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Some Thoughts and Some Questions



Well, it's essentially mid-March and besides a spot on a wait list (not one of the top 5, sadly) I've got nothing else to show for this application cycle. Despite my utter failure, I've been feeling optimistic (when I'm not feeling anxious and upset, so maybe like 1/4 optimistic, 3/4 freaked out?) about next year. With a better topic, possible publications and maybe even an NDSEG fellowship (very slim dream chance!), I could be a real contender at some top programs. It is up to me to get there, but it's technically possible.

If anything is making me feel better, though it pains me to admit this, it is that NOBODY else I know has been admitted anywhere during this cycle. Sure, you fine people of Gradcafe have gotten in, but of, say, the 6 friends I know also applying, across many disciplines (media studies, sociology, philosophy, English, ethnomusicology) all coming from an R1 with MA degrees, NOBODY has gotten in. We've all had similar seasons, with high expectations going in and nothing to show for it. Like me, my friends have hustled and gotten everything they can out of their programs, but the competition is just too fierce. Without fellowships and publications, we never stood a chance.

Now, I take comfort in my friends' failure (because I'm mean, I guess), but I also think this has to do with both a lack of accurate guidance when it comes to applying and what I'm going to refer to as the Prestige Problem. Because we were all coming from a top university, nobody felt like they had to apply outside the top 50. Why even bother? With high stats and all our R1 bells and whistles, of course we'd be inundated with multiple offers from ivies and other tippy top departments. Except we weren't. Not even close. I was wait listed at the lowest-ranked department I applied to. That's how badly I overestimated my shot.

I think that the guidance I got, save for one very young professor who is very cautious and cynical in general, was tailored to an academe of long ago. Admission to PhD programs have become a lot more cutthroat because of the positive move toward only taking as many as you can fund. Statements are more sophisticated and developed than ever. Successful students go in with a year or more of prep. We never stood a chance.

What I'm really saying is, man, full professors don't know how hard it is out there! And that I'm mean, because my friends' rejections are making me feel better, which makes me kind of a bad person.

Anyway, unrelated, but does anyone know anything about the following two things:

1) The NYU bioethics MA? I am considering applying (deadline is May 1) and it only takes a year. It has a small faculty of experts and I think I could use more health-specific coursework before applying again. I can shoulder the tuition since my MA was pretty cheap, and I wouldn't have to relocate and I'd get to continue having my awesome NYU health insurance and keep my research job. They have great placement into philosophy PhD programs, but I wonder if it is worth meeting with the DGS in-person to chat about their placement into other kinds of PhD programs.

2) NDSEG funding to 'soft' social sciences? My proposal directly engages the armed forces, so it is topically relevant, but I see the behavioral sciences subfield has mostly funded psych and neuroscience in the past. I emailed them and they encouraged me to apply, but I'd love some more insight on whether other disciplines stand a chance.


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One thing to keep in mind about this process is that as much as it might seem that you and your friends failed to receive offers due to overestimating your qualifications, a lot of it might simply have to do with chance - you might have been just as qualified as the people who were admitted, but due to factors outside of your control like which professors are taking on new grad candidates or going on sabbatical next year, you happened to be simply applying at the wrong place at the wrong time.  I still do not think that a year or more of prep and multiple fellowships and publications are required to get into a Ph.D. program - I did not have any of these things (heck, I didn't even go to a first-rank undergraduate institution!), and I was still accepted at a first-rank Ph.D. program in my field. Please believe that you are qualified - I highly doubt that you overestimated your chances as badly as you believe. There are so many other factors that go into an admissions decision than we get to see from the outside, so don't be hard on yourself. I am sure that you will make it if you are steadfast in holding to your dream. Good luck!

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Majority of the process is due to chance. Please do not take it personally. If you are really passionate about this, you can try in the next application season. Don't give up nor put yourself in any more debt just to improve your application. Take this year to do some amazing things... Keep thriving!!!! 

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