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Soliciting Application Feedback from Departments


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What do you think is the best way to go about soliciting application feedback from departments?

I was wondering how best to reach out to universities in order to minimize the intrusion and maximize the possibility of getting useful information. (e.g., do you consider it better to write directly to the department, or instead to the graduate admissions office? Do you have opinions as to the best time to ask for feedback? etc, etc.)

At this point I'm planning on a second admissions cycle, and even if I get accepted somewhere last minute, I'd like to open the discussion for any lurkers who may be facing a shutout in the next few weeks.


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In general, it's highly unlikely that you'll receive direct feedback on your application - irrespective of who you write to. There may be exceptions to this if you were waitlisted or if you or your letter writers know someone in that department or if you were interviewed. Many programs state on their FAQs page that they won't be able to provide individual feedback on applications. This is implicitly assumed even at places that don't say so directly. 

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It's always worth a shot to try asking, in my opinion: at best you get some decent remarks, at worst you get ignored. When I was shut out last year I emailed a few professors asking for feedback, and the results ranged from a no-reply to a one-liner telling me to improve my writing sample. One gem was, however, a nicely thought-out reply from my POI who told me he actually looked at my file, liked it, and recommended me for final round of considerations but I didn't make the cut there because of my writing sample.

I figured it meant my writing sample was not that great in general (despite doing really well as a dissertation piece), so I worked on a new paper for the next year. So, who knows what response you'd get? In this situation with a wild asymmetry of information, any information you can get is beneficial to you. :) 

Edited by eigenname
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Also: even if you were to have an open window into their thought process, it might not be very helpful. It would probably break down into a few simple things like concerns about fit, concerns about philosophical background/preparation for phd work, or maybe just not (for whatever reason) finding anything especially outstanding in your application. Unless you've made it very far into the process, the admissions committee is unlikely to have spent any significant amount of time on your writing sample, or even your application more generally. Usually there are just too many applications to sort through.

Edited by lyellgeo
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