A couple weeks ago, I got turned down by the top school I wanted to go to. It was crushing, but it also told me something important:
As of today, experts in the field don’t believe I have the qualifications needed to succeed in this program.
I wallowed in it for a couple hours, then pulled myself together and started working on a list of the topics in which I would need college credit and how to get it. Looking back, it’s probably the best thing that could have happened.
Sure, I was taking online classes working on prerequisites already, getting the basics of Python down and poking around at basic statistics and calculus. At the time it felt like I was doing so pretty intensely, but now that I’m taking courses for college credit, I see how slowly and how half-heartedly I was going about it. I’d pass a few Khan Academy quizzes and think my math skills were “good enough!”. Now I’m doing 20 to 30 calculus problems per day, plus quizzes and dicussion questions about how calculus applies to life and the world. Before, I was doing maybe 20 questions per week.
My Python skills were at a surface level, solving classic problems like FizzBuzz or the credit card algorithm, but I wasn’t really learning problem solving or analysis. I was just doing the assignments. It’s different when you have to pick your own dataset, find a question about that data to explore, then use Python to do the exploration and presentation. Suddenly my ability to remember a : at the end of an if statement wasn’t so relevant.
I’m realizing that my knowledge of probability and statistics is really lacking. When I took a GRE practice test, I only got two questions right on that topic.
If the schools had accepted me with my skills where they were, II would have seriously struggled with my classes. As happy as I’ve have been to get in, I would have been even more miserable as I worked twice as hard to learn the prerequisites and the actual topics at the same time. Even though I’m working at a serious pace, taking three classes for credit and sneaking in GRE prep classes as I can, I’m actually really enjoying how much I’m learning.
I have two possible plans:
- If I don’t get in to Northwestern, between this semester and next I will total of seven classes (three classes at a time, but I’m taking two half-semester Python classes this semester). I would take the GRE over the December break, and then reapply to Northwestern and Berkeley in late January. My transcripts would show this semester’s grades plus the courses in-progress at the time. I have a few other crazy options that may or may not turn into something. We’ll see.
- If I do get in to Northwestern, then it will depend on what prerequisites they have. I would probably accept their offer and start in January, but if their classes cost more I would finish out as many prerequisites as I can at UCSD.
As you can tell, my decision tree is a bit crazy for all this. It’s hard to keep it all straight sometimes.
I’m kind of glad I got turned down because it made me push myself much more so I can be ready for whichever program I end up getting in to. This might have delayed my starting actual graduate courses by six months, but it really is a good thing.