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Help! Competitiveness/Program Choice - Environmental/Southern/American Lit

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Hi all! 

I am a newbie to Grad Cafe, but I've been reading every word on this forum for the last few months since I decided to apply for a PhD in English. This space is so helpful and yet so overwhelming! 

A little about me: I graduated with an MA in English Lit from a small public liberal arts university in 2016. I have since been teaching full-time at a technical college (comp & American lit classes). I am interested in ecocriticism/environmental lit, Southern lit, and/or more broadly, American lit (post-war). GPA in my MA was a 4.0, major GPA in undergrad was a 3.8, but my GRE scores are laughable. I'm retaking the GRE this summer (twice if need be) and still considering taking the Subject test in September/October (depending on where I apply). I foresee having very strong rec letters, a solid writing sample, and (hopefully) a strong SOP – this seems to be the hardest part for me. I am fortunate to have the help of several of my former professors, but I still have loads of questions/concerns. Here are my biggest worries at the moment:

1) I have 14 schools on my list right now, and I think I'll be able to apply to 10. (Or should I bite the bullet and apply to all 14!?) I am worried that I'm not competitive enough for the schools to which I'm thinking about applying: UT-Austin, UCLA, UC-SB, Vanderbilt, U of Oregon, UC-Davis, Duke, UNC-Greensboro, UNC-Chapel Hill, U of Virginia, Princeton, U of Iowa, Emory, and Ole Miss (in no particular order). Does anyone have any insider info on these schools/programs? Am I shooting way too high here? I know a lot of this process has to do with fit, and I'm still figuring out that part. (Yes, I have been looking into profs of interest and their research and trying to narrow down my list based on that...)

2) Any ecocriticism/environmental lit people out there? I'd love to get feedback on the schools listed above. Have I forgotten some? I'm sure I have; please don't hold it against me. ☺️

Thanks, all, for your insight. This process is already 10x more anxiety-inducing than I ever thought it would be. At least I know I'm not alone! 

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Posted (edited)

Hi hi hi! +1 for the username "CatBowl." Not sure why. 

Reading through your post, it's clear that you're doing everything you can to maximize your chances heading into a PhD application. Having a 4.0 MA and 3.8 undergrad GPA is fantastic, having strong letter-writers will be a huge boon, a great writing sample is key, and your full-time teaching experience will likely seal the deal if the program fit is right. The GRE, in my opinion, is probably not that important in your situation; with all of your experience and the fact that you've already completed a graduate program with a 4.0, I'm not so sure the GRE will devastate your chances. How "laughable" are your scores? You don't have to answer that if you don't want--but consider that your scores probably aren't that bad if they got you into a M.A. program. By all means, retake, but I find that most people's scores aren't as bad as they think they are. If you've got a... 160 V and a 5.0 AW, maybe it's not worth it. That's just my two cents, and higher is definitely better if you have the money and confidence that you'll improve.

That leaves your SoP, which is the hardest part for almost everybody. Good luck. With your personal experience and education I don't think it will be too hard to weave a compelling tale. You've already figured out what your interests are, just lay it out convincingly and don't stress.

To try and chime in on your questions:

1) My opinion is that 14 schools is too many. Many people do the shotgun approach, but I think it's prohibitively expensive and a bit absurd. If somebody can't narrow it down to 6-10 on fit alone, maybe it's worth vetting the fit of the schools they're putting on their list. Some hold fast to the notion that the more applications you throw out, the higher chance you've got of getting accepted. I'd argue that's poppycock. If you're putting together 14 applications you're likely half-assing most of them, and more than a few will get cut because they're cookie-cutter. Find 6-10 schools you love. Look at location, funding, placement, and most importantly FIT. Spend real, hard time putting those applications together. Reach out to people you'd like to work with. Make them shine. Show the adcomm that you're clearly applying to their school and not 14 schools with the same SoP. I only applied to three schools this time around. I got outright rejected by one of the most prestigious English departments in the country, accepted by my UG alma mater, and accepted into the fully funded PhD program at my top choice school (which, please note, was not the super prestigious school). Also, you're definitely not shooting too high, because there is no such thing. If you're a top-prospect scholar they'll see it in your writing sample and your SoP. The only caveat to that is that some schools are hyperselective, and even if you belong there, you might not get in. Keep this in mind, and make sure to hedge your bets with a few schools that accept more than 1% of applicants. Less "prestige," maybe, but just as good. Prestige is overrated anyway--fit, program, opportunity, and placement are where it's at.

2) Yes! My undergraduate niche was ecocriticism and environmental literature. Love it. It's where I feel comfortable, and it's where my passions lie. I'm also a huge rhet/comp nerd, and I want to research the rhetoric of science/writing across disciplines--so I ended up seeking out a perfect fit, top-tier research school where I could do both within an English program that had great multidisciplinary ties to many other departments. From an ecocriticism perspective, I think your list is great. University of Oregon is wonderful, and at the top of the field, but if you're applying as a declared ecocriticism candidate, be prepared to knock their socks off, because it's competitive. Oregon was my top choice school for a long while, until some perspectives shifted. The same goes for UC-Davis, UC-Santa Barbara, and UCLA. I hear UC-Davis is a tough program to get into. Iowa's a great choice! There are a TON of other strong ecocriticism programs (or programs that have strong ecocriticism wings) that don't make your list. Look up Carnegie Mellon's English or Rhetoric PhD programs (Dr. Linda Flower is a hero of mine, and she teaches environmental rhetoric there), University of Idaho has a great program (but Idaho, you say? It's gorgeous! And ISLE!), University of Michigan, University of Montana, and don't forget Ohio State (you can design your own program if you convince them to let you in).

Also, a tip that was given to me when applying--find a specific interest within the broadening discipline of ecocriticism. Consider something like ecofeminism, environmental history, animal ethics, environmental ethics, etc. Even if you change your mind after entering, show them up-front that you can find a wonderful little niche to blossom in.

Hope I didn't ramble too much. Best of luck to you! 

Edited by Kilos

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Kilos,

Thank you so much for your helpful response! I felt a huge sense of relief after reading.

I hope the GRE won't be a huge deterrent – I was actually provisionally accepted to my MA program because of my low scores, but I'm aiming to increase those scores a good bit. We shall see. I'm one of those *bad at standardized testing* folks. The first draft of my SOP was garbage, but I know that too takes time. Luckily, as I said, it will pass through the hands of several professors that I trust. Another question for you: is it wise or unwise to refer to specific scholars and their work in a SOP? I have a paragraph drafted that focuses on several texts that catalyzed my interest in ecocriticism (and ecofeminism in particular) but I wasn't sure about that.

I will certainly work on narrowing my list based on fit. At first I settled on applying to 5 schools, and my advisor looked at me like I was crazy. (He went through the application process around 200 years ago, so he wasn't even aware that apps cost money...) I'll aim for 6-10 schools based on fit so that I can focus all my attention on those programs.

I am so glad to get this advice from a fellow environmental lit person! Congrats on your program – it really does sound like the perfect space for you. I will look into the additional programs you listed! Part of my list is influenced by the fact that I'm from the South (but willing to move anywhere), so I think it's safe to say there's some bias there. Your suggestions open up a whole new and exciting direction for me to look into.

Thanks for the tip about specialization within ecocriticism too. I wasn't sure how specific is too specific. I have set my sights on ecofeminism, and hopefully I can work with both ecofeminism and Southern lit. I definitely focus on ecofeminism in my SOP, but now I know that I'm headed in the right direction (at least in regards to that specialty). I am determined to find my niche like you've found yours!

Thanks, thanks, thanks for your guidance. Good luck to you in the fall (which is when I assume you're starting) in Connecticut.

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@CatBowl

Yeah, if you know your GRE is a weak spot (indicated by the provisional acceptance you pointed out) I think you're on the right track trying to better your score. What helped me was finding a few pirated study guides floating around the interwebs. If you dig deep enough you can find them. Just live with one attached to your side for a month or two. Make enormous lists of vocab, practice the different types of questions. You'll do great!

I wish I could definitively answer your question about whether it's wise or unwise to reference specific scholars and works. I think there's quite a broad range of opinions on this. Personally, I think it's okay to mention specific work or scholar if it's done so seamlessly, but the last thing you want to do is detract from yourself. You don't want to give them the idea that you're piggybacking off some other work, or that you don't have original thought. The SoP (obviously) should be about you--your ideas, your grand plans, and your pending scholarship. If you somehow launch into a paragraph-long lark about this one guy you read, that's going to come off poorly. In my successful applications I have mentioned authors and genres of interest, but I have not folded in scholars or their works. I feel that in a medium as confining as a SoP, the focus should be kept on you. Then again, in the end, you know best. If a one-sentence reference really knocks home your point, toss it in there!

And yes, I've been on the receiving end of that "crazy" look too. I told one of my most treasured mentors that I was applying to three schools, and he gave me some side-eye. Ha. 

Side note: I love ecofeminism, and I think that if you're passionate about it you can't really go wrong angling that direction. It shows, if nothing else, that you're capable of zeroing in on a specific topic. It's not like it's etched in stone anyway.

Thanks, too, for your kind words. I'm really excited about starting my program this fall! Keep us all updated on your progress! :D

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Admissions is often something we'll probably never understand. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I applied to approximately 16 schools and was either accepted or waitlisted at six of them. My interests were diverse. I was accepted into at least 1 program from each major field of interest.

I ended up rejecting a fellowship with higher pay at a "better ranked" school because I felt I could better achieve my goals and get the support I needed at the school I ended up choosing. I also felt there was a better connection with the faculty and staff at this school and felt that the area was one I'd feel more comfortable with. Often in times, I feel that we may not consider the location enough and the impact it has on our growth, lifestyle, and so forth. While we'll spend a considerable amount of time in the class, is the location something you'd be happy with? Some people need the city to be very bike friendly; others don't mind the need for a car. Some prefer being in the hustle of a city; others prefer to be secluded. Division 1 Sports might be huge at some schools and non-existent at others. While you may wish to not attend these events, it may impact the students you teach and how they behave on certain days. Some departments are huge; others are smaller in number. Both might impact how often you see certain members of your cohort.

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@Kilos 

That's a great suggestion too! I've been studying/practicing for about a month now, and I have a month until I re-take the GRE. I will try to find the study guides you mentioned! I am trying to go in with the mindset that I will surprise myself, but I can also fall back on the fact that I have plenty of time to take it again if necessary. 

Thanks for your advice on referring to scholars in an SOP. Since I asked that question, I've met with one of my former professors, and she thinks that I don't need to rely on that as much since I incorporated the same scholars and their respective works in my writing sample. That seems like common sense now. Hindsight is 20/20, I guess.  

I am so excited about ecofeminism, so I will gear my SOP toward that focus. Hooray for these decisions! 

Yes – you should be so excited! I am looking forward to hearing updates from you as well. :) 

 

@Warelin

Thank you for your response! Admissions is so daunting, but it makes me rest easier knowing that I'm not the only one struggling with these big questions. I have learned lots from this forum, but I think the thing that's really changed the way I think about this process is just how important fit really is. And yes, I agree – location really is so important! I would be foolish if I didn't consider location, especially since I hope to research place studies. Place matters!

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Hey there! Re: GRE, I feel like this really depends by school, but I'll share my experience (even though I'm in comp/rhet and this might vary): scored like 150 on BOTH Q and V, along with a 5 on writing. Yiiiikes. Took it only one time the fall of my senior year of college before I applied to MA programs. I was 5/6 that cycle, with 4 funded offers. 

When I applied to PhD programs for Fall 2018, I didn't retake the GRE. I had agonized about it, but instead of studying that summer to take a standardized test, I worked on my SoP, researched programs, and drafted an article I eventually got published (and that I could put on my CV come December for apps). In the end, I got into all 6 PhD programs I applied to (4 pretty established programs, two less so) and also had 3 fellowship offers. 

I say this not to brag but to share that it IS possible to have application success with low GRE scores. At least in my experience with the 6 schools I applied to, my writing sample and SoP and letters of rec outweighed my scores. And my scores did not get me thrown out of the running. I was a good fit, and they recognized that. A friend of mine in literature had a similar experience. She didn't retake her GRE and also got into several programs and had fellowship offers. 

With that being said, though, if you can spare the time and money to retake it and if that'll help make you feel better, go ahead! I was dreading the retake, so I decided to forego it and just work on the rest of my materials. You have to do what's best for you. 

Good luck! 

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Hi @klader

Thanks for sharing your experience. That makes me feel much better. Congrats, of course, on all your acceptances and fellowship offers! I am still trying to find a balance between studying (a re-take is necessary for me) and working on my app materials. Luckily, I'm able to spend most of every day at my job on this stuff, so while time is always of the essence, I planned ahead enough to do all the above. Let's hope all the studying is worth it. 

Good luck this fall! 

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Posted (edited)

Welcome, @CatBowl

I wanted to echo the many good suggestions here and, in particular, add my 2¢ about the number of applications you plan to submit. I, like @Warelin, applied to 16 schools. The cost of app fees, GRE, and GRE prep came out to ~ $2300. I had a job then, but it was about a month's pay (actually two month's after my student-loan bills), so the cost was not one I bore lightly. To put this amount in perspective, I was accepted to 3 out of 16 universities -- a 19% success rate -- even with having >95% GRE percentiles, SoPs that I fine tuned for about six months, letters from profs whom I knew very well (I just spoke at one of their retirement parties), and an essay that I proofread so often that I could likely recite it today by memory. Yet, I still received rejection letters from 13 schools! My point is that luck and unseen variables still play a large role in this crazy process. All things being equal, I would've been shut out had I not applied to those three schools that took a chance on me. 

But let's return to my investment for a moment. $2300 is a lot of money. If you're accepted to just one school, however, the potential ROI is astounding. Tuition waiver included, my program will be investing around $500,000 in me over six years. I know math isn't loved by many here (me included), but the return-on-investment yield is jaw-dropping:

ROI = (Gain from Investment - Cost of Investment) / Cost of Investment

ROI = (500k - 2.3k) / 2.3k = 216.4%

I agree with @Kilos that spending several thousand dollars on applications is absurd. But it's also absurd how little control you actually have over schools' decisions. We like to think that checking all the right boxes gives us a decent shot at acceptance. Who knows, maybe it does. But after reflecting on my time in the gauntlet, I've begun to severely doubt the extent to which we are the "masters of our fate." Granted, every year it seems that there's one superstar here that gets accepted to nearly all the programs they apply to. Most of us, though, seem to get into a few, at best. So, if you're steadfast in your commitment to going to grad school, and can afford to apply to 14 or more programs, I'd hedge your bets on the potential staggering ROI of >200%. I don't mean to be a Debby Downer, and I certainly wouldn't argue that hard work doesn't pay off. But, trivialism aside, you're accepted to 0% of the schools you don't apply to, and 0% is lower than even the smallest non-zero percentage of acceptance to a top-5 reach school.*

Which brings me to the GRE. I used to think that scoring in the stratosphere was necessary (but still not sufficient) for acceptance. Recently, however, I've been rethinking both the "necessary" and "sufficient" conditions. My own stats bear out the degree of score insufficiency: 167V/163Q/6.0A / 730 (97%) LGRE. According to ETS's chart (https://www.ets.org/s/gre/pdf/gre_guide_table4.pdf), of English majors, I scored higher than about 90% on the Verbal, 95% on the Quant, 93% on the AW, and 97% on the Literature subject test. These numbers aren't exact since the chart provides only ranges, but you get my point. To wit: only about 46 test-takers, out of roughly 1500, beat me on the subject test. Yet, I was rejected by 80% of the schools on my list! In my case, at least, high numbers didn't seem do me any magical favors across the board. 

On the other hand, another frequent poster here (whom I won't call out by name) scored lower than I did in all categories and will nonetheless be spending the next five or six years in Cambridge at Harvard, which, coincidentally, sent me a very nice rejection letter a few months ago. In the end, a school will likely accept somebody they want (for fit, personality, style, etc.) over somebody they don't want who happens to have "better" GRE scores. That calculus might sound self-evident, but it should really give you pause before you stress out too much about these silly tests. To use a hyperbolic example, if you scored 130/130/1.0, then, by all means, you should retake it. If in the more likely event you scored at or higher than 160V/145Q/5.0A, I'd focus instead on researching particular schools that need your subspecialty** and crafting a red-hot SoP and glowing WS that leave schools no choice but to accept you. You are SOOOOOOOOOOOOOO*** much more than the sum of your test scores, both as a person and as an applicant. And remember, the university has to live with you for six years, which, I think, matters a lot. Thus, submitting an SoP that displays intelligence, curiosity, resolve, modesty, and kindness will go infinitely farther in gauging your sufferability than the percent of English majors you beat on a test nobody truly cares about. 

I wish you good luck, and may the admissions odds ever be in your favor! Also, if Stanford crops up on your list, feel free to PM me if you want to learn more about their program (which, by the way, is killing it in 19th-c. and post-war American lit!).  

* although the notion of reach schools may be irrelevant when most cohorts comprise ~10 spots.

** this isn't necessarily synonymous with "fit." If I could change one thing about my app cycle, I would've emailed profs and dept. assistants about which subspecialties they need. I have no idea whether they'd even respond, let alone divulge info like that, but it could go a long way toward helping cull your list. At the end of the day, a program that has met its quota on 19th-c. Americanists is almost sure to reject another aspiring Whitmanist, irrespective of astronomical scores or BAMF SoP. Also, "fit" isn't easy -- or sometimes even possible -- to gauge. I thought I'd fit in real well at UVA since two of their Victorianists are researching the exact topic of my WS. But, alas, no dice there. So beware of reading too much into that vague qualification. 

*** the Internet doesn't have enough bandwidth to support the infinite Os that ought to follow the S in that word. 

 

Edited by FreakyFoucault
Typo

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I think @FreakyFoucault sticks the landing on a number of thoughtfully argued points. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in my own perspective and experience that the broader picture begins to blur around the edges. I suppose what I should have said is that in my personal situation, it would have been absurd for me to apply to 10-15 different schools. Though the PhD has always been my end goal, I determined that there were only a few schools/programs that I'd have been willing to drop everything, quit a lucrative career, sell a house, and drag my wife/neurotic cat states away to attend. While it wasn't at all feasible for me, personally, to broadly apply to the large number of schools that I felt drawn to, I'm guessing that most people applying to graduate school are in a much more flexible, fluid situation where the chief objective may not be to find the absolute perfect fit, necessarily, but rather to find one of a number of solid fits. In this case, since we're all kinda shooting in the dark, subject to the whims and wills of admissions committees and what sometimes feels like dumb luck, perhaps the high-volume approach is best. If the desired result is an acceptance above all else, you can only increase your chances by applying to more schools. My only caveat would be that if you plan to apply to a huge number of schools (which, I cede, may be the best course of action), you should be especially mindful of the fact that you're choosing an approach that may, after weeks/months of application fatigue, devolve into adopting a "quantity over quality" mentality; accordingly, you should fight to make sure that doesn't end up showing through in your applications.

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1 hour ago, Kilos said:

I suppose what I should have said is that in my personal situation, it would have been absurd for me to apply to 10-15 different schools.

 

1 hour ago, Kilos said:

you should be especially mindful of the fact that you're choosing an approach that may, after weeks/months of application fatigue, devolve into adopting a "quantity over quality" mentality

I completely agree with both of the above sentiments. All of our suggestions here bear a tacit YMMV caveat. If OP determines in their cost-benefit analysis that applying to five programs makes the most sense, then five is the magic number! Alternatively, if they want to hedge their bets and apply to 15, then 15 is the magic number! Here's the catch: I was initially hesitant to remark that "you're accepted to 0% of the programs to which you don't apply" because such a trivialism ignores the significant opportunity cost (time and money) involved in adding more schools to the list. I was lucky enough to be able to pay the $2300 it took to get myself into grad school. In an alternate universe, however, I might've applied only to the 3 universities that accepted me and saved a bunch of money doing so. If that had been the case, I'd likely be the proud owner of a preowned Honda Rebel 300 -- I'd be unstoppable!!! But, on the other hand, I also might've applied only to the 13 schools that ended up rejecting me, which would've cost a lot and left me with nothing. Both situations are possible, the former certainly so: @Kilos, and many others here, have succeeded despite (or, perhaps, because of) applying to only a handful of programs. Nonetheless, others here apply to many and receive only a few acceptances ... or none. It's a numbers game, but with research and good luck you can do well for yourself without breaking the bank. 

Kilos is also right to mention application fatigue. Because I got a job after graduating, I was able to prepare my applications deliberately over the course of a year and a half. I did a little grad-school work here and there (sometimes at my office) with ample breaks and largely avoided burning out. Unfortunately, not all applicants have time on their side. If you do, however, I'd start researching and writing (and getting the tests out of the way) as soon as possible. Avoid procrastinating, though, because time truly does evaporate after you leave school. You have to be vigilant to avoid the fate of Samuel Johnson's Idler

“[Mr. Sober] draws oils and waters [from his chemical furnace], and essences and spirits, which he knows to be of no use; sits and counts the drops as they come from his retort, and forgets that, whilst a drop is falling, a moment flies away.”

Just be mindful of your options, OP. Hindsight, for those of us who are starting programs in 2018, is 20-20. Foresight, of course, isn't. Do what makes sense for you. The right course will become evident in time. 

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4 hours ago, FreakyFoucault said:

But, on the other hand, I also might've applied only to the 13 schools that ended up rejecting me, which would've cost a lot and left me with nothing.

I think this is a very excellent point. Three of the programs I was accepted at were the last three added before I finalized the list and sent them to my professors. I liked them all, but thought my chances were too low. The process is really humbling. I was rejected by colleges that I thought I had a really good chance of getting in based on scores, admission rates and interests. And accepted by schools I thought I had no chance at. I was accepted by schools that accept less than 5 percent of applicants and rejected by schools that accept more than 30 percent of their applicants.

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On 6/21/2018 at 4:11 PM, CatBowl said:

1) I have 14 schools on my list right now, and I think I'll be able to apply to 10. (Or should I bite the bullet and apply to all 14!?) I am worried that I'm not competitive enough for the schools to which I'm thinking about applying: UT-Austin, UCLA, UC-SB, Vanderbilt, U of Oregon, UC-Davis, Duke, UNC-Greensboro, UNC-Chapel Hill, U of Virginia, Princeton, U of Iowa, Emory, and Ole Miss (in no particular order). Does anyone have any insider info on these schools/programs? Am I shooting way too high here? I know a lot of this process has to do with fit, and I'm still figuring out that part. (Yes, I have been looking into profs of interest and their research and trying to narrow down my list based on that...)

2) Any ecocriticism/environmental lit people out there? I'd love to get feedback on the schools listed above. Have I forgotten some? I'm sure I have; please don't hold it against me. ☺️

Thanks, all, for your insight. This process is already 10x more anxiety-inducing than I ever thought it would be. At least I know I'm not alone! 

Hey! I'm not eco-crit but I sat in on an eco-crit lecture at Ole Miss and it made me wish I was eco-crit. I can message you if you want details about that program/area.

Also, maybe look into Rice? I spoke to a few eco-crit scholars while I was there and they were very happy, plus the location - that intersection of the oil industry and hurricanes - adds an odd immediacy to the work if that's your area. It was 100% the prettiest campus and most livable city of the schools I toured.

Obviously I'm a fan of Vandy, but I know nothing about their eco-crit.

Side note: I don't know anyone's life, so I say apply to as many schools as you have a good fit and that would have a beneficial effect on you as a scholar as you can afford*. Some people have awkward fits or limited budgets, so they have four. Some people have a bit of disposable income and a well represented field, so they have 15. It's case-by-case. You don't want to be fabricating fits to meet a set minimum number of apps, but neither do you want to be cutting out schools with good fits because of some equally arbitrary maximum number.

 

*As @Warelin said in another thread, familiarizing yourself with fee waiver policies can help with this, too. 

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Ah, to address the number of apps, do make sure you truly and sincerely think you're a good fit there and that you'd actually want to attend!! I only applied to 6 (on the low side, from what I've gleaned), but I applied to schools I saw viable futures at. When I asked one of my grad professors about it, they told me to just apply wherever I thought I'd like to go. And one of my undergrad professors replied with "EEEEEK what if you get into all of them and you apply to 10 schools and then have to visit 10 schools!" 

That's another point, too, to think about: visiting if/when you get accepted. I suppose one doesn't HAVE to visit before they select a school (sometimes it's not possible, given the way wait lists work), but I think it's really important. A couple of visits I went on made me scream NOOOO in a way I don't know I would have gotten via email and phone chats alone, and others made me feel instantly at home. 

And that can be very toiling, to visit multiple PhD programs, especially if you're currently a student, traveling to conferences during that time, etc. I got so behind and had to push my thesis defense back a month because I somehow hadn't accounted for how much energy the PhD cycle would take from me. The emotional (and physical) drain was real. 

Just something else to consider! 

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1 hour ago, klader said:

That's another point, too, to think about: visiting if/when you get accepted.

@klader's advice about visiting is spot-on. My second visit totally blew me away, so much so, in fact, that my decision to accept their offer was nearly effortless ... almost even fatalistic! So, at least in my case, visiting made all the difference! Even if you can't afford much time, however, an impromptu day trip (which, by the way, one school organized for me on their dime -- ask if they can chip in!) will give you the chance to learn from your own two eyes (and ears). You intuit much more in person about a campus's way of life and a program's flow than you can by researching on the Internet (not that that route isn't informative, of course). In short, do try to make a visit happen! And don't be afraid to ask schools for financial assistance! 

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Wow! My head is swimming in all this excellent advice. Thanks, all, for commenting. Several of my professors also suggested applying to all the programs I can afford and can make time for tailoring apps. Luckily, I'm in the position finance-wise and time-wise to apply to all 18-ish schools on my list (after several more rounds of vetting, of course).

@FreakyFoucault Thanks for the welcome and for all the suggestions! You have put my mind at ease regarding the GRE (at least, for now). And as for the money talk, I see now that the return on investment of applying to more schools greatly outweighs the initial cost of apps. Thanks for putting that in terms that I can easily understand! I will look again at Stanford and message you if I have any questions – thanks a bunch. 

I'll be mindful of application fatigue, too, @Kilos. I'm hoping that I've started this application process soon enough to avoid the fatigue showing up in apps, but we shall see. 

@Warelin, those numbers really put this whole thing into perspective. It seems like my expectations should be thrown out the window when it comes to acceptances/rejections. :) 

@M(allthevowels)H I would love to hear about Ole Miss's program if you don't mind! I've just looked into Rice and I was impressed with the faculty working on environmental lit. Plus, living in Houston would be great, I imagine. They have already been added to my list – thanks for the suggestion. Congrats on your acceptances and good luck in the fall! 

@klader I will be sure to only apply to schools where I see a strong fit. The problem so far is that I fall in love with so many programs that I look into! But yes, I look forward to the day when campus visits are around the corner. I'm not currently a student, so I'll have to work something out with my job, but it sounds like campus visits are necessary on the decision-making side of this process. Thanks for your suggestions! 

I'm sure I'm not doing replying correctly, but I wanted to make sure to thank everyone for their sound advice. You guys rock! 

 

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@CatBowl: Fit is indeed a very real and odd thing. You'll never know exactly what the school is looking for. If I submitted a alternate paper to each of the schools I applied to, I'd imagine my results would look different. I imagine some of the rejections would turn to acceptances and some of those acceptances would turn into rejections. I was rejected by a college that accepts more than 50 percent of its applicants and accepted by one that has a six person cohort. After attending the accepted students weekend, I realized why the school accepted me and it made sense to me why this school made more sense than others even if one of the other schools were "ranked better". Looking back at some of the schools I applied to (and rejected from), I realized that some were too expensive to live with a grad student budget without a roommate and others were in areas that I'd rather not live in for different reasons. I think it's important to be happy with creating a strong list of schools that you'd be happy to attend. After all the results are out, you'll find yourself being "pulled" towards a certain school. It may or may not be one of the schools that was your top choice prior to application season.

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On 6/21/2018 at 10:11 PM, CatBowl said:

I'm thinking about applying: UT-Austin, UCLA, UC-SB, Vanderbilt, U of Oregon, UC-Davis, Duke, UNC-Greensboro, UNC-Chapel Hill, U of Virginia, Princeton, U of Iowa, Emory, and Ole Miss (in no particular order). Does anyone have any insider info on these schools/programs? Am I shooting way too high here? I know a lot of this process has to do with fit, and I'm still figuring out that part.

 

Hey @CatBowl

I am another ecocrit person focusing heavily on theory (mostly STS and OOO and Posthumanism generally) and 20th century American / Native American. I am applying to a lot of the same schools: UCSB, UCD, UVA, Duke (literature). I love Heather Houser's work at UTA, but I am probably not applying because she seems like shes the only one there. UCLA has great people there, but I refuse to take the GRE subject test to just apply to one school when we all know its bullshit anyways. I wonder why Princeton made your list, did I miss something there? 

I am also applying to: Rice (not thrilled about Houston, but such group of professors), Stanford's Modern Thought and Literature program, UCSC (my alma mater and a lot of environmental stuff there), UMich, and maybe UIUC (though they seem to mostly take their own Master's students as PhD students. I am also applying to the University of British Columbia and the University of Victoria, UBC might actually be my top choice.

What schools are you really excited about? 

I am not sure how much it helps but my background is a BA in Literature (3.6) and currently completing an MA in North American Studies, Literature and Culture and am really hoping for a 4.0 all the way through. My letters will be good. My WS should be strong. My SOP like you is the nebulous part, but I figure it's time to do a ton of research on how to write one better. 

Thanks for starting this post.

 

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16 hours ago, Matthew3957 said:

maybe UIUC (though they seem to mostly take their own Master's students as PhD students.

Can you elaborate on this? I'm not in the same fields as you but I've been checking them out. Wouldn't want to waste an application if I'm not likely to get in (like you, I'll be coming in with an external MA)

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48 minutes ago, indecisivepoet said:

Can you elaborate on this? I'm not in the same fields as you but I've been checking them out. Wouldn't want to waste an application if I'm not likely to get in (like you, I'll be coming in with an external MA)

This is from a reading of the admissions info specifically for the English department, so you can check if it's similar for you. Here is my basis:

"We offer admission to approximately 40 students per year applying to the M.A. in Literature program and to approximately 5-10 students in three other programs: the Ph.D. in Literature, and the M.A. and Ph.D. in Writing Studies. We admit 6 M.F.A. candidates a year (3 in fiction, 3 in poetry). Our non-literature tracks typically have smaller applicant pools. Half or more of all admitted students accept our offers, with 20-30 new students usually entering each year. Most of our Ph.D. students have received their M.A.s at Illinois."

This is the first mention of it, but on another page for MA students it says:

" In the semester in which students complete the 28th and 32nd hours of MA coursework, they are required to submit a Stage II application if they wish to continue work toward the PhD. For this application to the Graduate Director and Graduate Studies Committee, students must submit a statement of purpose, a writing sample (likely a revised seminar paper) and two letters of recommendation from faculty members. Students in good standing and making good progress are ordinarily accepted into Stage II, the first portion of the PhD program."

The last bit is that unlike a lot of English PhD programs their PhD program requirements does not include the master's coursework it starts later so it really seems more of a EU model going on where you go straight into specializing. Most PhD programs don't seem to have a stand-alone MA, which they do.

So, if they are admitting 40 MA students each year and 5-10 to the PhD student's (which you in this case need an MA to apply to) it's on the one hand not surprising that most of the students they take are the ones they already know and are happy with - much like in the EU - but on the other a discouragement for applying to it myself. 

Thoughts?

 

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Hi @Matthew3957! I am glad to hear there's some crossover between our lists. My list has changed a bit since originally posting since I've had some time to vet. I'm probably applying to UTA still (I also love Heather Houser's work!) because of the location, to be honest. I agree with you about UCLA 100% and I'm no longer applying because of the damn subject test. Princeton was on my list because of Rob Nixon, though I probably won't apply there because of – you guessed it – the subject test requirement. I still have time to decide if I want to sign up to take the test. 

Since I've done some thinking about where I'll apply, I've also decided to apply to Rice and possibly UMich as well. I'm also applying to U of Iowa; they offer environmental humanities courses periodically, but from what I've gathered, a lot of profs there include ecocrit in their seminars and are willing for their students to take ecocritical approaches in their classes. Oregon has very quickly become one of my top choices. So has U of Colorado Boulder – they have lots of faculty working on ecocrit and I've only heard positive things about their program. 

Yes – my SOP has gone through several massive revisions already since I posted originally. It's been a tough one for me but I keep telling myself I have plenty of time (I'm applying this year). Are you applying this year or next? 

Excited to hear your thoughts! 

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@Matthew3957 @indecisivepoet: I also have an external MA from elsewhere and I got accepted into UIUC last cycle, but ultimately rejected it. I was assured that they give everyone equal weight. People accepted into their MA program automatically move onto their Ph.D. program if desired. I'd be happy to answer any questions you have over UIUC over PM. :)

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3 hours ago, CatBowl said:

I still have time to decide if I want to sign up to take the test. 

Oregon has very quickly become one of my top choices. So has U of Colorado Boulder – they have lots of faculty working on ecocrit and I've only heard positive things about their program. 

1

I am applying this year as well. So I have some time for my SOP, but I also have 2 research papers to write over the break - German semesters are like this. I am hoping to finish it by September and ask for recommends around that time too. Maybe even get my applications in by end of October. 

I went through the same thing with the subject test, I think if its more than one school it might be worth it. 

Oregon has been on my list and Boulder I just started looking into from your list. Oregon seems really cool, Eugene is a good college town, I love the Northern California/Southern Oregon vibes personally, but it is not for everyone. The thing that puts me off about Oregon is just - slightly elitistly - ranking, but mostly because of job prospects after. Their placement page on their website is blank which did not seem like the best sign to me. They are still in the running for me though because they have such a strong eco focus. Boulder like I said I just started looking at, but it seems like a good program and Boulder itself seems like a good city. I have to research it some more when I get the chance, but it might make my list. 

Depending on how confident I feel I might drop Stanford's MTL and/or UVA. I like the work that is done at both, but right now I have 5 "top tier" schools and that makes me nervous. I know people say rankings don't decide who accepts you and not, but I am still trying to spread it around and have different types of programs with similar focuses.

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7 hours ago, Matthew3957 said:

This is from a reading of the admissions info specifically for the English department, so you can check if it's similar for you. Here is my basis:

"We offer admission to approximately 40 students per year applying to the M.A. in Literature program and to approximately 5-10 students in three other programs: the Ph.D. in Literature, and the M.A. and Ph.D. in Writing Studies. We admit 6 M.F.A. candidates a year (3 in fiction, 3 in poetry). Our non-literature tracks typically have smaller applicant pools. Half or more of all admitted students accept our offers, with 20-30 new students usually entering each year. Most of our Ph.D. students have received their M.A.s at Illinois."

My wording was unfortunate; I am in English but I should have said I'm in a different subfield from you.

Hm. It does seem concerning that they'd say "most of our PhD students have received their MAs at Illinois" but given @Warelin's anecdotal evidence I'm not sure what to think. It seems like a waste to apply to a program where I'd automatically have less of a chance than other applicants (I've also opted not to apply to Berkeley, Northwestern, and PSU as they prefer BA-only applicants) but perhaps worth it if it ends up being a really exciting program for me. I guess first step is to do some more research and determine if that's the case, and then if so I may take you up on the message (@Warelin).

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