I just submitted my applications to all the grad schools I am considering. Is there anything I can do during the wait to help my application?


3 Answers 3


Is there anything I can do during the wait to help my application?

I'll answer assuming you are applying to programs that work like most U.S. math graduate programs. In other words, programs where admissions are decided by a departmental committee, rather than by individual professors, and where there are no interviews or other direct involvement of the applicant after the application is submitted. For other sorts of systems, I'm not competent to offer any advice.

To a first approximation, there's nothing you can do during the wait to help your application. It's best to find a distraction and try not to worry about it. That being said, there are several things to keep in mind:

  1. You should make sure your letter writers actually submit their letters. Every year, a few letter writers are many weeks late, and this can cause real damage. Even once you have submitted everything you are responsible for, the application is not complete until enough letters are received.

  2. Getting in touch with potential advisors might help, but it should be done exceedingly sparingly. If the content of your e-mail amounts to "please look at my application" or "see how great I am", it will only annoy people. "Please estimate my chances of admission" is even worse. I'd recommend restricting pre-admission e-mails to cases where you have something genuinely substantive to say. For example, if you have intellectually serious comments or ideas related to the person's research, then that's always worth an e-mail. Same thing if you would like to bring their attention to a paper of yours that is closely connected with their work. A good test is whether you would still send the e-mail even if you weren't applying to their university. I don't recommend manufacturing a contrived reason to send e-mail, but if you never got in touch with someone whose research you extended, now would be a good time to do so.

  3. It's usually possible to add information to your file if something important comes up (e.g., a paper acceptance or a prize). This is not worth even trying unless it's a real improvement in your file, and you certainly shouldn't make repeated changes in an attempt to draw attention to your file (any additional attention will be negative). However, if you get good news you should consider sharing it. The best news is often financial: if you get a fellowship that would pay for one or more years of grad school, then you should definitely add this information to your file. It's both a serious vote of confidence from another organization and a real savings to the department.


You should follow Anonymous Mathematician's advice. The very unhealthy thing to do is to obsessively update the Results Search at http://www.thegradcafe.com. It does pass the time, though...

  • I'm occasionally see it, but I don't know why it is interesting. Can you enlighten me?
    – Ooker
    Dec 2, 2015 at 11:32
  • @Ooker Once admission results start coming out, many people post theirs on gradcafe. By that time most people are in desperate need for information, and really want to know when their dream school starts to send out decisions (despite the fact that it's useless information).
    – Roger Fan
    Dec 2, 2015 at 12:16
  • 5
    On a side note, gradcafe can actually be a little useful. I eventually contacted one of my schools because I hadn't gotten a decision after I saw a couple rounds appear on gradcafe, and it turns out that due to technical issues they hadn't seen my application! After reading it, they did end up giving me an offer, so it worked out.
    – Roger Fan
    Dec 2, 2015 at 12:19

I am exactly in this situation. Here are some of my suggestions:

  • Advancing your specialty knowledge. If you are changing your field, or having some knowledge gap in your specialty, then you will need to learn a lot of new things. While learning during work is fine, knowing them ahead will save you lots of time. Everyday, you can read 5 pages of a good textbook, that only takes you half an hour. Do you have any subject that you want to have a review?

  • Knowing your body. You won't have much time to care about health, and going to hospital (in the US) will rip you off. If you have an illness, try to know the why your body goes wrong, how it goes wrong, and how to prevent it. I had always known that I should exercise, but I was just lazy, until I know the reason why I should do that: exercise will move my lymph, and my illness has a relationship to that. Since that day, needless to tell me that I should exercise, I workout everyday.

  • Reading books, learning new skills. You won't have much free time during your study. Read as much as you can. If you don't know where to start, then here are some topics I can suggest you: personal development, ergonomics, project management, personal finance, designing, language acquisition.

  • Exploring something new. What's your favorite activities? Swimming, playing go, drawing, taking photographs? It's time to do that. Going abroad, climbing mountain, parachuting, etc. They are the moments that you will never forget in your life.

  • Getting familiar to programs aiding your research. Every programs will take you a learning curve. If you have to simulate something, Python and Linux is your friends. Never heard about LaTeX? Better than Microsoft Word a million times. Learning to design, so that you will never make a boring slide or poster, or at the very least they are easy to be digest. I also suggest you to learn to customize the programs. My beloved apps so far are OneNote, Kanbantool, Toddledo, Google Keeps, ManicTime and Firefox with addons.

  • Having a job. Money is also good, right? Or joining a summer school or lab to improve your CV.

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