I am a student from India and I have been reading a lot about graduate admissions in US lately. I have read in some article that an average(below average) applicant from the "maybe" pile is moved to an "accepted" pile when their resumes contain something like "hiked in Himalayas".

Now I realize that it is a great achievement but it does not correlate with the capacity to publish quality research papers at all. So how do universities measure the applicants future in academic prospects?

P.S. Sorry, I do not have the link of the article.

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    Are you sure the article talked about graduate school? For undergraduate admission, the US has long factored in soft criteria you tend to scratch your head over as an international applicant. Your admission essay ideally documents your burning desire to save the world, and your example probably fits an extracurricular. While this has long also been mocked nationally (eg, see "Welcome to the Dollhouse" - "There goes my extracurricular!"), it's here to stay. – gnometorule Apr 23 '15 at 17:03
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    Your question is somewhat related to this one. Instead of just stating that you hiked in the Himalayas, what are the soft skills you developed there that are both transferable and relevant to an academic application? – PatW Apr 23 '15 at 17:08
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    @spunkpike No, climbing the Everest doesn't make you a good mathematician. However, climbing the Everest would suggest that you are determined, able to adapt to high-stress situations and everything else that you want to add. If these skills are not relevant in an academic application from your point of view, then you can omit them of course. – PatW Apr 23 '15 at 17:47
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    This article by Matt Might is probably the source of the original suggestion. – Ben Trettel Apr 23 '15 at 19:43
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    As the ideal candidate is oneself, experience hiking in the Himalayas is extremely useful if and only if a member of the admissions committee does likewise. – Keith Apr 24 '15 at 3:43

I've never seen a graduate admissions committee take anything like this at all seriously, and I would certainly not recommend it as a strategy for getting into grad school. If anything, emphasizing irrelevant experience makes applicants look clueless and may hurt their chances of admission.

But I agree that you can read all sorts of strange things in discussions of graduate admissions on the internet. Some commentary is by people who simply don't know what they're talking about, but some is by faculty who have actually served on admissions committees. The best explanation I can give is that certain faculty are just eccentric. If you gather opinions from enough professors, you'll presumably find people who honestly believe that some non-academic experiences (such as hiking in the Himalayas) are so formative or telling that they are enough by themselves to salvage an otherwise mediocre application. I haven't run across this particular opinion myself, but I've certainly worked with admissions committee members whose judgments differed from the rest of the committee's in other ways.

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    RE: some people who honestly believe that some non-academic experiences (such as hiking in the Himalayas) are so formative or telling that they are enough by themselves to salvage an otherwise mediocre application. The "maybe" pile is not the same as the "mediocre" pile, and the hiking expeditions don't necessarily "by themselves" salvage the applicant's chances. Your paraphrasing of the O.P.' s paraphrasing is reminiscent of the Telephone Game. – J.R. Apr 23 '15 at 20:42
  • Some commentary is by people who simply don't know what they're talking about — Matt Might is not one of those people. – JeffE Apr 24 '15 at 11:48
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    Yes, this was written before I knew the original source and is not intended as commentary specifically about Matt Might or his article. (He's certainly not in the "doesn't know what he's talking about" category, although I strongly disagree with certain aspects of his article, such as the calculations in the "Do the math" section.) – Anonymous Mathematician Apr 24 '15 at 13:10
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    @AnonymousMathematician Yeah, those calculations made me doubt the veracity of the rest of the potentially good advice, as nearly every calculation is fundamentally flawed. Natives of a country (at least the US) get accepted at far higher rates than published acceptance stats indicate because of the large amount of international applications, it treats admission as discrete and independent events which woefully understates the probabilities, etc. It's quantitatively flawed and biased towards discouragement - which I don't think was intentional. – BrianH Apr 24 '15 at 14:54

I think that you are making a mistake in how you are interpreting the Matt Might article that others have dug up in the comments. You say:

average(below average) applicant from the "maybe" pile is moved to an "accepted" pile

If you read the earlier part of the article on the mathematics of graduate admissions, though, you'll see that's almost certainly not what's going on. The pool of good applications for graduate schools is pretty deep, and University of Utah is a good school that will draw a lot of good applicants. Anybody in this professor's "Maybe" pile is probably not an average applicant, but a rather above-average applicant, and the extra tidbit is a tie-breaker that nudges them ahead of other good applicants.

In other words: there's probably a whole lot of academic promise already shown, and the "Hiking the Himalayas" bit is a somewhat different dimension that resonates with this particular highly opinionated professor. Another professor might just as easily look at that and say, "Now there's a person who won't be happy in the lab all day!"

And that goes back to what I see as one of the key messages early in the article: "The most important advice from this book is to get in touch with your potential advisor before you apply."


First, kudos that you are thinking so hard about your application! :-D

My guess is that you should put down in your resume anything that you feel qualifies you for the job in question. I tend to shy away from putting hobbies in, but if they brand you in a way you want to appear for the job in question, I think it could help to add them!

I would say "hiking in the Himalayas" could show that you have: An adventurous spirit, determination, an ability to think "out of the box", a well-balanced life...lots of positive qualities that look good in a graduate student! :-) Whatever brands you as the kind of person that would do well in that job. If you're a home baker, it could show that you: have an experimental streak, are settled and comfortable with yourself, or are a nourishing, supportive person.

I liked the previous answer saying that different qualities will appeal to different professors, and it helps if you know them. But ultimately, be yourself and think about the "fit" between your intrinsic qualities and the job you're applying for, and fit them together.

All the best with finding your position!

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    Since your advice of including hobbies contradicts what I have heard from people on admission committees, could you clarify if you have any personal experience on such committees? – Tobias Kildetoft Apr 24 '15 at 9:25

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