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2017-18 Cycle Profiles and Advice Thread


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My cycle, aside from waitlists, ended today with my tenth and final decision. Seeing as things are beginning to wind down, I thought this  would be a good time to post the annual 'profile and lessons learned' thread. I found the previous installment of this thread useful, and others in the past have claimed that it aided them tremendously in the process. So if your cycle is over, please consider posting your profile and results (with as much detail as you feel comfortable) along with advice

 

The template, from previous years, is as follows:

 

PROFILE:
Type of Undergrad Institution:
Major(s)/Minor(s):
Undergrad GPA:
Type of Grad:
Grad GPA:
GRE:
Any Special Courses:
Letters of Recommendation:
Research Experience:
Teaching Experience:
Subfield/Research Interests:
Other:

RESULTS:
Acceptances($$ or no $$):
Waitlists:
Rejections:
Pending:
Going to:

 

LESSONS LEARNED:

 

 

SOP:

 

 

 

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PROFILE:
Type of Undergrad Institution: Big State School with an Elite Political Science Department 
Major(s)/Minor(s): Political Science
Undergrad GPA: 3.10 (3.43 in major)
Type of Grad: MA in Political Science at a Regional/Directional Public School
Grad GPA: 3.88
GRE: 163 Q/158 V/ 4.5 AW
Any Special Courses: Took a grad seminar as an undergrad. Also a methods course in my MA program. 
Letters of Recommendation: Four, all from my grad institution. One professor who is semi-famous. Three Associate or Full, one Assistant 

Research Experience: An article under review at the time I applied. Four papers presented at five conferences (at the time I applied, now seven). Also, an RA-ship from my freshman year of college and an independent study project as an undergrad

Teaching Experience: I taught a discussion section at my MA institution, had an internship at a Community College (that I now teach at), TAd some seven intro to American Gov't classes and three upper division classes
Subfield/Research Interests: American Politics, namely Racial Politics and Constitutional Law
Other: I worked/interned in politics for a few years and had a journalistic publication

RESULTS:
Acceptances($$ or no $$): Notre Dame ($$), Missouri ($$), UC Irvine ($$) and Colorado (Funding Info Pending)
Waitlists: Washington University in St. Louis, USC, Brandeis
Rejections: Michigan, University of Washington (Seattle), Princeton
Pending:
Going to: Probably Notre Dame (pending visit/waitlist results)

 

LESSONS LEARNED:

 1) Take it from someone who was waitlisted three times this cycle- there is a lot of randomness to the process.

2) Don't put blind faith in the rankings.  Some high ranking programs don't place their grads very well, and some lower ranking one's do.

3) Fit, Fit, Fit. Make sure you're applying to places that fit your interests.

4). Don't sweat the small stuff after your app is in. I was accepted or waitlisted to multiple programs where my SOP had 5 to 6 typos.

5) It's a hard and stressful process. Make sure you start early and put your best foot forward. Above all else, only do this if you love it. Grad school is not for the faint of heart. You have to take joy from it or you will surely burn out.

SOP:

I effectively walked through my relationship with Politics and Political Science from the time I was 7 to now. I went through my extra-curricular involvement in politics as an undergrad, my time in my MA program and my research experience, explaining why I wanted to become a Professor and why I wanted to study the things I want to study. I devoted one paragraph to program fit for each application. 

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Type of Undergrad Institution: Large public university, notoriously lacking prestige in political science (has one of the lowest ranked PhD programs in the country).
Majors/Minors: Political Science (History Minor) 
Undergrad GPA: 4.0 
Type of Grad: N/A
Grad GPA: N/A 
GRE: 161V 158Q 4.5A 
Any Special Courses: No. 
Letters of Recommendation: One from research mentor for my independent projects, one from head of a national data project that I was an RA for, one from a professor I had in a seminar-style undergrad class. 

Research Experience: Two research based study abroads. One published qualitative paper, mentioned interviews and knowledge of IRB and revisions process on SOP (I'm not a qualitative person but hey, I got published in an online undergrad journal). Two unpublished quantitative papers - one was my writing sample, even if it didn't have very much to do with my stated research interests. Two years as an RA on aforementioned national data project which is very connected to my research interests. Five conference presentations (all at undergrad institution, which is host of a national conference for undergrads). 

Teaching Experience: Taught three courses on IR/CP to high school students in a lecture/seminar setting, as part of a program to show minority/low income/first gen students what college classes are like. 
Subfield/Research Interests: Comparative with some dips into IR. Research interests related to ethnic insurgency and civil wars, as well as terrorism. 
Other: Participation in a renowned program intended to prepare underrepresented groups for graduate school applications and graduate study. This gave me research experience and made me automatically eligible for a lot of fee waivers.

RESULTS:
Acceptances ($$ or no $$):
 Michigan ($$), North Carolina ($$), Penn State ($$), Michigan State ($$), Arizona State ($$)
Waitlists: N/A
Rejections: UCLA, Stanford
Pending: UPenn 
Going to: Probably Michigan. 

LESSONS LEARNED:

1. Applications can be expensive. Go after GRE vouchers, apply to schools with application fee waivers available, ask your department for scholarship aid, anything that can get you through this process. 

2. You don't have to have a fully rounded application. From my phone calls with POIs and adcomm members trying to get me to choose their school, I've learned that my extensive research experience is what really pushed me over the top for most of the adcomms. So I'd say go heavy on the research. That experience definitely made up for my meh-okayish GRE scores and non-prestigious undergrad institution. I think research experience really shows them that you know what you're getting into.

3. Ask your letter writers for advice on where to apply, but don't be afraid to aim high in addition to those recommended schools. Knowing where I got in (hindsight is 20/20), I wish I'd applied to more top programs. I was really stuck in the mentality of 'I need to apply to more middling and safety schools, because I'll never get into x program with my background.'  Don't self sabotage. After I got my first rejection, a friend of mine said something like, "Congrats! To try is to not self-select out of an opportunity." I don't know if she was quoting something, but that sentiment is going to stick with me as I move forward.

4. Apply to at least one masters program if you're coming from undergrad. I didn't do this, and wish that I had. I dunno what I would have done if I struck out. Even knowing that I got into some fantastic schools, I still wish I had had that back up option in case I needed it.

SOP:

Background on why I wanna research what I do. Several paragraphs full of my research experience. One paragraph devoted to fit at that program. Thank you for your time and consideration.

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@megabee Hi! The fact that you got into Michigan straight from undergrad goes to show how successful you are in this application cycle.

I was intrigued by your point about research experience. If I can be blunt, your published paper and conference presentations don't stand out to me. Many people in my MA program have national conference presentations (APSA, MPSA, ISA) or multiple of them. I'm not sure how much "research experience" did in getting us into Michigan. Could you share a little of your thoughts on what got you into Michigan?

(I could be 100% wrong and that research experience is the most important thing but until proven wrong I don't want to give perspective applicants the false impression that they can flood undergrad journals and conferences and not put as much effort in other aspects of their application)

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32 minutes ago, Asaid said:

@megabee Hi! The fact that you got into Michigan straight from undergrad goes to show how successful you are in this application cycle.

I was intrigued by your point about research experience. If I can be blunt, your published paper and conference presentations don't stand out to me. Many people in my MA program have national conference presentations (APSA, MPSA, ISA) or multiple of them. I'm not sure how much "research experience" did in getting us into Michigan. Could you share a little of your thoughts on what got you into Michigan?

(I could be 100% wrong and that research experience is the most important thing but until proven wrong I don't want to give perspective applicants the false impression that they can flood undergrad journals and conferences and not put as much effort in other aspects of their application)

I think you are right about this point on research experience.  I've spoken to numerous people: political science professors, people who have been on ad comms in poli sci departments, and grad students from Stanford, Princeton, and UCLA, and they have all told me that unless you managed to get your research in APSR, or some other prestigious journal, you do not need to have a lot of prior research experience, although that certainly does help if other areas of your application are weak.  And certainly, having much research experience is a great way to demonstrate to ad comms that you are capable of producing good research, but from many people I've talked to, it is not a requisite.  

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13 minutes ago, Asaid said:

@megabee Hi! The fact that you got into Michigan straight from undergrad goes to show how successful you are in this application cycle.

I was intrigued by your point about research experience. If I can be blunt, your published paper and conference presentations don't stand out to me. Many people in my MA program have national conference presentations (APSA, MPSA, ISA) or multiple of them. I'm not sure how much "research experience" did in getting us into Michigan. Could you share a little of your thoughts on what got you into Michigan?

(I could be 100% wrong and that research experience is the most important thing but until proven wrong I don't want to give perspective applicants the false impression that they can flood undergrad journals and conferences and not put as much effort in other aspects of their application)

I will say a disclaimer first: In the interest of my own privacy, you'll notice I provided few details on what my research projects actually were. A bit more detail that I'd be fine providing includes on the ground surveys/interviews of revolutionaries and NGOs in a state which recently overthrew its government, as well as UN-related research conducted at the UN. 

Now:

"Until proven wrong" - I can't definitively prove you wrong, obviously. I'm not on an adcomm, nor have I conducted any surveys of adcomms. Having spoken to adcomm members over the phone (not Michigan particularly but this was emphasized by someone on UNC's adcomm as well as in my phone conversations with other programs) my research experience was reflective of my fit. Anyone can say "I want to work with this great Latin America person", but it's better to say "I have cited this person in my own research on Latin America, which is unique from my POIs but you can clearly see that I would benefit from their mentorship." Or, "I read this POIs work while collecting data for my RA gig and it got me thinking about x question, which I then did research on." It's not number of publications, I think. It's the way those experiences indicate your fit with the program.

Additionally, I emphasized heavily in my SOP that my research experience indicated readiness for the work required in graduate studies. I really wanted to hit that point hard in my SOP because I applied right out of undergrad. I explicitly pointed out that I was working as an RA, conducting independent research, taking classes, teaching classes, and working a job in child care at night. Basically, I was living the life of a grad student with kids for a few months out of the year.

So I think research experience shows readiness for an intense program, as well as how that research reflects your fit.

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Now this is interesting. I think your real research experience is not you going to conferences or publishing articles. Again, many in the application pool did just that. 

I think what is really impressive from what you've mentioned is that you actually went to do field work and did not than just sit behind a desk and "research". This is all the more impressive given the topic of your interest. I wouldn't be impressed if someone studying propaganda went to conduct surveys/interviews. It doesn't really signal commitment. But your combination of research experience and topic stands out. To me, it really signals that you are committed and you are ready. 

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The most important thing anyone using this website should learn is that this a public forum which is widely read by both current graduate students and faculty. It is not hard to identify users on this website, particularly when they indicate the programs they're considering, areas of interest, etc. You never know who's reading this website, so  be wary about what you post. Oversharing makes for many an awkward recruitment weekend, even if you've already been admitted. 

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6 minutes ago, 1821123 said:

The most important thing anyone using this website should learn is that this a public forum which is widely read by both current graduate students and faculty. It is not hard to identify users on this website, particularly when they indicate the programs they're considering, areas of interest, etc. You never know who's reading this website, so  be wary about what you post. Oversharing makes for many an awkward recruitment weekend, even if you've already been admitted. 

Wait, but we will have to tell faculty members/current students the schools we got into during recruitment events right? At least that's what I'm planning to do. From what I heard faculty expect us to have competing offers and have preferences. no?

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3 minutes ago, BobBobBob said:

Wait, but we will have to tell faculty members/current students the schools we got into during recruitment events right? At least that's what I'm planning to do. From what I heard faculty expect us to have competing offers and have preferences. no?

Of course; but you're misunderstanding. Don't be flippant about offers that you might actually accept, and don't disparage programs that you may very well have to endure for the next 5-7 years of your life. Grad school is a very trying experience, and you'd be wise not to make enemies before ever arriving on campus. Prospective students should be very, very careful about how they portray themselves and their perceived "skills" publicly. 

 

tl;dr: Do expect to be asked by faculty where else you were admitted, just don't be an idiot on public internet forums (because they see that too). 

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40 minutes ago, 1821123 said:

Of course; but you're misunderstanding. Don't be flippant about offers that you might actually accept, and don't disparage programs that you may very well have to endure for the next 5-7 years of your life. Grad school is a very trying experience, and you'd be wise not to make enemies before ever arriving on campus. Prospective students should be very, very careful about how they portray themselves and their perceived "skills" publicly. 

 

tl;dr: Do expect to be asked by faculty where else you were admitted, just don't be an idiot on public internet forums (because they see that too). 

 

I'll second this - if you've posted something about yourself on gradcafe, expect the grad students at the programs you visit to have already read it.

More importantly, it's only after you've been admitted that you truly understand how chaotic the process it. "Fit" means very little to admissions committees. They presume that you'll change your research projects after you get in and learn a bit more. In reality, a committee will whittle down an applicant pool to a manageable size (~50) then it's basically a crapshoot from thereon.

Related to that, faculty members hate doing admissions and don't spend too much time thinking about the process. If you don't get it, don't take it personally. If you do get in, don't feel special.

I was in the same position as many of you a few years ago while I was applying, and I felt the same impulses to overthink the process and psychologize faculty members. As it turns out, the whole thing is messy and unpredictable so it may be best to just sit back and enjoy your suffering.

Drink a lot and have some fun right now - your life will get very boring in just a few months.

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Will definitely take note of @futureadjunct and @1821123's points. 

But saying that the process is chaotic and random doesn't do any good to future applicants I think? Advice here could very well turn out to be totally irrelevant to the adcomm but at least they give people applying next year a sense of direction to improve their profiles.

There are people here who got into almost every program they applied. Maybe there is something that can be said about their applications.

Edited by BobBobBob
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58 minutes ago, BobBobBob said:

Will definitely take note of @futureadjunct and @1821123's points. 

But saying that the process is chaotic and random doesn't do any good to future applicants I think? Advice here could very well turn out to be totally irrelevant to the adcomm but at least they give people applying next year a sense of direction to improve their profiles.

There are people here who got into almost every program they applied. Maybe there is something that can be said about their applications.

Agreed!  I’m applying next year and have been following some of these threads for months, trying to tease out as much as I can any helpful advice that will make my application profile better.  So any advice would be greatly appreciated!

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1 hour ago, BobBobBob said:

Will definitely take note of @futureadjunct and @1821123's points. 

But saying that the process is chaotic and random doesn't do any good to future applicants I think? Advice here could very well turn out to be totally irrelevant to the adcomm but at least they give people applying next year a sense of direction to improve their profiles.

There are people here who got into almost every program they applied. Maybe there is something that can be said about their applications.

This times one thousand. There are a few things that you can control. The quantifiables to some extent (GRE/GPA), your experience, the school list that you apply to, and the quality of your writing (SOP/WS). Advice should be reflective of things we can control.

Also, none of us can speak to "what really works." We just know our details, and where we got in. Any advice given here should be taken with a grain of salt. 

Edited by megabee
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1 hour ago, megabee said:

This times one thousand. There are a few things that you can control. The quantifiables to some extent (GRE/GPA), your experience, the school list that you apply to, and the quality of your writing (SOP/WS). Advice should be reflective of things we can control.

Also, none of us can speak to "what really works." We just know our details, and where we got in. Any advice given here should be taken with a grain of salt. 

You're definitely right that there are certain things under an applicant's control - GRE/GPA, SOP, etc. By all means, make your application packet as strong as possible, and use all the resources you have at your disposal to do so.

I wasn't trying to say that the entire process is all chaos and that your chances are completely random. My point was more about how some applicants approach specific programs. An applicant can do certain things to make their application broadly more attractive to all schools (do research work, go to conferences, etc) but when it comes to a particular program, there is no "special sauce" for getting in. A number of users here have been laboring over tactics to get into specific programs, and there's just too much going on to reliably predict whether or not this or that tweak will get you into that program.

In short, most of the applicants on gradcafe are already aware of the general types of things they could do in order to make a more attractive application. All programs, no matter what their rank, are looking for basically the same criteria. It would be an error, however, to attribute one's getting into any one particular program directly to something in their application packet. (e.g. You might have a great application that is worthy of getting into some of the CHYMPS, but there's no guarantee that that packet will get into Harvard in particular).

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PROFILE:

Prospective Emphasis: Political Theory

Type of Undergrad Institution: Evangelical Christian University

Major(s)/Minor(s): Government, Minor in History

Undergrad GPA: 3.73

GRE: 161V (88th), 151Q (43rd), 6.0 AW (99th)

Letters of Recommendation: Three very good letters from professors who have confidence in my ability to excel in graduate school. I spent a lot of time with all three of them in undergraduate and, thus far, their letters have helped me receive a lot of different honors and fellowships. 

Research Experience: Basically none other than my publications and conference presentations. I had two non-academic political internships which had very minor research involved, but nothing useful to my application.

Teaching Experience: Writing Tutor for about a year in college

Subfield/Research Interests: Religion and politics, American political thought

Publications: Recent "Revise and Resubmit" from the peer-reviewed journal American Political Thought, three essays in an online journal of political philosophy, an essay being considered for publication as a chapter in an edited volume. 

Academic Conferences: Three academic conferences 

Honors, Awards, Fellowships: 1st place prize in my university's annual research conference, Dean's List, John Jay Fellowship, Acton Institute Fellowship, Koch Fellowship, Institute for Humane Studies Conference and Research Grant. 

Writing Sample: My undergraduate thesis on Calvin Coolidge's political thought. This is the essay that won first place in the aforementioned conference and received the "Revise and Resubmit" from APT.

Organizations: President of the Political Science Honors Society (Pi Sigma Alpha) for two years, member of my university's student government 



RESULTS:

Acceptances: Hillsdale College ($$$)

Rejections: Duke University, University of North Carolina, University of Virginia, University of Florida

Pending: University of Notre Dame, Georgetown University (very likely rejections)

Going to: Barring a shocking acceptance at Notre Dame or Georgetown, I will probably go to Hillsdale. They offered me a chance to get a fully-funded graduate degree with a paid position as a research assistant. I think that I will get an M.A., build my research experience, and try again in two years when I have a more competitive application. This was not my preferred option, since the school is associated with West Coast Straussianism, but there are plenty of good scholars there such as D.G. Hart and Ronald Pestritto whom I'd enjoy getting to know and working with. 

Lessons Learned:

  1. Have a fallback option. I applied to Hillsdale precisely because I thought that if I got refused from every other place that I applied, I may still get into their program because my research interests greatly align with their faculty. I was right.
  2. Sounds obvious, but make sure that your application has as few drawbacks as is absolutely possible. I think that my application had a few high-points (amazing LORs, good writing sample, publications, tutoring experience, perfect 6.0 writing GRE score, 3.95 Junior / Senior GPA) but these were greatly undermined by some mediocre or bad elements (okay but not great 3.73 cGPA, no experience as a research assistant, terrible 151 Quant GRE score). I only gave myself enough time to take the GRE once with a month of studying and if I could do things over again, I'd have liked more time to get a much better score. I thought that, even with my limited research experience and my bad GRE Quant score, I'd have a decent shot of acceptance at good programs due to my application's high points, but I was wrong. 
  3. I wasted two summers interning for political outlets and this experience was useless as far as my graduate applications were concerned. I wish that I'd have interned for more academically-minded institutions and built my research experience during this time instead of amassing experience with institutions devoted to political activism and campaigning. Granted, it was this experience which confirmed to me that I absolutely did not want to spend my life doing this kind of work, but still, I wish I'd have had more useful experience prior to applying to grad school. Out of the many jobs that I've had, I think that the only one which helped my application at all was my job as an academic writing tutor. 
  4. I wish that I'd have applied to more mid-ranked programs. None of my applications were Ivy League, but they were still heavily weighted towards the top 30 graduate programs for political science. If I had applied to more places like Hillsdale and Florida, I may have had many more options at this point in time.
  5. Be realistic, not idealistic. I was thinking of applying to Yale and Princeton just in case but that would have been an enormous waste of time and money. There would have been no way that I'd have gotten in. I think that having one or two long-shot schools is okay (I definitely didn't expect to get in to Duke, it was a long-shot application) but don't waste a lot of resources on them when you could be applying to programs that are actually in reach. 
Edited by Haeralis
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On 2/16/2018 at 3:35 PM, 1821123 said:

Of course; but you're misunderstanding. Don't be flippant about offers that you might actually accept, and don't disparage programs that you may very well have to endure for the next 5-7 years of your life. Grad school is a very trying experience, and you'd be wise not to make enemies before ever arriving on campus. Prospective students should be very, very careful about how they portray themselves and their perceived "skills" publicly. 

 

tl;dr: Do expect to be asked by faculty where else you were admitted, just don't be an idiot on public internet forums (because they see that too). 

http://www.poliscirumors.com/topic/love-the-fake-congratulations-on-gradcafe

Case in point. Be smart, applicants. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Ok, so it looks like my cycle is over. Cheers! 

Type of Undergrad Institution: Top 5 US
Major(s)/Minor(s): Political Science
Undergrad GPA: 3.74 (3.91 in polisci)
Type of Grad: N/A
Grad GPA: N/A
GRE: 170 V, 164 Q, 4.5 W
Any Special Courses: Calculus I-II-III, Linear Algebra, Applied Regression Analysis, Statistical Theory and Methods, Game Theory and Economic Applications, research design, 2 graduate courses in political theory
Letters of Recommendation: Two senior, very well-known profs, one formal theorist who supervised my BA thesis and one theorist who taught me for a PhD seminar, one assistant theorist who supervised an independent research course of mine
Research Experience: one co-authored peer-reviewed publication, three summers at think tanks conducting political science research, BA thesis, 1 semester as an RA in college, currently employed as an RA
Teaching Experience: None
Subfield/Research Interests: political economy, public law/policy, political theory, climate change
Other:

RESULTS:
Acceptances($$ or no $$): Berkeley ($$), NYU ($$), Columbia ($$)
Waitlists:
Rejections: Princeton, Stanford, Michigan, Harvard, Yale (assumed)
Pending:
Going to: probably Berkeley

 

LESSONS LEARNED: Don’t slack off in undergrad quant classes. Don’t waste time on non-research extra-curriculars. Don’t go to a school known for grade deflation for undergrad. Make sure you do your research about POI so when you mention them in your SOP, the connection to your interests doesn’t sound like a stretch. Think VERY carefully about what subfield you put first, and how it will influence who reads your file the first time around. Best of luck!

 

SOP: PM only

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Type of Undergrad Institution: Ivy

Major(s)/Minor(s): Urban Studies, Hispanic Studies

Undergrad GPA: 3.86/4.0

Graduate Institution: Ivy+

Grad GPA: 4.9/5.0

GRE: 168V, 168Q, 5.5 AW

Letters of Recommendation: Three senior grad professors at top 5 schools, plus current boss

Research Experience: Two years in grad school, plus five years at a regional policy think tank in Latin America

Subfield/Research Interests: Comparative Politics, Latin America, sub-national (city) governance, electoral policy

Publications: Multiple white papers, a book with a major government body in Latin America, and international organization reports 

Writing Sample: Sample from Master's thesis (not political science). Research was entirely qualitative in nature. 

RESULTS:

Acceptances: Berkeley (Full funding for 5 years), plus two other non-political science PhDs at MIT and UCLA, both funded

Rejections: Harvard, Stanford

Going to: Berkeley

Lessons Learned:

  1. If you can afford it, visit your top choice schools when you are applying. I flew up to Berkeley to meet with a few professors and students in October, and it gave them a better sense of who I am at the same time that it gave me a better sense of what they are looking for in potential students and how to frame my application around that. I found this was especially important for someone switching fields.
  2. Quantitative training is not everything. I don't have a strong background in quantitative methods (the last math class I took was over a decade ago), but I did well on the GRE and I expressed an interest and an aptitude in my SOP for learning more. Don't limit yourself from applying if this is your concern. Schools are looking at the whole package. And there is great value in mixed and qualitative methods! 
  3. Working in the real world for five years between my Master's and my PhD has been important for me. I feel more prepared to go back to graduate school now that I have real-life policy experience, and my research questions are more grounded in what happens outside of the Ivory Tower. Plus, I have some serious professional skills under my belt, like planning and time management, as well as a strong network of contacts in my region of interest, which should not be underestimated. 
  4. I only applied to five schools because I was very clear about what I wanted to do and where. Fit is king. Plus, I saved some real money that way and I could focus more on the few applications I was really invested in, rather than spreading myself too thin. 
  5. Give yourself a break from Gradcafe. This shit does weird things to your brain.

I am more than happy to chat with anyone who is switching fields or who has been out of academia for a while. Send me message if you want some perspective...

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Type of Undergrad Institution:  an international that is not renowned within poli sci academia
Major(s)/Minor(s): poli sci
Undergrad GPA: 3.62 (3.87 last 2 years, 3.86 major)
Type of Grad: n/a
Grad GPA: n/a
GRE: V167 Q170 W4.0
Any Special Courses: a graduate research method course (quali), two MITOCW math courses (single and mulit variable calculus)
Letters of Recommendation: all from the undergrad institution profs - one got his PhD at Chicago, which may affect my addmission to NYU which has a lot of former Chicago
Research Experience: an online article with one of the recommenders
Teaching Experience: some voluntary teaching (english to highschoolers)
Subfield/Research Interests: Rational (game theoretical) analysis of political theory
Other:

RESULTS:
Acceptances($$ or no $$): NYU($$), U of Arizona ($$)
Waitlists:
Rejections: Princeton, Michigan, Yale, Columbia, Duke, UCSD, Wisconsin, Upenn, Cornell, Washu, Northwestern, Minnesota, Rutgers, UMass
Pending: Vanderbilt (no interview - likely rejected), Maryland (still no news after a few acceptances - likely rejected)
Going to: NYU

 

LESSONS LEARNED: I applied to 18 schools and rejected from most of them but accepted to one of my top choices. I am not sure this result is a success or what of my strategy. In retrospect, I applied to too many schools that does not fit my very specific interest. Applying to Duke, Northwestern, Minnesota, Rutgers, and UMass was not so great idea in this vein. When my interest was not aligned with what schools want from their new theory students, a GRE score (337) that is way above the average scores of their matriculants was not able to help me. I am not sure it would be still true even if I were a CP or Method or had a more applicable, broad interest; to be fair, there is a possibility that specificity may have played a huge role in my admission to NYU and AU or their criteria are more GRE-oriented than other schools (Check NYU's FAQs. Like Chicago and Stanford, NYU is very specific about the scores). Apologize my jiberish here. It just representes my confusion through this cycle that has been amplified, not defused, after my acceptance; while I was outrightly accpeted NYU which is #12 in USN rankings and shows great standings in any kinds of standard, was outrightly denied by all the other schools without a waitlist. Thus, I cannot stop questioning "Why? Why NYU accepted me who was denied by more than 15 schools? Isn't my acceptance their biggest mistake in years?" up to this very moment. And this is the real question that I want to ask when I go to the visiting day (I have sensibilty, so I won't though).

 

SOP: PM, if you are curious.

 

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Type of Undergrad Institution: Top liberal arts college
Majors/Minors: Political Science
Undergrad GPA: 3.7
Type of Grad: N/A
Grad GPA: N/A 
GRE: 168V 167Q 4.5A 
Any Special Courses: One methods course
Letters of Recommendation: Academic and thesis advisors, and two other professors who knew me well.
Research Experience: Undergrad thesis and conference presentation
Teaching Experience: TA'd as an undergrad, and lots of private tutoring work
Subfield/Research Interests: Public opinion / political behavior
Other: A few years of work experience, including some data and managerial duties

RESULTS:
Acceptances ($$ or no $$):
 2 US News top-30 ($$$), top-10 (MA, no $)
Waitlists: N/A
Rejections: 2 top-10, 3 top-20
Pending: top-50
Going to: One of the ~30th-ranked options

LESSONS LEARNED:

By most measures, I underperformed this cycle, although my two offers came with very generous ($30K+, fellowship year) packages. My friends in the enrollment industry say this not an uncommon result. Elite, high-demand programs can be picky, and rule out candidates on one or two blemishes, but in the next tier down, the review becomes more about "on-paper" qualifications. And so, the tippety-top programs took a pass, while the second-tier programs (saw my GRE, and) have been very enthusiastic about getting me to enroll.

So, what blemishes might those top programs have found? Here is what I would advise future students:

- If you're still in undergrad: 1) Take quant courses if you have the chops for it. This holds true for both the private sector and PhD apps. I'm very happy with my station in life, but with a stronger stats toolbox, I'd be qualified for some high-paying jobs, and would probably have more PhD offers. 2) Chase perfection in at least a few courses, and ask those professors for a recommendation. Coursework was always secondary for me. My lack of seriousness was part of the growth process, and I'm not saying everyone should be a bookworm, but try to give one or two classes your A effort.

- Start early. I decided to pursue this path about one month before applications were due. My SoP was well-written, but I did not have time to fully flesh out my research question. Instead, I reviewed some of the literature, and asked a series of relevant questions. This probably wasn't a bad approach, but this is your one opportunity to make an impression: a better SoP may have dug into methodology, or evaluated competing interpretations. Similarly, the time crunch forced me to use an undergrad paper as my writing sample. It was solid work for an undergrad paper, but not nearly focused enough to be publishable.

- Think carefully about who you ask for a recommendation. I only knew a few professors well enough to ask, and one was rather idiosyncratic. I will never know, but I suspect that his letter was weirdly written in such a way that reviewers may have mistook it for being less-than-positive. For what it's worth, I sensed this danger, and somewhat arbitrarily did not send his letter to the schools where I was eventually accepted. (Again, it's impossible to know and tease out causation, but it's worth noting.)

That's my admissions advice. Being very pragmatic, I also want to share my thoughts about attending a non-elite program. (Not that my options are bad... in fact, I'm quite happy with them.) Effectively: it depends on your goal. Openings for tenure-track political science jobs have decreased 15% this decade. And it'll be another 5-7 years before we're on the job market. If you can only imagine yourself at an R1 institution, or in a major city, then attending a program outside of the top 5/10/20 (or whatever) strikes me as quite risky.

Even outside of those parameters, it will be important to keep an eye out during our first two years. If the market continues to contract, students at high-prestige programs may begin to compete more earnestly for R2/LAC jobs. For us little guys, that means a tighter pinch in two ways: 1) fewer jobs altogether, and 2) more sharks in the water. If there are signs of this, you might consider transferring later.

But, there are reasons not to despair. As colleges become more sensitive to diversity, many provosts and search committees are starting to push back against prestige as a heuristic. (You don't necessarily have to be a URM to benefit from this.) Also, you're getting paid to earn a very impressive degree with a marketable skill set. It's a circuitous path back into industry, but this is not time wasted, especially if you see grad school as something you want to do in the first place.

Those are my two cents, based on reading a lot and talking to some people in the know. But it's all speculation. Enjoy the last few months before our programs begin. I hope it's a wild and wonderful ride for everyone.

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