Getting into Grad School: A Rope of Sand

Grad school is every ambitious undergraduate’s  golden fountain of eternal youth, and most of us are like famed Spanish conquistador Gonzalo Pizzaro: doomed to wander the jungles and subjugate the Aztecs in the pursuit of our goal. Unlike Cortez, there is actually a chance of attaining your goal. Of course, having a horde of conquest-thirsty, glory-seeking conquerors would improve anyone’s application, but few of us have this (only 1 student in 2 at Trinity College).  In the absence of a royal mandate, the rest of us have to struggle to make our own applications appear much longer and substantial/menacing (I cite the blowfish as inspiration) than they really are. If you are looking for tips on how to get that golden letter of reference, or how to make it look like you were heavily engaged in your college’s Frosh Week when in fact you were really just passed out in the quadrangle, then look no further! Avail yourselves of these handy tips.


If you get an interview with a potential grad school, you should be aware of what they are looking for. The most important part of higher education is getting your foot in the door and never leaving, not even after you die and they have the wrench your corpse out of your office’s ergonomic swivel chair. Thus, having the appearance of a lifetime academic is key. Show up dressed like an Edwardian nobleman: full-tails with a bowler hat, monocle, and a copy of the London Times are highly recommended (NB: do NOT show up with a copy of the New York Times. What, do you WANT to look like some colonial?)


Did you ever visit Israel? Did you ever have a stopover in Jerusalem? Have you ever seen Israel on a map? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions then you have just earned the right to lie on your CV and write “Summer Kibbutz (2008)” under work experience. Likewise, being one of the elected “class representatives” to the Faculty of Arts and Science can, with the stroke of a pen, become “Actively engaged in Student Governance, 2006-present.” Also, if you really want to milk the “class rep” thing you can also include it as a Minor in Futility Studies.


You may think that recovering from a sub-optimal grade point average is impossible. Well, it is. You are doomed to spend the rest of your life toiling in some pointless travail while your friends (who spurned anything besides books throughout their undergrad while you were at a Godspeed You Black Emperor! concert) rocket to the top of industry, government, and the blogosphere. The only way around this that I know of is to have your doctor write you a note explaining that your lower-than-expected GPA has been caused by your crippling case of Gulf War Syndrome. Other than that, I assume that McDonald’s is still hiring.


Getting a letter of reference from a good professor is one of the most direct way to beef up an application. I suggest writing a letter to your professor, detailing exactly what it is you want to do, and why you feel that this specific professor would be a useful reference. I like to set the tone of each letter with this helpful opening phrase, “Dear Professor Oldie von Whiteguy, you are the most esteemed scholar in your field by virtue of not having died yet, clinging to your tenure like Leo onto Kate Winslet’s floating door.”

At the end of the day, getting into graduate school is pretty much a crapshoot. You can try and try and try and achieve and achieve and achieve, and your fate is still bound up in the passing whims of petty bureaucrats. In these tough economic times, the only surefire path to grad school comes down to whether your last name is Vanderbilt or Carnegie (Carnegies need not apply!)

8 Replies to “Getting into Grad School: A Rope of Sand”

  1. In addition to being unhelpful, this was actually offensive. Would you have written Oldie Von Blackguy? Nativeguy? Asianguy? I think not.

  2. JJBH: I am not sure why you didn’t find my article the was subtitled “A Rope of Sand” very, very helpful! I did everything that I myself suggested in the article (no slouch am I!) and it definitely worked out exactly like you’d expect!
    Also, I’d refer you to my former professor of Ascot Studies, Prof. von Whiteguy.
    He’s more than willing to act as a reference for students that are independently wealthy and can afford to go to grad school as a lark.

  3. For reference, a relatively accurate summary of the writing displayed here:
    Four jokes intended to display anti-hegemonic sentiments against the upper class to garner sympathetic laughs from the reader; one joke intended to play off of the average student’s fear of failure; and some expert narrative that was carefully constructed to hide the writer’s own nervous expectations of rejection from further education.

    Also I don’t get the Trin thing in the first paragraph.

    1. I disagree that this post does not really help prospective grad students. It discusses some of the issues they may face in the applications process and how best to handle them. The article to which you link covers a different matter entirely and, although it is topically related to this one, does not address the same issues.

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