In November, 2012 I applied to Oxford for the MSc course. I learned a number of things a long the way that I believe, or hope, will help future students sort of stuck in my situation.
Application Drama Lesson 1: Ask References very early, seriously, ask at least a month ahead
I did this and I thank the lucky stars I did it this way because even with a months notice and weekly reminders every single reference cut it close to the deadline. I mean I told them in October 2012 and the day before the deadline no one had written it yet. It’s not like I wasn’t persistently reminding them, if it is one thing I know I can do it is nag.
There isn’t nothin’ like seeing your application done and all ready and shiny, but you can’t send it because your references haven’t sent theirs in yet. I was fortunate because Oxford had an automatic update system so when my references uploaded their documents I was able to see this pronto, but if the school you’re applying to doesn’t have this I recommend asking your references to send you an email confirming completion of the reference.
I’m an incredibly awkward person (can’t you tell :)? ) so asking for references or help or anything like that always sends me into a sort of wheezy tizzy. This leads me to the second lesson I learned.
Application Drama Lesson 2: All you can do is ask. Reminding references or people helping you is OK but don’t cross the line and piss them off.
I got so worked up asking them for help that I was shocked to realise that they actually wanted to see me succeed.
Application Drama Lesson 3: No man is an island.
I think this is my most important lesson to date. I got myself worked up about Oxford real bad because I wanted to do this course that badly, so when others offered to help I was very surprised. Have family, friends or coworkers read over your Personal Statements. Have someone who is detailed oriented look over your CV. Shoot, even having someone to listen to me when I had a freak out session was valuable. People, friends and family are all there for you. They want you to succeed.
Don’t isolate yourself or you’ll give yourself a panic attack.
Application Drama Lesson 4: Get everything done at least 1 week ahead of time. Don’t procrastinate.
Don’t be like me, where the day of the application I was still trying to collate documents, my transcripts, writing samples and so on. It just increases your chance of having more typos and making silly mistakes. I remember being told whilst doing my BA that colleges pay attention to details. If it looks like you’ve laid things out in an organized way with proper headings, consistent fonts, page numbers and so on, they’ll think better of you and appreciate you for making your life easier. Remember you’re probably one of many applicants and they have spots for a smaller number.
So this is my running on a bit but you get the point. I panicked a lot and felt very insecure because I let the rep of the school I was applying get to my head. Eventually you buck up and get over yourself. I sure did and I must have did something right because in January 2013 I was screaming around my office because I received my acceptance letter. The best part of that day? Seeing my coworkers, friends and family happy as well because they knew that they had helped me get to where I wanted to be.
That’s the lesson for the day folks. It’s all very cheesy but I know I’ll look back on these lessons for my PhD and go the saner, safer path.