Happy Thursday, readers! This is my last day of work before I get a whole five days off for Christmas! Kind of makes me jealous for all of the students out there getting a month off. But I don’t envy finals.
This week, by popular demand, I’m covering last year’s feedback. I understand the curiosity because when I was a first year applicant, I asked the same thing of the second year applicants I knew.
I’ve always believed in the power of asking for feedback. The summer before my sophomore year in college, I worked in food service. The only jobs I’d ever had were in food service. Like most food service employees, I wanted to change that. That summer, I threw in some applications to office jobs, and despite my lack of experience, I miraculously received an interview with the BYU Department of Plant and Wildlife Sciences. On the day of the interview, I dressed up as nice as I could, came with questions, tried to look confident… and a few days later I got a rejection call.
Luckily, in the meantime, my business-minded dad had encouraged me to ask for interview feedback if I was rejected. Getting feedback on my first real job interview would be insightful. Unexpectedly, when I asked my interviewer for feedback, she seemed distressed or emotional and said that it really came down to another candidate having experience.
A few months later, another position opened up in the department. She called me and offered me the job, with the reasoning “I was so impressed that you asked for feedback”.
This pattern repeated itself when, at the end of my sophomore year, I stretched my wings beyond the office and applied to my dream campus job—Research and Writing Center tutor. Interviewed, rejected, asked for feedback. This time I had to apply again. Because of my feedback, I knew that their biggest concern was my speaking ability. I have a tendency to get rushed and jumbled in speaking and I’m a much better written communicator. I knew exactly what to address in my next interview. As a result, I got the job and worked for a year-and-a-half as a tutor and even a tutor trainer.
Asking for feedback is nearly always uncomfortable, especially for me. My social anxiousness makes it hard for me to cope with criticism. Asking for feedback is just another phrase for inviting people to criticize you. That’s why I found the asking for feedback phase to be the hardest part of the whole application process. Still, it shaped how and where I chose to apply this year, so it’s been overall worth it.
So here’s the stuff you came for! My feedback from last cycle, categorized.
Focusing the Personal Statement on Psychosocial Patient Support
This is the piece of feedback I received most consistently. Because of some struggles I’d had certain classes (seven chemistry classes, to be exact), last cycle I focused my statement mostly on showing that I do have the scientific ability to be a genetic counselor. I wrote about my summer at Myriad and my research experience, which truly aren’t even my greatest passions. Several schools mentioned wanting to hear more about my crisis line experience and desire to work with patients. A huge struggle for me both this year and last year has been fitting both scientific and psychosocial experiences into statements limited to 500 words. It’s so important to cover both sides of the coin and not try to overemphasize one thing to make up for perceived deficiencies. This feedback helped me understand the importance of that balance, and that if I find I have the space to cover only one experience in depth, that I should make it an advocacy experience that impacted me.
Grades (but only sometimes)
You guys, I thought like all of my rejections would be due to grades since I have a 3.3 overall, and some Bs in classes like Biochem, Cell Bio, and Chem. While getting all As would be nice, only one school actually cited my grades as their main reason for rejection. They noted it was an automatic rejection based on the 3.3 alone. (This school has been known to be more lenient with undergrad grades when applicants have been out of school a while). Last cycle I learned that most schools don’t want to be like that. The minimum GPA is 3.0 for a reason. They want to look at applications holistically and not use automatic cutoffs. Some schools will use them, mostly to deal with the overwhelming number of applications. For the most part though, those cutoffs are going to be closer to 3.0 and 50th percentile GRE, nothing that’s not stated outright in the admissions website for the program.
Once you reach the interview stage, essentially all of your admission comes down to how you appear in interviews. Grades, GRE, and statements get you to the interview, and the interview brings it home. So, it’s crucial to know what a rockstar GC school interview looks like. Last year, I really wasn’t sure. It’s hard to communicate with words alone, which is why reading all of the interview advice in the world still didn’t quite prepare me. But I’ll take a stab at sharing at least my personal interview feedback.
From schools I interviewed at, the main feedback was too much jitters. Too much energy, not enough calm, cool, and sure-of-self demeanor. That was so hard to take! I’m high energy and I was honestly excited to be there! But it makes sense, they want you to be able to reign in what you’re feeling and approach the situation as a professional. Be happy to be there, but also be carefully listening, seeking to understand the program and if it’s the right fit for you, rather than just being bursting with excitement at every turn. I’ve been chewing a lot on this feedback over the course of my gap year. I’ve come to accept that I have to dress up in a blazer and pantsuit, and act calm and professional for interview day, even it feels unnatural. It’s part of growing up and becoming the professional I want to and need to be in my career. And it doesn’t mean I can’t still be laid-back and youthful every other day. 🎉
I also got feedback in-person with a program director at a school I didn’t interview at last year. (Ok we all know it was Utah #GoUtes 🙌). She shared that the type of interview feedback I received is the most common feedback she gives to applicants (which definitely made me feel better). She also emphasized the importance of showing both curiosity about and understanding of the profession and the program. She loves to see applicants who know why psychosocial training is so important and want to know how the program implements that principle. It’s amazing to see candidates who can share insights from their exploration of the field, who are clearly and honestly seeking the best program to take them to the next step. So again, be confident in your understanding of the profession, and truly interested to find out which of the programs you interview for are best for you. It shows that you are impressive and they’ll want to impress you back!
Those are the three main take-aways I got from feedback from last cycle. Some schools didn’t reply or don’t offer feedback, which surprised me. But even feedback from just a few programs helped me understand what I needed to work on and emphasize this year. And knowing that most programs didn’t take issue with my grades has led to a huge confidence boost this year. Getting feedback is a difficult process, but if you find yourself in this situation, try to take the growing pains in stride. Many applicants go through it, work on their weaknesses, and match into their dream programs.
If you don’t match into a program in April, then the following May and June can really hurt. Seeking feedback and counting hundreds of days until your next chance to match. Ouch and double ouch. But that time passes, and before you know it it’s December 20th and there’s only a few weeks before interview offers start to roll out all over again. Looking back I’m so glad I’ve put myself through asking for feedback in so many situations over the years. Asking for feedback has guided me to where I am now and I anticipate it will continue to push me forward into the future.