I’ve volunteered to be on the admissions committee this year, and I’m really in the thick of it now. My own work has been put on hold for a week or so as I read through the last round of applications. Even within the last group there are sharp distinctions: those who are OK, those who are inhumanely talented, and those who have left me mostly scratching my head. Reading all these files is an exhilirating and demoralizing process. Especially when you run into an applicant who really has his or her shit together; it makes you wonder how you got in.
When I applied to graduate school I had only the vaguest idea of what awaited me. I knew lit. theory as well as anyone else, and I had a very strong sense that I was destined to be a “postmodernist” (while at the same time knowing that I rejected the term’s usefulness, as any good postmodernist should do), but my research was less than thorough and my sense of what programs were like was paper-thin.
It all worked out for me, which is obviously cool, but the process of realizing how much I didn’t know has put me in a position where I find that I don’t necessarily value the very polished applications as much as other people might. I am more interested in the “diamond in the rough” applications–applications where a very powerful mind is struggling against his or her own state of not-knowing.
But these sorts of evaluation are so subjective. Oh, well. The grads don’t actually have any formal say in who gets in, so I can’t screw things up too badly.