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The Application Process From the University’s End

Lesley Nicholls' Guide to the Application Process


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Who Decides Who Gets in and What Do They Base it On? < | The Application Process – From the University’s End | > The Application Process – From the Student’s End

How the Application Process Works

All the universities in Canada and the United States have very similar admission processes--although there are a few minor differences here and there. A brief outline of that process (based on Calgary) will give you an idea of what your application goes through before you receive the final, hopefully positive, letter.

A student writes requesting information on the graduate programme; the department sends out an application package in reply. This will vary from department to department but it will usually contain a department booklet, a programme application form, a university scholarship application and information on graduate awards available, together with any necessary reference forms. Sometimes you will also get a Graduate School calendar.

Some universities, Calgary included, are moving to what is called a student-managed application; some may even have you apply online. In these cases the student is responsible for collecting all the letters of reference, transcripts, etc., and ensuring that they get to the University by the deadline. Others still use the system where bits and pieces of the application come in over a period of time. Obviously it's more convenient for everyone if everything comes in one package. Check carefully to see what system the schools you've chosen are using.

Processing an Application

When any document that will form part of the formal application package is received in the department, be it a form, transcript or reference, it is placed in a file and noted on a computerized tracking system as it comes in. About a month after a file has been started, a note is sent to the student confirming what documents have been received and noting what documents are still needed. It takes us approximately 20 minutes to process a completed application form and all supporting documents.

When receipt of transcripts is noted on the system, schools calculate the GPA over the past two years or 10 full year course equivalents (where necessary converting grades to the 4.0 system used by all but a few universities). All departments offering higher degrees in archaeology in Canada require a minimum GPA of 3.3, but it varies in the United States and elsewhere, so be sure to check. Note that this is the minimum needed to get your file looked at by the department--it does not guarantee you a place in graduate school. If your GPA is below the minimum required by the department, the calculation is rechecked and the file is circulated separately to the admissions committee. They then recommend that either the file be forwarded for consideration or that it be dropped from circulation. Only in very rare circumstances will a file with a GPA of less than the minimum be circulated.

Admissions Committee

As the files slowly begin to pile up, the department holds a meeting to appoint an admissions committee of three faculty members and to decide how many students can be admitted. The number of students to be admitted in any one year is determined by the number of spaces that will open up as students currently in programme finish, whether any faculty will be on sabbatical leave, and on the availability of graduate funding. For example, in some years Calgary may only have 3 or 4 spaces, in others (rarely!) we will have 10 or 12. Graduate Faculty regulations specify how many students each faculty member can supervise (no more than six students in our case), so if even one person goes on sabbatical it can drastically cut the number of students admitted (one year, for example we had two people on 12-month sabbaticals and one on a six-month sabbatical). And of course funding availability makes a difference. Funding comes from three sources: scholarships, the Graduate Faculty and the department's operating budget. Some students are also funded from faculty research grants. Unfortunately the figures are not always known until well after offers of admission are made--so some informed guesswork comes into play!

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