EDIT: Forgot to note — I graduated in spring 2018, and took a year off in between undergrad and grad to work as an RA
PROFILE: Type of Undergrad Institution: SLAC known for sending students to PhDs Major(s)/Minor(s): Political science Undergrad GPA: 3.67 (my school is known for major grade deflation, tho — this GPA put me in the top 10 percent of the graduating class) GRE: 166 V / 156 Q / 5.5 Any Special Courses: I took a lot of political science classes and had a 4.0 in my major (around 10 classes, most of which were 300+ level), and I took five grad-level research seminars (i.e., you read 6000000 pages a week and produce a large paper at the end). Also took upper-level Econ courses and intro stats + data science classes. Letters of Recommendation: Presumably pretty good. I knew all three profs very well and took multiple classes with all of them. Research Experience: Aside from my senior thesis (mandatory for all seniors), I worked as an RA with a visiting prof my second year and our paper was accepted to ISA (I wasn't there to present, though). I worked in a think-tank in a former Soviet country as an RA for a summer. Also interned at a public interest magazine and wrote freelance print articles for them for 2 years afterwards. Worked as an RA for a global humanitarian non-profit/NGO. Worked remotely as an RA for a federal agency in a former Soviet country. Currently working as a super data/quant heavy RA at an academic dept at an Ivy League but not within my own major or specialty. Teaching Experience: None but I worked like a million on-campus jobs. Subfield/Research Interests: IR first, CP second. Conflict studies, mostly. Other: Native fluency in another """strategic"" language and can read in two others.
RESULTS: Acceptances($$ or no $$): Duke $$, Columbia $$ Waitlists:
Rejections: Stanford, Yale, Northwestern Pending:
Going to: Most likely Columbia
Firstly, this is super obvious but like...research schools and programs as much as you can. I went into this super blind and clueless (I'm first-gen) and knew for sure I had a #1 choice but was having a hard time figuring out the rest. Come January, I was definitely regretting not applying to more schools and would have DEFINITELY regretted it if I hadn't gotten into my top choice. I'm not recommending applying for more schools just to apply to more schools (like, I applied to Yale but have no idea why really), but make sure you know exactly all the programs that might fit well for you and consider them all seriously when applying.
Second, I really think connections are incredibly important. Ask your profs where to apply and where they know people — aka so they can personally put in a good word for you.
Third, STUDY for the GRE as much as you can. Again, I kind of went into this blind and clueless and did not study for the GRE as much as I should have. I had maybe a week of serious studying before my exam. I decided not to retake it but I had a pretty low quant score. My writing sample (a quant-heavy thesis) and my current job and skills hopefully offset that low score, but this is one thing you can do to even out the playing field for yourself a bit.
SOP: PM me! It starts with a relatively quick anecdote about my personal history to explain why I'm interested in poli sci (and IR and CP specifically) and then I go straight into my research interests, then my current job, then my thesis, then other research, and then a paragraph about fit.