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Reclusive gap year to learn a new language and refine my research agenda

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Please have a look at my profile page for more information "about me." I want to include details there to delete later.

Building on what's on the "about me" page, I'm half-way through my gap year, which I've split into three main goals: refining my research agenda, learning German from zero to C1, and preparing for PhD applications (GRE, LOR, etc.).

The decision to learn German (which I formulated one and a half years ago and never questioned) made this transitional experience (M.A. at home to PhD abroad) more challenging. Students from similar backgrounds (non-native English speakers) should normally be certifying their English skills, while my aim is to certify both German and English before starting the PhD phase. My English is native-like (I hope so ?), so it is just a matter of familiarizing myself with the test.

My first motivation to learn German is personal, not necessarily to study in German and Swiss universities; though these are still my fourth option after the American, Canadian, and British. German will always be part of me even if I settle in a non-German country.

As you can see from my 'about me' page, I'm not at all interested in any non-academic work. I'm worried whether this reclusive gap year and lack of work experience could have a negative impact on my application to North American universities; unlike these, German universities could easily see the point of spending much of the gap year learning German. I'm also worried that allocating so much time to learning German could be seen by North American universities as irrelevant to their main endeavour (sociological research and teaching in English). My (sincere) justification is that, being a cosmopolitan sociologist, I'm committed to maintaining a relationship with the German sociological community and media (as well as the Arab and the French).

Assuming that I managed to convince the selection committee of the robustness and originality of my research agenda, and that I managed to get the highest certificate in German language, good TOEFL and GRE scores, would the reclusive gap year negatively impact my application to North American universities? In light of the information I shared, including the positive scenarios mentioned, how competitive is my application in North America?

Thank you for your time.


Edited by Reva
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I think you'll see in most of the 'Am I competitive?' threads that the best anyone can do is a guess. My (very discipline-specific) experience is that once you meet the requirements for grades and test scores, the deciding factor is your statement of purpose and interview. What's important is how well your research interests align with the department and university, as well as having something that sets you apart from everyone else. I've had give-or-take five gap years (some spent travelling Morocco, actually!) - mostly irrelevant to my intended subject of study - and passable GRE scores. The time "off", I believe, worked to my advantage because some programs in my discipline prefer applicants who have "real-world" experience or something to fall back on career-wise. Generally, people who have been working or doing something other than studying have a strong sense of purpose when they apply to a PhD. They don't just apply out of inertia.

In the end, your time spent learning German doesn't need to be discussed in your application if it isn't relevant to your proposed research. I didn't mention my time off in my SOP and it was only noticeable on my CV. Use the space of your SOP to talk about your research, how it fits with the strengths of the department, and why you want to study that topic at that university. That's what makes your application competitive in the social sciences: being able to demonstrate original thought, creativity, curiosity, and a commitment to understanding particular issues over the long-term or towards a certain end-goal.

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