Quote of the Day:
“I know it’s not much but it’s the best I can do
My gift is my song and this one’s for you.”
Elton John, “Your Song”
Finding an institute of higher learning that perfectly suits my requirements is harder than I thought. With three outstanding universities within metropolitan Los Angeles I figured that one of them would be ideal. It turns out that I was right but not exactly in the way I was hoping for.
It took quite a bit of work but I finally got appointments with professors and graduate advisors at the University of California at Los Angeles, the University of Southern California, and the California Institute of Technology. The first place I visited was UCLA. Looking on one of my many LA maps I noticed that the university is nestled between Beverly Hills and Bel Air, a very high-class neighborhood. From Seal Beach you have to take the 405 freeway north past the LAX airport, past Santa Monica, and past the 10 freeway. With all of the traffic that morning it took me an hour and twenty minutes to get to UCLA. (The funny part is that it only took me forty minutes, half the time, to get back in the afternoon.) The best part about UCLA was that the people I met with were encouraging. I haven’t found this to be the case universally among professors and graduate advisors and that is rather distressing. Don’t they want students to apply? Anyway, I had a great visit. Dr. Ann Karagozian, the professor I met, has one project that sounds interesting to me and she needs a new student to work on it as soon as possible. That would mean beginning the research next summer, even though classes don’t start until the fall, but I was planning to come back to California then anyway. The graduate advisor told me that my admission and financial aid prospects are greatly enhanced if a particular professor shows interest in me. I left UCLA with a positive feeling about the campus and the programs, although it wasn’t quite the exhilaration I had been looking for.
I already wrote about seeing downtown LA and the Hollywood sign from a distance on the way to USC last week. It’s too bad that was probably the most exciting thing to report from the visit. After being so heartened by my trip to UCLA I expected more of the same from USC and I was disappointed. The professor I arranged to meet told me outright that he hadn’t done anything to plan for my visit. He was kind enough to show me all of the labs in the department but then told me that there wasn’t much propulsion research being done. He went so far as to say that I should be looking at other schools instead (even though he knew that I am doing just that). Like I said before, don’t these people want students to apply to their schools? Anyway, the graduate advisor wasn’t much help either and I left campus wondering if I should even part with this particular application fee.
At Cal Tech I fell in love. I fell in love with the mountains looming nearby. (After driving straight through downtown Los Angeles the 110 freeway becomes just another four-lane road in Pasadena before you run into them.) I fell in love with the campus. I fell in love with the program. And then I had my heart nearly broken. I knew that the university was one of the best aerospace engineering graduate programs in the country and that anyone’s chance of being admitted was slim but I wasn’t prepared for the complete truth. First, I didn’t know than an exclusive Master’s program wasn’t offered but that students are admitted as PhD candidates instead. I am pretty sure that if a PhD is in my future it won’t be anytime soon. Second, I didn’t know that only about fifteen applicants are accepted each year. How in the world I am going to stand out enough to be chosen for that elite group? These are the facts, however, and I need to face them. No matter how miniscule the chance of admission I am going to apply for the Master’s only option because it would be a dream come true if I beat the odds. It’s too bad my GPS isn’t about three-tenths of a point higher.
Now comes the actual application process. The first order of business is gathering letters of recommendation and I think that will be the hardest part. Before I can even ask for letters from professors and coworkers I need to give them my resume, my transcript, and my statement of purpose for graduate study. Even though I got the campus visits out of the way I still have a long road ahead of me. You have to really want to continue your education to do all of this work.