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Admissions Graduate admissions committee politics

  1. Jan 7, 2013 #1
    I was wondering how committees work? Do a certain number of people have to agree to admit a student? What exactly does a chair do, does he get the "last say" or something? I know every school is different but does anyone know in general?

    Also how about this hypothetical case: You have a very good relationship with the grad admissions committee chair, and he really wants you to work in his lab. Are you pretty much in, or can the other members decide to "block" you for one reason or another?
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  3. Jan 7, 2013 #2
    From my very limited understanding of the subject, it does vary wildly between schools and even departments within a college. I'm fairly sure for schools that receive hurricanes of applications every season basically filter everyone by scores and chop off the ones at the bottom without even opening their application. Remember that for some schools, there's 600+ people applying for 10 or so positions and the people doing the selection probably don't have all day to read statements of purpose and CVs.

    That being said, there is a "fast track" on which the privileged elite can get into top-tier schools. It's unfair but it does exist. So sometimes those who may not deserve the position the most still get it because their parent works at the university or they're the offspring of the president or something.

    I think for the most part, it's like a job application review. Toss out candidates below a certain threshold then get a few people from the department to look over promising candidates. I don't think a department chair does evaluations at the application level.

    In the hypothetical case of being good buddies with the department chair, I think it could certainly help, but if the scores they're axing people by aren't up to par, you'll be dropped by the system without them even noticing probably. So you could have glowing letters of recommendation but they might never see the light of day because your score on such and such exam was a point below their selection criteria.
  4. Jan 7, 2013 #3
    Oh I didn't mean the department chair. I meant the committee chair. I was wondering if the committee focuses on admitting students for their own benefit more than the school in general.
  5. Jan 7, 2013 #4

    Vanadium 50

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    The first half of your sentence pretty much precludes there being an answer to the second half.

    One reason universities like committees is that it minimizes the amount of monkey business that any individual member can be up to. If the other committee members thinks the chair is taking advantage of his position, they may (or may not) chime in.
  6. Jan 7, 2013 #5
    Not at all. Generalities exist just fine with respect to a population of varying characteristics with no two individual members being the same. The specific does not negate the general, nor vise versa.

    They are all different, but there are generalities.
  7. Jan 7, 2013 #6


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    In my experience applications have to meet thresholds - first those that are specific to the university, then those that are specific to the department. These include a minimum GPA, the reference letters, prerequisite exams, and generally a complete application.

    Once all of this is met, the packages are forwarded to the admissions committee and after a cursory look everyone in the department who are in a position to take on students are invited to give feedback. If a member wants to work with a particular student, this will strongly influence the committee's decision. Similarly if someone has had a particularly negative interaction with a student, that person can also make a statement that could strongly influence the committee's decision the other way.

    Admitting a graduate student inccurs certain responsibilities on the part of the department. Someone will have to supervise every student who accepts an offer. The department will also have to support every student it accepts. And most committee members are well aware that for every student accepted, other hard-working and passionate students are denied a spot.

    Some places will use formulas for ranking applicants. Other places are less formal, relying almost completely on the opinions of committee members and how they vote. Having a member speak highly of a particular applicant can go a long way, particularly in the latter case.

    That said, it's rare for someone to speak highly of a particular student who is near the bottom of the applicant pool.
  8. Jan 7, 2013 #7


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    My advice woud be: if that's the way a department runs its admissions process, you would be better off going some place else - pretty much any place else!.

    If people thnk that's the right way to deal with admissions, they probably think it's the right way to deal with any other issues that need "managing" as well.

    People might not lose their jobs for that sort of thing (I wouldn't know about that, I'm not an academic), but in the long term word usually gets around, and mud sticks. You don't want any of it sticking to you.
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