Lack of Information About the Program
A total of 22 KOD examples identified applicants’ lack of knowledge about the program to which they were applying. These examples included not researching the general focus of the program and not exploring how the applicant’s research interests fit the focus of the program.
Advisors cannot overemphasize the im-
portance of researching the focus of the programs to which their students apply. For example, KODs occur when appli- cants “demonstrate no clue regarding what the foci of the pro- gram are” or “haven’t bothered to see what kind of work is done in our program.” Studying the current research interests of graduate faculty at schools to which they apply is also cru- cial. One respondent advised, “applicants should do some background reading on the faculty, read their publications, and be able to say how their research interests and career goals fit with Dr. X.” Another respondent supported this point with
the following statement:
Students who express an interest in research activity that does not correspond to the research interests of our faculty are not likely to be admitted. This is especially true if the student ap- pears set on doing research in his or her area of interest.
This idea was further supported by another respondent, who stated that a KOD occurs when “students note that they wish to work with a specific faculty member who has retired,
died, or relocated.
Fit into the program.
A crucial aspect of researching a
graduate program involves applicants’ comparison of their re- search interests with the research activities of a program’s fac- ulty. The importance of applicant–program fit is crucial for both the professor and the student to receive maximum pro- fessional gains from the relationship (Buskist & Sherburne, 1996). One participant noted
I’m very attentive to whether a student’s interest matches our training. I expect a statement of personal interest that displays a convincing, compelling desire for what we have to offer from its start to finish. It’s a kiss of death when I read a personal essay that describes an applicant’s life-long goal of serving human- kind and has a paragraph tacked on to the end that “personal- izes” the essay for the particular school to which it was sent.
Another participant noted that students must “do home- work on each program. Statements from applicants that state the program is just perfect for them, without evidence they know much about the program other than its specialty name” are KODs.
Poor Writing Skills
Completing an application for graduate school is much like writing a manuscript. The application must include ap- propriate content, but it must also be cohesive, organized, concise, written skillfully, and proofread thoroughly (Buskist & Sherburne, 1996). A total of 21 KOD examples pertained
Vol. 33, No. 1, 2006
to poorly written applications, which we divided into two ma- jor subcategories: spelling and grammatical errors and poorly
Spelling and grammatical errors.
According to several
respondents, spelling and grammatical errors found anywhere in the application are an immediate KOD. Comments such as “writing that abuses the rules of grammar,” “misspellings,” and “letters that display grammar and punctuation errors” all point to the importance of proofreading materials included in an application packet. Another respondent elaborated on this point by saying, “It is not so much the student’s lack of writing ability, but rather the carelessness of sending such sloppy work to an admissions committee that bodes ill.”
Poorly written application materials.
material or material weak in content is another KOD. Stu- dents should write their personal statements concisely, but in enough detail to reflect their research, educational, and pro- fessional goals clearly. One respondent stated that a KOD oc- curs when he or she reads “overly long and detailed state- ments of purpose that are poorly edited.” Overall structure is also important because a statement of purpose is a chance to demonstrate strong writing skills, a crucial characteristic of
People who want how to write.”
Misfired Attempts to Impress
The final KOD category included six examples of students’ misfired attempts to impress admissions committees. Appli- cants should assiduously avoid the following failed efforts to make a positive impression on admissions committees.
Admissions committees do not respond favorably to appli- cants who attempt to impress them by being critical of their undergraduate programs or offering unsupported praise for the graduate program to which they are applying. For exam- ple, one applicant said “My undergraduate program was re- ally bad because of x, y, and z. I didn’t really learn anything, so I’m applying to your program so that I will actually learn something.” One participant mentioned, “the candidate will give a very bad impression if he/she blames others for his/her poor academic record. Example: Faculty here at X university were unwilling to help me succeed in this course.” Another respondent cited a similar KOD when he or she suggested that, “statements in the personal statement that are openly and overly critical of one’s undergraduate institution or qual- ity of preparation are [a kiss of death].”
Attempting to impress admissions committees by name dropping influential practitioners of psychology or other well- known public officials may be an unsuccessful strategy to gain admission to graduate school. For example, statements of purpose that “elaborate on [the applicant’s] family’s work history in the area of psychology or mental health and/or namedrop some recognized practitioner without any substan- tive evidence of having a real connection” are often a KOD. Another example included obtaining letters of recommenda- tion from political sources who may be influential within gov-