are dozens of books devoted to the subject. I have a stack
of at least 50 printouts from assorted websites professing
to help with the process. Holy shit. Graduate school applications.
Even more, the personal statement.
Yes, it seems like I've done this process at least a dozen
times, but really it's only been three: for my Master's and
for my summer Kiddie Lit MA Program, and also back in '99
for PhD programs when I got accepted to a couple places but
couldn't enroll because we moved back to LA. You'd think that
having some experience with this would mean I wouldn't be
hunched over my desk 3 months before the deadline composing
yet another Deeply Inspired Possible Outline for a Personal
Statement. Please. I've written critical essays, short
stories, a couple novels, and even attempted some miserable
poetry of my own. I've written syllabi, letters, proposals,
and press releases. And I've written Blathers and Rants, of
course. Nothing causes me the kind of insecurity and self-doubt
in everything from my ability to compose a grammatically correct
sentence to my Abilities, period, than application essays.
I've already been at work for well over six months
on this project, researching programs and faculty I want to
work with, making scads of notes, reading everything written
on the application process that exists in the known universe
and sometimes I still feel like Applying is some deep, centuries-old
mystery that I'm no closer to solving than when I was a stupid
high school student who didn't even know what "humanities"
For pity's sake, answer me one question: WHAT WORKS?!
Even all of the Get Into The Ultimate Grad Program Of
Your Choice and Write the Ultimately Ultimate Admissions Essay,
No, Really! books and sites are little more than a collection
of advice that should be common sense to ANYONE applying to
work academically at the graduate level: research the schools
you're applying to, proofread and spell-check and revise and
don't write your essay the night before it's due, don't send
in dog-eared pages with coffee stains, remember that grad
school is a commitment, give your essay a theme or thesis-
Really? People older than 8th grade need to be told this?
To make matters worse, much of the advice is seemingly contradictory:
Use the essay to explain any discrepancies in grades/test
scores. No! Wait! Don't mention that stuff at all because
if you're a strong enough applicant, it won't matter, and
can even sound to apologetic, so just skip the big explanations!
Be sure to mention who you want to work with
expect that to always work, because you never know who's leaving
or retiring or taking a leave-of-absence to work on a book,
so if you mention someone who's leaving/just left, you could
screw the whole essay up. Remember to be strong and forceful
about your assets. Just a second
don't be arrogant!
Each attempt at my SoP feels more stilted and contrived than
the last. And I feel triply pressured because, while my grades
and GRE scores are good, they certainly aren't (IMO) in Academic
Superstar territory (Goddess Caroline differs, but what does
she know? She's ONLY an ABD Victorianist in a top grad program
*eye roll* She also expects me to chill out.
Ha. As if. ). If I get in, it's going to have to be on the
strength of my writing: my critical submissions, and, of course,
my fucking gawddamned holy shit personal statement.
So what do I tell them? What would impress them?
Dear Admissions Committee:
I am extremely qualified for graduate work in English.
I seriously love hunching over books in a library study
carrel. No, you don't understand
I actually think
it's fun to spend weeks at a time combing through three
different libraries' entire collections of Alcott books
and journal articles to clarify a quotation or original
theoretical approach. Heck, I've been to every major
university library in greater Los Angeles to do research.
I posses a number of a successful graduate scholar's
necessary attributes: I work well under pressure. I
speed-read. I belong to the MLA and a beloved copy of
The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism.
I also have a semi-unhealthy dependence on caffeine,
a prescription for anti-depressants, and a backpack
able to withstand well over one hundred pounds of books,
papers and folders. Why, while in the throes of research,
I regularly spend more money on photocopies than on
food! I can analyze the significance of appliances I
cannot operate and I have accepted guilt as an inherent
feature of relaxation-
Gah. I can't use Internet
Humor in a serious application. So I guess that lets out
this oh-so-witty wittiness:
I read Wittgenstein, Benjamin and Lacan in their original
Pig Latin for fun. I can balance a spoon on the end
of my nose and tie cherry stems into knots with my teeth.
I channel the spirit of Andy Gibb. In my spare time,
I compose light comic operettas about the lives of Hadley
Hemingway, Zelda Fitzgerald and Frieda Lawrence
But I have not yet gone to grad school.
Folks, I'm prepared for grad study! Check this out: I've
done conferences! I've taught! I have a c.v.! I've even published
critical work! How many other PhD applicants can say that?!
Um. Well, lots, actually. Huh. Sheesh.
Good thing I have an eight-page document of nothing but Personal
Statement Development Questions, gleaned from every gawddamned
book and website on the market
. Let's hunker down