Posted by: Ken Brown | June 9, 2009

Kaplan’s Get Into Graduate School

Today I read through Kaplan’s Get Into Graduate School: A Strategic Approach for Master’s and Doctoral Candidates (third edition), hoping it might make the process of applying for a PhD a little clearer. I’m not sure it succeeded. The book is a quick read, but it is not well edited and–like all guides written by committee–it’s rather uneven.

On the one hand, a lot of the material was general and should be obvious to anyone who has spent much time looking at potential schools. There is nothing at all directed at religious studies students specifically (much less biblical studies students), and even the chapter devoted to “The Humanities and Social Sciences” is relatively brief and superficial.

There are also a number of typos scattered throughout the book, some of which are substantial, and the book is out of date, even judging by its October 2008 copyright. None of the data discussed extends beyond 2004 and it even refers to changes to the GRE made in 2007 as though they were still future, “scheduled to debut in Fall 2007” (pg. 55). Such mistakes–especially in a book that urges grad students to make sure their applications are free of errors!–do not give me confidence in the reliability of the book as a whole, or of Kaplan as a company.

That said, there were a few points on which I expect the book to prove useful. It provides a good discussion of what makes a compelling Personal Statement, including forthright analysis of several example essays, written by actual admissions officers. There is also some helpful advice about the process of getting reference letters, and the book as a whole has given me a much better idea of the kinds of questions I need to answer for myself about each program I consider.

The book is worth a look, but you might consider checking it out from the local library before spending 14 bucks on a copy. On the whole, I’d give it a B-, which is respectable, but probably not good enough to get into graduate school.

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