as a data point to round out the admission decision and give a more nuanced picture of the applicant.
2. Can my life experience be used in place of my GPA?
Most of the time, this question is asked by people who have been working in their fields for many years, but did not have terrific grades when they left school. They believe that their experience in the field should count for more than the courses they took ten, fifteen, twenty years ago. And they have a point. The problem is that it is very hard to quantify the value of life experience. There are some people who are innovative and resourceful, who add value to their profession, and others who have been punching the clock for twenty years without a thought to how to make a difference. Nobody will argue that the life experience of these two people is equivalent, but unless the hard work of the former has been recognized by some award, it’s unlikely that an admissions representative will be able to tell the difference. Letters of recommendation are required or accepted by some programs in an attempt to determine this difference, but in general, the GPA is a better indicator of success in an academic program than the number of years in the workforce.
3. Why haven’t I heard about my admission decision yet?
This question is asked by people at different times during the admission process, and has several different answers. I have been asked this by people whose applications haven’t even reached the admissions office yet. Clearly, there’s no way to process an application we haven’t received yet. Most often, I am asked this by people who have not yet submitted all parts of the application, usually missing documents that are required by the departments and are therefore not on the University’s to-do list. I can answer these people simply by giving them the information they need about what they need to submit, how to submit it, and whom to submit it to. Finally, on occasion, I am asked this question by someone who has submitted a complete application and has been waiting patiently for a reasonable amount of time for an answer. These are the hardest ones to answer, and there are many, many reasons that an application might be held up. Sometimes, a department is flooded with applications, but is taking the time required to evaluate each one carefully. Sometimes there are faculty members who are on the admission committee who are unavailable to make a decision at that specific time. Sometimes, a department will wait until a certain deadline is reached or a certain volume of applications has been gathered before it starts to render decisions. And because we are human, there are some rare occasions where an application has slipped through the cracks and has been overlooked in the admission process. Whatever the reason, we do our best to make sure that every application is processed and answered in a reasonable amount of time.
4. Why does “x” program cost so much more/less than “y” program? Why is in-state tuition so much lower than out-of-state tuition?
Okay, so that’s two questions, but they’re related. Some of our programs are subsidized by their departments to make them more affordable. This is generally done for programs for which there is a greater perceived need for people in that field. The department will use the revenue generated by other programs to offset the loss of tuition in a subsidized program.
As far as in-state tuition is concerned, there is a simple reason that it is so much cheaper than out-of-state tuition. The State of Texas reimburses the University for all Texas residents who take courses there, giving enough revenue per student that we are able to lower the tuition for in-state students. If it weren’t for this reimbursement, all students would pay the equivalent of out-of-state tuition. We’re not trying to soak people just because they’re not Texans!
5. What can I do after I’ve been denied admission to your program?
This is a tough one. I can honestly tell you that I hate when I have to press the “deny” button. I will do everything I can to present applicants to the departments in the most positive light so that their best qualities shine and impress the committees. But sometimes, the application simply does not measure up to the standards of a particular program. When this happens, there are generally three options for the applicant.
Most often, the reason for a denial is because test scores don’t meet a program’s standards. Generally test score requirements are posted on the Web site, and so an applicant can see what is needed, and retake the test even before applying. But even if you’ve already been denied, you can retake the test and ask for your application to be reconsidered.
- Take more undergraduate courses.
This option is for people whose undergraduate GPA does not meet requirements. Although this will not raise the GPA in their undergraduate program, it will be a positive indicator of academic performance and the willingness of the applicant to work hard for the program. Some programs will even calculate the new courses into a cumulative GPA that they’ll use for admission.
- Apply for a different (but related) program.
If neither of the above options are feasible for you, you might consider looking into another related program. Some programs have standards that are more difficult to meet than others, and you may be qualified for a different program than the one you originally intended. And who knows – if you’re admitted to a different program and do well, you might be able to change your program to your originally intended program after a few semesters. (No promises, though.)
These are the most common generic questions that I get. There are hundreds more questions that I’m asked constantly, and there’s no way I could enumerate and answer them all in a blog post. But if you’ll ask a question in the comments, I’ll do my best to answer them all.
Assistant Director of Graduate Admissions
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