I have been lurking here for months and I am finally posting to ask for advice/rant. I am sorry if this is not very coherent but I am genuinely just heartbroken. I am an international student with a master's in English from Oxbridge but I am facing the very real possibility of a complete shut out this year. I have been waitlisted by UVa English and Emory Comp Lit but I have received outright rejections from six other schools. I am waiting to hear back from three more places, but I am not very hopeful about either of them. Upon contacting some places about feedback on the reasons behind my rejection or anything I should change to improve my chances if I re-apply, I received bittersweet responses like the following: "I do understand your disappointment and, to be honest, while it’s been wonderful being able to be introduced to so many wildly diverse and interesting applicants and projects, there is a certain melancholy to the process, too, since it’s of course the case that there is a person at the other side of every application and, because we can’t accept everyone, this means that we have to turn down so many more applicants than we can accept....In regard to your file in particular, while both readers liked your attention to the complex lives and representations of X—and especially your attention to the role of memory, nostalgia, and trauma in the forging of marginalized identities—one scored you higher than the other and, in our more general discussion, arguments were made for other candidates. I wouldn’t say that there is anything in particular that I would suggest you do differently. You are already accomplished and I believe that much had to do with the increased size of the pool this year and the fact that we also need to make accommodations for applicants in different fields.
I know this probably isn’t a satisfactory answer. In the end, the competition is very stiff and we simply cannot accept even qualified applicants because, as you can imagine, there are many more qualified applicants than we can admit."
I wish someone would tell me something concrete about how to improve my chances if I decide to apply again. I was accepted to a bunch of UK schools last year but couldn't manage to secure funding. Perhaps it is foolish of me to consider giving PhD apps a go the third time around but I have never wanted to do anything else besides academia. I am not sure if being waitlisted and narrowly missing funding in the UK could mean that I have a shot, or if I am stupid to just not recognize that academia won't happen after two years of things not working out for me. Moreover, I don't really know what to change about my profile since I honestly believe I tried my best. I can't think of anything except trying to squeeze in one more publication or appearing for the GRE Subject Test, since I skipped that the last time. I am not sure about my master's supervisor's reference letter since I didn't interact with them too much, but it would look very suspicious if I didn't have my supervisor's letter. I also very much doubt they would have written a bad letter, since they readily agreed to write me one. I did put in a lot of effort which included getting my SoP and writing sample vetted by multiple professors and friends in grad school. I had a really high GRE verbal score (but a poor quant one and although I was told I shouldn't worry about it but now I am wondering if I should have).
Also does anyone know what is happening with NYU? Radio silence from that side, I emailed the DGS and he did not reply as well. Fall 2020: Columbia, UPenn, McGill, NYU, Harvard South Asia, UCLA Comp Lit, Princeton, Emory Comp Lit, UVa, Michigan, UT Austin (Implied rejection/Rejection/Pending/ Waitlist)
Publications: 1; BA: First Division from a South Asian university; MA: 2:1 from Oxbridge (Merit but not a distinction)
Profile: Three semesters of work experience as a TA
Research interests: South Asian culture/memory studies/spatiality