Academia Public Service Announcement (APSA): How Graduate Admissions Work!

As someone who knew nothing about college before stepping on a college campus, day 1, I sometimes find that things I take for granted now were completely unknown way back then. This mostly occurs when I see people on social media make comments that I shake my head at and say “Uh, that’s not how it works”. So I’ve decided to write up a few of these “Academia Public Service Announcements”. 

The first one, below, talks about how one gets into graduate school. I see a lot of comments to my seniors that go something like this:

“Oh, you met the requirements – you’ll be able to get into any program you want!”


“I’m glad you chose where you want to go, they’ll take you for sure”

Both of these statements slyly imply something that isn’t true: Graduate admission is NOT like applying to college. It’s way more traumatic 😉

Here’s what I mean: The typical undergraduate admission process goes like this:

  1. Student finds college he or she is interested in, and checks admission requirements.
  2. If student meets requirements, and school is not ultra-selective (and unless you’re in the Ivys, not many are), student applies. If school is ultra selective, student must decide if the admission liklihood is worth the application hassle!
  3. Student may have a few hoops to jump through, but in the end they are offered admission.

In this scenario, the school is admitting hundreds (or thousands) of students, and unless they’re very selective, they will take anyone who meets their requirements. Schools want to take as many as possible, that’s how they get tuition dollars!

Graduate admissions tends to run like this:

  1. Student finds program he or she is interested in. Programs exist within departments – the goal here is not to find a school you want, as much as the program you need to go into a career you want to enter. So don’t tell your friend or child “Why would you want to go THERE?!?” – they didn’t pick the school, they picked the program!
  2. Student does a lot of research on that program, reading all those web pages that most glance by (i.e. faculty profiles, degree requirements, etc…). Student hopefully identifies 1-2 faculty members in that program they would want to work with. 
  3. Student applies and must meet minimum qualifications for that college or university’s graduate admissions. Assuming that they meet those, the graduate admissions group forwards their application on to the program.

This is where people often get confused: They hear that their’s (or someone they know, a son’s, daughter’s, friend’s) application has been forwarded on and assume they have some small level of acceptance – but in graduate admissions, the graduate admission group has very little power over who gets in! They simply check qualifications, gather the paperwork together, and forward it on.

It’s all about the actual program’s graduate committee and faculty – if they think the student would be a good fit (Most important), and they’re taking graduate students (Some professors skip years taking new students), then they may offer an interview to the prospective student. Remember, each program is only going to take 5-10 students a year across all faculty members in it. Their goal is NOT to take as many students as possible – especially if they have funding available – most PhD programs do not want to take people they cannot fund (i.e. give a tuition waiver / award an assistantship to)

So in reality, meeting the minimum requirements only means that they could offer you admission. But to gain admission, you must…

  • Have a strong background in specifically the areas they’re interested in. A good major and overall GPA is nice, but if you did poorly in the specific class that aligns with the research you’d be doing, there is little chance you’ll get in.
  • Have good recommendations from faculty at your current school. Typically 3 letters of recommendation are required.
  • Have good interviewing skills so that when you talk with your prospective mentor (i.e. the man or woman who will control your life in graduate school) you sound somewhat eloquent and vaguely insightful (I phrase this as such because few undergrads are super-super strong – faculty look for the potential to be excellent, but understand you’re not excellent yet!)
  • Be willing to relocate to a school that you may never have heard of if they have a good program.
  • Be lucky: It comes down to a numbers game as well. I’ve seen excellent students turned away because the assistantship lines have been reduced and the faculty member can’t fund them, and thus doesn’t want to work with an unfunded student.

So next time a friend of yours tells you they’ve been looking at grad school, wish them good luck, but hold off on any congratulations until they tell you they’ve been offered admission!

Adonit Customer Service Rocks

Over a year ago I bought an Evernote Jot Script stylus by Adonit, and while it had excellent build quality, I could never quite get it to work right. I chalked it up to the fact that I must be holding it wrong or some other issue, and it slowly fell into disuse. Prompted by a friend I recently pulled it out and found evidence online that a very small number of users actually had the same problems that I did, and that there may have been a manufacturing defect in a small number of first-run units. I had pre-ordered my Jot Script the day it was announced, so I figured I’d look into it.

Long story short, after an email of troubleshooting and a video I made with my phone to show the problems I was having, Adonit’s customer service sent me a new stylus that works PERFECTLY AS ADVERTISED. I’m pretty psyched! Thanks Adonit for covering something even after the warranty period had technically expired. I’ll be a repeat buyer now for sure!

Information on Geek Squad Badges From An Insider!

As regular readers of this blog know (Hi Nate… and maybe 1-2 other people who’ve stumbled in the door from time to time…), I collect badges, including name, store security, and Geek Squad varieties. About a year and a half ago, I posted on a counterfeit Geek Squad badge that I’d come across, and at that time I invited former or current Geeks to fill me in on anything interesting going on in the world of Geek Squad badges. Today a reader sent me some interesting information, and a few photos I’d thought I’d share.

First, before I share some interesting badge info, I’ll share the new badge finishing process. If you look at my badges, you’ll notice I don’t show the back of them. This is because… well… it’s the back – who wants to see it?!? But it turns out the backs tell an interesting story. Here is the back of an old style badge, the Pre-2012 Blackminton badge that is well known to collectors.

Now take a look at the counterfeit badge back

It’s hard to see the differences, but you can tell a slight lack of countour, due to the lower quality. Interestingly, a few months after my article, a Twitter user tweeted myself and Robert Stephens taking credit for the fake, claiming he had made it using a CAD tool. If that’s the case, it may be that his fabrication process, not being based on a mold, had some imperfections.

Anyway, as I’ll detail below, post-2012 badges have a radically different back:

Quite a shift from the Blackminton style, although given the wear scenarios discussed in some of the internal documentation provided to me, it makes sense since overall Geek Squad appears to be favoring a “pocketed” badge more than a worn. The flat back design is popular with LEOs who will carry their badges in a case as opposed to on a uniform. 

The front of the badge remains largely unchanged post-2012:

You’ll notice I’ve sanitized the image to protect the identity of my source (the images are used with permission, however I don’t want anyone getting fired!). Obviously this looks a bit less defined than the older style, but is more consistent with a pocket-able badge.

Now for some interesting information on the badges. Previously you had to be a Geek Squad agent in certain positions in order to get a badge. In 2013 and into 2014, the rules were changed along with the badge design. Responding to what was considered an “outdated badge process”, Geek Squad Management decided to change the requirements to: 18 cumulative months in a geek squad role to earn the first badge, and six consecutive months in a role for any subsequent badges. Given the high turnover in retail, these benchmarks make a lot of sense. 

Along with the changes come a massive reduction in badge titles. Gone are the “friendly” titles like “Double Agent” or “Deputy Counter Intelligence”. Now all badges will have one of 6 titles: Autotech Agent, City Agent, Covert Agent, Field Agent, Precinct Agent, & Agent Defender. This change was done to reduce the number of “one-off badge titles”, which should prevent employees (“agents”) in the same position having different badge titles. 

Further documentation provides justification for the newer look, addressing criticisms that the “new badge was worse quality than the current badges” by explaining the quality level is the same, the badges are die struck and have a “hand relieved antique patina”, and has jewelers lacquer applied to it for protection. New badges are 65% copper, 18% silver, and (ominously) 17% miscellaneous.

So there is your Geek Squad Badge update (for the 1-2 other collectors on the planet). I’ve noticed a few of the newer styles rattling around eBay as of late, and may pick up one or two at some point. I don’t want to get into a Pokémon style “Gotta Catch ‘em” all mentaility though!

Thank you to my source for providing the photos and information below (If he/she would like to be named, I’ll gladly put his/her information here)!

MobileViews: That Podcast I’m a Regular Guest On

For almost a year now I’ve been Todd Ogasawara’s regular guest / cohost on MobileViews Podcast (available on the web, iTunes, and wherever fine Podcasts are found). Realized I don’t really talk about this often on my own blog so consider this a friendly reminder. I may also start posting a link each week to our new episodes (when I remember). It’s a chance to hear Todd and I prognosticate on subjects we have large backgrounds in, as well as subjects we’re not entirely qualified to discuss but still do!

Splash Mountain’s Origin

Mental floss has a pretty interesting piece on Song of the South, the Disney movie that the characters from the ride Splash Mountain originate in (as well as the song Zip-a-dee-do-dah). It’s truly an interesting situation: popular franchise characters in a movie that hasn’t ever been released on home video in the US for fairly obvious reasons. If you’re scratching your head going “I’ve never heard of that movie..” Take a read and think about how we sorta forget that things we still see evidence of today were interpreted differently 70 years ago.

(PS: I’m composing this on my iPhone, and Autocorrect almost turned the title of this piece into Allah Mountain. How it got Allah from Splash, I have no idea!)

How I Ended up Following a Makeup Blog

At Least thus far it is mostly about makeup, something I’ve never used. The reason it’s in my Blog Roll and my news feeds? Because a former student is writing it, and I generally encourage this whole blogging thing, despite the fact that I have a hard time motivating myself to blog (Fun Fact: JonWestfall.Com is now over 10 years old… Where did the time go?!?)

So if you’re into Makeup (with presumably more topics to follow), check out Maghen’s blog Lavender Lipstick. I know I’m going to follow so I can bust out random cosmetics knowledge and amaze/scare my female friends. And to support a fellow Blogger.