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elefish92

Is it worth applying to Northwestern PhD albeit the selectivity? Also, what are the "match" and "safety" schools, if any?

11 posts in this topic

Hey everyone, this is my first post! I'm excited to take upon the journey of applying to graduate school. I'm an upcoming sophomore, so I'm taking this pretty early and seriously. I had a rough freshman year due to depression and other personal unique circumstances, but I should work things out & should be all gone once school starts again. I'm planning to briefly discuss about that in my personal statement, but I have a lot of time. =) It's never too early to start.

 

Anyway, my research interests thus far are leaning to applied statistics; notably speaking, design of experiments/experimental design, inference/analysis, and algorithms (bootstrap). I am doing a minor in Philosophy so you could see how my research interests came to be. I don't mind anything pure as long as it can be immediately useful to society. Obviously it may change later on but it may not.

 

Onto discussion, I have looked at schools that has what I want and need. I'm probably doing Stanford and Duke as well as definitely doing UC Berkeley and UCLA. I also have Northwestern on my list, but one big issue I have is the selectivity. Northwestern is No. 34 in Stats (US News)/No. 40 (Great Value Colleges), which isn't as great. I expected a very selective acceptance rate, but it's still most selective (5.4%). http://www.tgs.northwestern.edu/documents/program-statistics/S25PH_adm_enr.pdf

 

Also, what are the match and safety schools? Are safety schools just applying to M.S. programs nearly disregarding reputation? Are match schools those who aren't as prestigious as the top 10, or are there none since getting into a PhD program is hard on its own?

 

Thank you all!

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In order to roughly give you an idea of where you're competitive, you'd need to provide a profile. However this won't be of much help as you've only completed your freshman year (and since you said it was rough I'm guessing your grades weren't the highest). From looking at the schools you want to apply to in the future, it looks like you're applying mostly based on brand name/undergrad prestige, and not based on research interests. Those schools are usually arbitrarily more competitive because of people just applying to them for their name. In terms of what safety and match schools are, they're not very well defined for phd programs, as admissions can be a crapshoot (unless you have an amazing profile). Usually "safety"/"match" schools are those that accept a large number of students (mostly large state school programs)/ some of the lower ranked schools, and "reach" schools are schools that accept a smaller number of students (brand name schools)/higher ranked schools.

My advice would be to forget about choosing which schools you're applying to until the spring/summer before your senior year. You'll probably have a better idea of your research interests, and your profile will be a good indication at that point of where you should apply.

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Yeah I agree with @marmle. It's too early for you to decide if you even want to do grad school in stats. In my undergrad career, I went from Finance to Economics to Statistics to ultimately Biostatistics.

That being said, I don't think it's really worth applying to NW unless you really, really want to be in the Chicago area (and if that's the case, add U Chicago to your list).

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In grad admissions, there really are no "safety" schools. Admissions are dependent on a number of factors, with research interests and the availability of an appropriate advisor being foremost among those. At this point, you don't have enough background in the field to really know where you research interests lie and none of us can say who may or may not be available to serve as your doctoral supervisor three years from now. At this point, you should focus on excelling in your courses, getting to know your professors, and taking advantage of any research opportunities which may arise.

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On 7/8/2017 at 7:12 PM, elefish92 said:

Also, what are the match and safety schools? Are safety schools just applying to M.S. programs nearly disregarding reputation? Are match schools those who aren't as prestigious as the top 10, or are there none since getting into a PhD program is hard on its own?

Welcome! :)

To answer this general question, typically people use the terms "reach", "match" and "safety" schools to categorize schools based on how likely they think they can get into the program. "Reach" schools are those they don't think they can get in, but will try anyways, "match" schools are schools where they think they have a good chance of getting in, and "safety" are schools that they think they are certain to get in. These terms are almost never used in Canada, and I believe they come from US high school students applying to undergraduate programs, and then they use the same terms for graduate programs.

However, I really think this is not a good framework to think about schools (maybe I'm just biased against it since I wasn't used to it during university!). But I don't like thinking about grad applications in this way (and I don't advise students to think about it in this way) because:

1. At the undergrad admissions level, there are lots of quantitative measures, such as SATs, GPA, etc. and a lot more information published about admission stats. So, "match" schools are easier to identify because you just look for schools that match your own profile. Graduate admissions don't work this way and there are a lot of things that go into admissions that cannot be quantified.

2. At the undergrad admissions level, there are tens of thousands of applicants and thousands of admits. Most schools don't admit to a specific major, just sciences or sometimes "Arts and Sciences" in general. So, the stats published by schools actually mean something significant. Grad programs usually admit by the department level, where there may be hundreds to ~1000 applicants, depending on the field, and they make between 1-100 admits. These much smaller numbers are way more affected by random chance. Some of the factors may be completely out of your control, such as a program getting more acceptances than expected from the same subfield as you and while they normally would have taken you in year X, they might not because they wanted to even out the distribution of students.

3. Students know a lot less about the graduate admissions process than undergrad admissions process. Most students are just guessing (because there really isn't another way, unless you happen to also be an admissions committee member!) about their chances at each school. By sticking to this framework too closely, students can harm their own chances or opportunities by over or under estimating their admission probability based on incomplete information.

4. Generally, this framework seems to encourage students to play it safer than they should. It seems to make students want to pick schools so that they get as many acceptances as possible. However, I think students should aim to get as "high quality" an offer as possible (where quality = how much you want to be at a particular school). The typical advice for the reach/match/safety is to have a lot of "match" schools since that's where you will be most likely to get offers. But, my perspective is that you can only accept one offer, so it's not about getting 2 offers vs. 10 offers, but making sure you get the offers that you want!

So, instead, my advice on picking schools is to do your research and find out where you will be happy first. You're still a lot ways away from applying, so these are just things to keep in mind rather than acting on them now, since you have many more years to find out what you like. Then I would actually apply mostly to schools that people call "reach" schools. Even if you are a good fit for the school, they are really competitive so there's always a little bit of luck involved. The idea is that if you get into even one "reach" school (note: you should only be applying to schools you really want to get into) then it doesn't matter at all how many "match" or "safety" schools you applied to or got into. But your ideal distribution of schools to apply to will depend on your own career and personal goals, which you still have time to develop. So, for now, just enjoy your undergraduate education and I think it would make a lot more sense to think about this again at the end of your 3rd undergrad year.

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On 7/10/2017 at 10:58 AM, rising_star said:

In grad admissions, there really are no "safety" schools. Admissions are dependent on a number of factors, with research interests and the availability of an appropriate advisor being foremost among those. At this point, you don't have enough background in the field to really know where you research interests lie and none of us can say who may or may not be available to serve as your doctoral supervisor three years from now. At this point, you should focus on excelling in your courses, getting to know your professors, and taking advantage of any research opportunities which may arise.

This might be true in the social sciences, but it's not how things work in fields like stat and biostat, where students are admitted chiefly on the basis of their academic record and research potential and only identify research interests and advisors once they've been in the program for a couple of years. Given a student's profile (even just basic school/GPA/GRE information), in our field(s) it's usually pretty easy to figure which programs are reaches, which are decent shots, and which are quite likely to admit them.

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8 hours ago, cyberwulf said:

Given a student's profile (even just basic school/GPA/GRE information), in our field(s) it's usually pretty easy to figure which programs are reaches, which are decent shots, and which are quite likely to admit them.

I think this might be true if you are a faculty member or someone who has a lot of knowledge and experience with the field. But as I wrote above, the danger of these categories is that most of the time, it is the student themselves making the classification and the student might not have the same experience and knowledge as you to do this accurately. 

I did not know any academics at all entering university and when it was time to apply to schools, I had no idea what would count as what. I would have applied to far too many schools and most of them would not have been good fit for my interest if I did not have a great mentor that did have all the experience and knowledge to know what would be good matches/reaches/safety for me. 

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9 hours ago, TakeruK said:

I think this might be true if you are a faculty member or someone who has a lot of knowledge and experience with the field. But as I wrote above, the danger of these categories is that most of the time, it is the student themselves making the classification and the student might not have the same experience and knowledge as you to do this accurately. 

I did not know any academics at all entering university and when it was time to apply to schools, I had no idea what would count as what. I would have applied to far too many schools and most of them would not have been good fit for my interest if I did not have a great mentor that did have all the experience and knowledge to know what would be good matches/reaches/safety for me. 

I didn't mean to imply that it was trivial for anyone to figure out which schools fall in which category; rather, I was pointing out that it was possible to reliably rate an applicant's chances in this way using a relatively small amount of objective data that didn't include squishier things like "research interests" and "availability of a suitable advisor". 

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This is very important advice; not merely good, but important: 

On 7/10/2017 at 1:46 PM, TakeruK said:

So, instead, my advice on picking schools is to do your research and find out where you will be happy first. You're still a lot ways away from applying, so these are just things to keep in mind rather than acting on them now, since you have many more years to find out what you like. Then I would actually apply mostly to schools that people call "reach" schools. Even if you are a good fit for the school, they are really competitive so there's always a little bit of luck involved. The idea is that if you get into even one "reach" school (note: you should only be applying to schools you really want to get into) then it doesn't matter at all how many "match" or "safety" schools you applied to or got into. But your ideal distribution of schools to apply to will depend on your own career and personal goals, which you still have time to develop. So, for now, just enjoy your undergraduate education and I think it would make a lot more sense to think about this again at the end of your 3rd undergrad year.

@elefish92, bottomline, you still have work to do. This is great because you can begin to plan your next three years accordingly. My suggestion is to take these years an opportunity to grow intellectually: identify your research interests, participate in events/projects, expand your horizon, polish your ideas. You'll see how much of a different person you are in two years and how to use that to your advantage. and good luck!

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Posted (edited)

On 7/9/2017 at 7:24 AM, marmle said:

In order to roughly give you an idea of where you're competitive, you'd need to provide a profile. However this won't be of much help as you've only completed your freshman year (and since you said it was rough I'm guessing your grades weren't the highest). From looking at the schools you want to apply to in the future, it looks like you're applying mostly based on brand name/undergrad prestige, and not based on research interests. Those schools are usually arbitrarily more competitive because of people just applying to them for their name. In terms of what safety and match schools are, they're not very well defined for phd programs, as admissions can be a crapshoot (unless you have an amazing profile). Usually "safety"/"match" schools are those that accept a large number of students (mostly large state school programs)/ some of the lower ranked schools, and "reach" schools are schools that accept a smaller number of students (brand name schools)/higher ranked schools.

My advice would be to forget about choosing which schools you're applying to until the spring/summer before your senior year. You'll probably have a better idea of your research interests, and your profile will be a good indication at that point of where you should apply.

 

It wasn't that bad, and I am in good standing. Based from what I have read from official sites and forums on here, freshman year does not really matter that much. I am not considering schools based on prestige, otherwise I would have done Ivies and other top private schools. I have Cal and Stanford on my list only because they are top stats programs relatively close to where I want to live, and their research interests match what I think I want in the future. UCLA are the same reasons but in my hometown. Based from what I have read, that it's not that great as expected. Duke is there because I am genuinely interested in Bayesian statistics, although I don't know much. 

 

Alright, do you have any advice for those schools at least, or the best advice for the top schools, whatever they may be? I honestly think my mind won't change for those schools.

 

On 7/10/2017 at 6:52 AM, footballman2399 said:

Yeah I agree with @marmle. It's too early for you to decide if you even want to do grad school in stats. In my undergrad career, I went from Finance to Economics to Statistics to ultimately Biostatistics.

That being said, I don't think it's really worth applying to NW unless you really, really want to be in the Chicago area (and if that's the case, add U Chicago to your list).

 

Yeah, that's what I figured, thanks for your input. Also, I don't think I'm going to switch majors because I have done a lot of work in Stats and I absolutely love it. A statistician has been my dream since I was really little, actually. I looked through majors and still chose Stats. But yes, things can change but I'm just saying it probably won't (not to be close-minded).

 

On 7/10/2017 at 8:58 AM, rising_star said:

In grad admissions, there really are no "safety" schools. Admissions are dependent on a number of factors, with research interests and the availability of an appropriate advisor being foremost among those. At this point, you don't have enough background in the field to really know where you research interests lie and none of us can say who may or may not be available to serve as your doctoral supervisor three years from now. At this point, you should focus on excelling in your courses, getting to know your professors, and taking advantage of any research opportunities which may arise.

 

I'll do that, thank you.

 

On 7/10/2017 at 9:46 AM, TakeruK said:

Welcome! :)

To answer this general question, typically people use the terms "reach", "match" and "safety" schools to categorize schools based on how likely they think they can get into the program. "Reach" schools are those they don't think they can get in, but will try anyways, "match" schools are schools where they think they have a good chance of getting in, and "safety" are schools that they think they are certain to get in. These terms are almost never used in Canada, and I believe they come from US high school students applying to undergraduate programs, and then they use the same terms for graduate programs.

However, I really think this is not a good framework to think about schools (maybe I'm just biased against it since I wasn't used to it during university!). But I don't like thinking about grad applications in this way (and I don't advise students to think about it in this way) because:

1. At the undergrad admissions level, there are lots of quantitative measures, such as SATs, GPA, etc. and a lot more information published about admission stats. So, "match" schools are easier to identify because you just look for schools that match your own profile. Graduate admissions don't work this way and there are a lot of things that go into admissions that cannot be quantified.

2. At the undergrad admissions level, there are tens of thousands of applicants and thousands of admits. Most schools don't admit to a specific major, just sciences or sometimes "Arts and Sciences" in general. So, the stats published by schools actually mean something significant. Grad programs usually admit by the department level, where there may be hundreds to ~1000 applicants, depending on the field, and they make between 1-100 admits. These much smaller numbers are way more affected by random chance. Some of the factors may be completely out of your control, such as a program getting more acceptances than expected from the same subfield as you and while they normally would have taken you in year X, they might not because they wanted to even out the distribution of students.

3. Students know a lot less about the graduate admissions process than undergrad admissions process. Most students are just guessing (because there really isn't another way, unless you happen to also be an admissions committee member!) about their chances at each school. By sticking to this framework too closely, students can harm their own chances or opportunities by over or under estimating their admission probability based on incomplete information.

4. Generally, this framework seems to encourage students to play it safer than they should. It seems to make students want to pick schools so that they get as many acceptances as possible. However, I think students should aim to get as "high quality" an offer as possible (where quality = how much you want to be at a particular school). The typical advice for the reach/match/safety is to have a lot of "match" schools since that's where you will be most likely to get offers. But, my perspective is that you can only accept one offer, so it's not about getting 2 offers vs. 10 offers, but making sure you get the offers that you want!

So, instead, my advice on picking schools is to do your research and find out where you will be happy first. You're still a lot ways away from applying, so these are just things to keep in mind rather than acting on them now, since you have many more years to find out what you like. Then I would actually apply mostly to schools that people call "reach" schools. Even if you are a good fit for the school, they are really competitive so there's always a little bit of luck involved. The idea is that if you get into even one "reach" school (note: you should only be applying to schools you really want to get into) then it doesn't matter at all how many "match" or "safety" schools you applied to or got into. But your ideal distribution of schools to apply to will depend on your own career and personal goals, which you still have time to develop. So, for now, just enjoy your undergraduate education and I think it would make a lot more sense to think about this again at the end of your 3rd undergrad year.

 

Thanks for this input, it really told me a lot! I'll definitely do that.

 

15 hours ago, AP said:

This is very important advice; not merely good, but important: 

@elefish92, bottomline, you still have work to do. This is great because you can begin to plan your next three years accordingly. My suggestion is to take these years an opportunity to grow intellectually: identify your research interests, participate in events/projects, expand your horizon, polish your ideas. You'll see how much of a different person you are in two years and how to use that to your advantage. and good luck!

 

Yeah, that's what will probably happen to be honest. I still have a lot of time, I just want to get ahead of the game. :)

 

---

 

To everyone, the main reason as to why I skimmed a lot of graduate schools is because of courses. In essence, a lot of schools stated what courses they look at the most. In all honesty, if I didn't do this I probably would not have the schedule I do now, especially CS intro to programming. I forgot to mention this in my thread. Again, thanks to all of you for your input. If any of you have any advice, please tell me, because it will help a lot.

Edited by elefish92

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7 hours ago, elefish92 said:

To everyone, the main reason as to why I skimmed a lot of graduate schools is because of courses. In essence, a lot of schools stated what courses they look at the most. In all honesty, if I didn't do this I probably would not have the schedule I do now, especially CS intro to programming. I forgot to mention this in my thread. Again, thanks to all of you for your input. If any of you have any advice, please tell me, because it will help a lot.

That's a good way to do it, but you can also talk to your professors and advisors at your undergrad school too! I also took a CS course in my 2nd year because of a professor telling me that it's very important for research. But that said, unless a school says you absolutely must have a course in X to apply, it's not the end of your application if you don't have that course! Presumably, you would be applying to that school because of other very good fits and as long as it's not an absolute requirement, you would still be considered. Very few programs have absolutes in program reqs. And many programs recognize that you can learn key skills without taking a course in it (e.g. having experience working with a coding language for an internship is basically the same as having a 101 level CS course, for most programs).

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