Type of Undergrad Institution: Large R1, not that prestigious but respectable Major(s)/Minor(s): Political Science, Philosophy Undergrad GPA: 3.8 Type of Grad: Political Economy Grad GPA: 3.7 GRE: 164/161/6 Any Special Courses: Letters of Recommendation: 1 from Master's professor, 2 from undergrad. Chose the professors who knew me best, not the ones who's name carried the most weight necessarily. Research Experience: Bachelor's and Master's Thesis, but importantly my master's thesis was not completed during application process which might have hurt. Teaching Experience: Subfield/Research Interests: IR Other: RESULTS: Acceptances($$ or no $$): 3 programs in the 20-40 range, all with 5 years of funding Waitlists: Rejections: 6 top 10 programs, 3 ranked in the 20-40 range, 2 ranked in the 50-60 range. Pending: Going to: You can PM me for where I'm going and the specific schools I was accepted/rejected too.
1. "Research fit". Any applicant in the fall of 2018 or 2019 reading this thread will have seen this a million times. I agree with the overall consensus that it is incredibly important to your success as an applicant. The fact that so many people on ad com's have shared this fact with us is really important, so take their advice on it. However, the part I'm sad to share with you is that you can only guess research fit so much. Schools are always changing, always getting new faculty, and always adjusting their priorities. A program that you think has a great research fit may be looking to have a class that shifts it's focus slightly if they know that certain professors are retiring or leaving. They might have a new DGS or new department chair who thinks "we need to focus more on X rather than Y", but of course when you're on the outside looking in you think "Y" is their research specialty. This doesn't always happen and you should still pursue schools with good research fit, but in a certain sense I think it's overblown during your application process. If there's a school that you really like the location of, are really drawn for a variety of non-research related interests, I say apply anyway. There's a chance that your research interest is exactly what they're looking to add. This is somewhat the case with one of the schools I applied to, but at the other schools I was accepted into the research fit was as expected.
2. Prestige matters. A lot. A discussion was had in our year's general discussion thread along with an updated discussion in an older thread. The conversations were largely about how much academic prestige matters in getting an academic job. That, I feel unqualified to speak to with certainty, but as an applicant I feel as if one of the main factors which kept me out of the elite institutions was that none of the schools I attended were very prestigious. They were good, as were the professors writing LoR's, but nothing eye popping. When applicants with similar profiles from better schools apply, it's natural for them to have the edge. I don't say this with grievance, as I'm extremely proud of my background and don't regret any choices made so far, but just my opinion that might help future applicants set their expectations accordingly.
3. I had a lot of rejections. Yes, it's not the best feeling to get rejection after rejection, but I'm extremely happy knowing that I took my best shot and landed where I landed. I think it's well worth it to apply to a number of "reach schools" because if it works, great! If not, you're never wondering "what if". Be careful on sharing your applications outside of academia though. I saw a friend of mine applying to programs in another field the year before me share on social media where they applied when people asked. The problem with this is that even if you get into a school you are very happy with, people will compare it with where you were rejected from. I'd recommend not oversharing with those who don't understand how competitive these admissions are where you're applying and keep it on the down low until you decide where to go. Keep in mind that some programs even in the 30-50 range can have single digit acceptance rates. Why should I expect to have better than a 20-25% admission rate when most of the schools I applied to have under 10 or 20% acceptance rates themselves? I think it's healthy to adjust ones mindset going into these applications, they aren't like your undergrad ones.
4. This is more to do with the decision making process than application, but I would say go to as many open houses and welcome days as you can. Even programs you aren't really considering but were accepted to. The amount of information that gets shared during the visits is really helpful even if it doesn't directly apply to the school you choose, plus you get to meet some really cool people.
5. Figure out how important lifestyle is for you. You'll be spending 5 or 6 years in your mid-late 20's and often times early 30's wherever you'll live. I only applied to places that I wanted to live, which left a big gap in terms of rankings between top schools and what most would call "middle". Maybe I would have been accepted to some ranked in the teens or 20's, but I instead focused on places ranked a bit lower where I really wanted to live. For other applicants those schools are in locations that fit their personalities better, so my advice would be don't get so set on rankings that you just apply to the best schools where you think you'll get in. When you apply to a school, do so knowing that there's a chance you'd actually want to live there. If you think "this schools ranked well and has faculty I like, but I hate that location for size/weather/family", I would think twice before spending time and money applying. However for some people, where they live means a lot less, in which case I'd say focus on the schools themselves more.
6. I found it extremely helpful to post on a forum like this throughout the process in order to learn information and share my experience. However, treat this as you would any social media platform. I've attempted to only write things here that I'd be okay with professors and current students in the programs I applied to reading and figuring out who I am. Some of them do read these things, and I expect that with sharing my details regarding where I got accepted to above, professors at those departments know exactly who I am. This likely will scare some people off from posting, but I think that's an over-reaction. We all know that employers (and likely schools) check your facebook, twitter, instagram, or whatever accounts of yours they can find online, and we've adapted sharing habits to accommodate this. Do the same with this website. I found using this website to help me get through the application process in a healthy manner. So while for some "stay off grad cafe" is some of the best advice they can get, for someone like me staying on grad cafe helped make it a shared experience, one that I really appreciate.
7. Find your "sweet spot" and be realistic about it. Going in I actually thought the 20-40 range was where I landed as a candidate. Sure enough, 50% acceptance rate to the programs in this category, rejected from all 6 top 10's, and even rejected from the 2 lowest schools. I thought going in that those schools would be the most likely to accept me and also be the places where my personality would find the most success. I'm still glad that I applied to 2 "safety" schools and 6 top 10's, but I am in no way surprised about the result. What helped me is building a ranking of places I thought I was "most likely to attend" in terms of likelihood of admission combined with my interest in the school. All 6 of the 20-40 range schools were in my top 8 looking back. Maybe the surprising thing is how much post-visit considerations matter. I was accepted to the #2 school on my "most likely to attend", but ended up attending the #5 because of all the great information I learned post acceptance and post visits. In the end, my biggest piece of advice for the application process is do your best to figure out where you think you can get accepted to and would be happy. Apply to a lot of schools in that range. Then find some reach schools, a safety school or two (which a ton of people get rejected from by the way), and set your expectations accordingly.
That's all from me, I'm sure some people will disagree with some of the things I've mentioned, but this has been my experience. Thanks for everyone who shared this journey the last 8 or 9 months with me on this website!