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Lessons Learned: Application Season Debriefings

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~~~Bumpity Bump Bump~~~

If your season is (mostly) over for 2016, feel free to post about your experiences, what you would do differently, what you would do the same, and generally offer a reflection on the process that perhaps other prospective applicants can read and evaluate as they move forward.  

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I think my statement of purpose might have been a little weak. My professors said to focus on my research and professional goals, so I never really discussed why I had poor grades early on in my undergrad or why I think I had more difficulty than the average person even getting to where I am academically. But I didn't want to sound whiny or as if I was making excuses... But I think without mentioning anything I just look like I was a lazy or unmotivated student, which is very far from the truth. So I don't really know if this was a mistake or if I did the right thing, but it bothers me regardless.

I also applied to schools thinking working hard and getting a PhD would get me a job as a professor. I didn't take into account the rank or reputation of schools, or how most people can never land this job anyway, so I guess I feel like I'm going into a program knowing I probably won't end up where I want. So that sucks. I mean, I would do it regardless because I absolutely love research, but I hope I can find a decent research job eventually.

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46 minutes ago, Danger_Zone said:

I think my statement of purpose might have been a little weak. My professors said to focus on my research and professional goals, so I never really discussed why I had poor grades early on in my undergrad or why I think I had more difficulty than the average person even getting to where I am academically. But I didn't want to sound whiny or as if I was making excuses... But I think without mentioning anything I just look like I was a lazy or unmotivated student, which is very far from the truth. So I don't really know if this was a mistake or if I did the right thing, but it bothers me regardless.

I also applied to schools thinking working hard and getting a PhD would get me a job as a professor. I didn't take into account the rank or reputation of schools, or how most people can never land this job anyway, so I guess I feel like I'm going into a program knowing I probably won't end up where I want. So that sucks. I mean, I would do it regardless because I absolutely love research, but I hope I can find a decent research job eventually.

That's an interesting thought, esp. about the poor grades. I had a colleague that was in a similar boat and I advised them not to address it (and so did a few faculty members) since it might draw more unwanted attention to the fact than if you simply let it be. But I completely understand your frustration. 

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1 minute ago, archersline said:

That's an interesting thought, esp. about the poor grades. I had a colleague that was in a similar boat and I advised them not to address it (and so did a few faculty members) since it might draw more unwanted attention to the fact than if you simply let it be. But I completely understand your frustration. 

Yeah, I completely trust my professor's judgment, but I just have that anxiety over not knowing why schools haven't wanted me. Was it something more I could have done or am I simply not a good fit? It's difficult to know whether you just needed to improve things or if you never had a chance considering how competitive things are. I guess what's done is done, though.;)

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4 minutes ago, Danger_Zone said:

Yeah, I completely trust my professor's judgment, but I just have that anxiety over not knowing why schools haven't wanted me. Was it something more I could have done or am I simply not a good fit? It's difficult to know whether you just needed to improve things or if you never had a chance considering how competitive things are. I guess what's done is done, though.;)

Completely sympathize with the frustration. I have made inquiries about my rejections and asked what I could have done better, mainly so that I can advise my colleagues who do this years from now on how to improve. When you get responses though its usually the same "too many good applicants, not enough spots" line. While convenient for them, it does nothing for us on this end...

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On ‎3‎/‎3‎/‎2016 at 4:47 PM, archersline said:

Completely sympathize with the frustration. I have made inquiries about my rejections and asked what I could have done better, mainly so that I can advise my colleagues who do this years from now on how to improve. When you get responses though its usually the same "too many good applicants, not enough spots" line. While convenient for them, it does nothing for us on this end...

I would say, while I completely agree that you should inquire about rejections, it would be best to wait until April at earliest to ask. If you were to ask now, they still are dealing with waitlistings and acceptances, so you are more likely to get a poorly thought-out, generic response.

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Statement of purpose, without a doubt, could have been better for me. They were all slightly vague, perhaps reflecting my lack of sureness in a dissertation topic, but where I was most specific, confident and well-read, I was accepted. Where I was kinda-sorta interested in maybe this, I was not.

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@Sigaba wrote in the writing samples thread, "IMO, a very well written piece based upon a foundation of solid research will get you more than a solidly written piece based upon a foundation of excellent research. My $0.02."

That retrospectively explained a lot about my attitude toward my applications, with whose results I was pleased. I wanted to save it here for the next round.

Edited by knp

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LONG POST, sorry!

Since the application season is nearly over and I’ve heard from mostly all programs (aside from NYU, waitlist or rejection at this point), I thought I’d debrief. I am usually not one for these type of posts, or even forums, I frequent only when needed, to relieve anxiety or boredom, and never visit again. But having read many posts, and followed some people's successes and failures, even rooted for some, I wanted to leave whatever words of wisdom I could, to help out whoever may end up coming across my post.

First off, I am a ‘unique’ case, well not unique but different than the traditional history student, I’ve flunked out of my undergrad, changed my major 3/4 times, before finally settling on history. I retook all the courses I failed (7), as well as any course I got less than a B, about (3-4). It took me, with a mandatory gap year, 7 years to finish. BUT because my university did this funny transcript thing, it ended up being that it took me 5 years to finish my BA, instead of 7. Nevertheless, once I decided on history, I took primarily history courses, and graduated Cum Laude, gpa 3.6-3.7. But I will list my exact scores and gpa below. 

Anyway, I have been immensely privileged to have received close mentorship from a very dear MA advisor, who was my confidant, editor, and guide. He is an extremely well respected senior academic, friends with many Ivy professors, and through his connections I received a lot of advice and kind words from them, in turn. He told me which schools to apply to, read over each and every one of my SOPs to each school, told me how to approach his friends (for me they were POIs), and told me which ones to avoid. And really, most importantly, he never stopped believing in me, and that helped me believe in myself. The reason I am harping on about my supervisor, is because I truly believe having a strong support network is crucial. You need someone to believe in you, especially when you stop believing in yourself, and you will. I am pretty confidant/arrogant and I had moments of intense doubt.

I was extremely reluctant to embark upon the academic path because of the job market, so when I did my MA, I promised myself my academic aspirations would continue no further than my MA thesis. I needed to prove to myself that if I wanted to do academia I could do it and I did. However, when I got to writing my MA thesis, I worked closely with my supervisor, and he made me fall in love with my field, and academia, and I simply couldn’t resist the pull. Nevertheless, my supervisor is a very sober man, and he told me that the job market is tough, and if I want it, I needed to take the ivy route. (Sorry guys, I don’t mean to offend, but that’s the advice I got). He did warn me of the difficulty, but as months went by he was more confident I’d get in than I was initially. I am not sure what changed.

Next, while I am a history student/scholar pure and simple, I did my MA thesis on a history of science topic, and just fell in love with the field. I wanted to pursue my degree in history of science BUT with a strong emphasis on history and less science. Here is the thing, I am and I remain a student of history proper. That’s just a fact that I had to finally admit to myself and to my interviewees, at an unsuccessful interview at UPenn HSS, which is the reason I didn’t get in.  This is important, you need to be clear about your identity as a scholar. I have no science, anthro, or STS background to speak of. I took one psych course, and one history of astronomy course both 101, and did well, but that’s pretty much it. My complete lack of any ‘science’ background played against me at Penn, but also my interests are very history centered rather than science. My supervisor however disagreed with my thinking and said that I could style myself as a history of science student regardless of my lack of background because of my MA thesis. Perhaps, or not.

This is my second year applying. First year, I applied to Harvard and Princeton, I visited both schools, and interviewed at Harvard (unofficially), with a POI that is a close friend of my supervisor. Very encouraging and positive interview. Now for the History of Science at Harvard, it is not housed within the history program, and the interview was unofficial. HOWEVER, you absolutely must contact professors before applying to the History of Science department, in fact, in the application they ask you if you contacted anyone, and they expect you to do so. So if you get advised against this, don’t listen, contact! The same goes for Princeton! AND DO NOT JUST CONTACT ONE, CONTACT AS MANY FACULTY MEMBERS AS YOU CAN. But do so prudently, and don’t forget to read their works and speak about them in the email!

Anyway, with Princeton I visited the campus, sat in on their Monday seminar, which I really liked. My POI was out of town, so I just met with the DGS, it was a formal meeting, nothing special. I loved Princeton, the atmosphere, the campus.

I got rejected from both, and because my supervisor is good friends with both POIs at Princeton and Harvard, he got a lengthy explanation of why I got rejected. The problem was my SOP for both, and letters for Princeton. My supervisor asked the Harvard prof if I was a strong candidate for the Ivies and heard a resounding YES, and with this he urged me to reapply. 

For Harvard my SOP was too narrow, the project I presented was too thought out, and I seemed rigid and inflexible, because unlike the regular history program, in HOS you take 2 years of courses, in which the department actually encourages students to explore different fields, even to change your initial topic. I seemed like I was ready to hit the ground running and I would not be receptive to other avenues of thought.

Now for Princeton, the problem was entirely different. I had initially pitched to them a different topic, but then decided to ditch it, and run with the same proposal as I sent to Harvard, and Princeton was blindsided. And felt I’d reject them for Harvard that they were sure I would get in. I thought so too, so I understand completely. L And I would have rejected them for Harvard, so no hard feelings. They also felt I needed more focused letters of reference, mine were from history professors, I needed history of science. I wasn’t science enough on paper. I agree, and I am still not!

Before applying the first time around, I had finished my MA, so I could have lots of time to apply to schools. When I got rejected, in the gap year, actually immediately after handing in my MA thesis, I decided to turn some of my thesis into a journal article, with my supervisor’s blessing. The paper has since received ‘Major Revisions’ to a respect well ranked journal, so I knew my paper was solid, and this paper I submitted as my writing sample for my second round of applications.

The first time applying, I submitted more or less the same paper but it didn’t yet undergo rigorous peer review at 3 journals. Anyway, Harvard prof said they liked my writing sample, very strong, and after the peer review it was even stronger and better. So I knew I had a great writing sample. THAT IS IMPORTANT! As a history applicant, the writing sample, together with the SOP, is one of the single most important pieces of your application. WORK ON IT!

I had also volunteered for an international history of science project, so this made it seem like I was busy during my gap year. Also I only had 1 history of science recommendation, and 2 from history, so I needed another history of science recommendation, which I got from a coordinator of the project.  The letters were important, I didn’t really think so, but they are. Princeton told me this.

So my profile was as follows:

BA GPA: 3.6-3.7 Cum Laude (history)

MA GPA: 4.0 Summa Cum Laude (history) – in the results page I erroneously listed 3.8 that’s a mistake (pls ignore)

Volunteer for a history of science project for over a year

1 paper to by published in a well ranked academic journal in my field, ‘major revisions’

2 letters from history of science professors, 1 history

GRE: 163 (V), 153 (Q), 5 (AW).

And I speak/read/write 2 foreign European languages, aside from English.

As you can see I didn’t do well on Quantitative, but I was told by both Harvard and Princeton it was good enough, so long as I am not studying history of math. I didn’t retake it because of that. Harvard was my gold standard and what was good for them will be good for everyone. They don’t focus on GREs, only if they are really terrible, mine weren’t.

Now reapplying! I applied to in earnest, and with a lot of effort, to Princeton (HOS), Penn (HSS), Columbia (history), and Yale (HSHM), and I’ll include Brown (history) but the statement was not my best work by any stretch of the imagination (the deadline was Dec 1, first one, and I waffled, it was my own fault). For NYU, I threw in the app on the last day it was due, my statement was written in 15 min. Because I didn’t yet hear for Penn (HSS) interview and I got really nervous. I made contact with an NYU professor back in August but ultimately felt it wasn’t for me. Radio silence from Penn made me rethink only Ivy rule or that NYU made zero sense, so I just threw 127$ down the drain to allay my anxieties. I got contacted to interview at Penn the next day. L I should’ve just withdrawn my app but having paid already I felt I should just stick with it. So for NYU’s sake, I hope they reject me and use the 127$ to buy themselves something pretty.

The reason Harvard is patently absent from my list is because my POI is retiring and will not be taking anymore students, and I would have no one to work with. That was important for me, to have at least one person I could conceivably work with, BECAUSE, when I wrote up my new SOP, I tailored it to schools, and to the faculty. I got in touch with people at every school, they told me their interests and I wrote up an SOP to reflect their interests and mine, to an extent of course. The strategy was TO GET IN! But also, have someone I could work with, potentially, but be open to possibilities, be flexible. That’s what I wished to convey, flexibility and passion.

Now for the SOP, I didn’t, and urge the rest of you, please please do not write about your bad grades or about your bad gre scores, do not get defensive, do not explain, otherwise you will draw unwanted attention in one of THE deciding documents of your admissions, your SOP! Instead, I suggest, and it’s what I did, when attaching your BA grades, copy paste the images into a WORD file, on the last page include a little short blurb about your grades, to explain them, then convert the file to PDF. The shorter the better, have it read by others (brutally honest people), to check if your explanation is suggestive of something. You don’t want to be suggestive, and invite further scrutiny. Don’t give a life story, they don’t care. In fact, they don’t want to hear it. The first thing the Harvard prof told me at my interview, ‘do not mention anything personal in your statement, we aren’t psychologists, we aren’t your friends, we may feel bad for you, but you won’t get in this way’. Stay professional. This is a phd application, not grief counseling.  (Again, I am sorry this offends, but that’s the advice I got, and I kind of understand it, you need to demonstrate your ability to withstand 5-7 years of intense and protracted research and writing). Any weaknesses in health, mental or physical, will make the committee think you’ll drop out. Remember, they are investing in you, and you need to be a solid investment.

If anyone wants to see my SOP, I’ll happily share it, if someone can learn from it, all the better! Someone did it for me, granted I struck out at Princeton, but I got into Columbia and I was interviewed for UPenn. That’s to me a success.

I struck out at Brown, Yale, Princeton, and eventually UPenn. BUT UPenn was after interview, and it was apparent that I wasn’t a good fit, however, on paper I was a very strong candidate, and they told me this at every interview. Some faculty members liked me a lot, others did not at all. They did not like my purely history background. The interview was intense, I had a horror stricken look on my face. To the point that other Penn students came up to me to ask what went wrong. I was grilled. Actually grilled by at least 3-4 professors. I met with about 9, intense is an understatement. But then also, I already had an offer from Columbia which I was going to accept, and I came in relaxed, even though I prepared hard, I didn’t prepare enough for the questions they asked. And I wouldn’t have needed to prepare as hard, had I had a history of science background, rather than history. Or STS or any science background.

I don’t mean to brag (who am I kidding? Obviously I want to brag! I got into bloody Columbia!!!) but for Columbia, I got elected a Richard Hofstadter fellow, with a stipend of 31,925$ per year for 5 years. That’s more than Princeton and Penn. So I know I got a competitive offer. I also know that Columbia has around 600 (probably closer to 400-500) applications per year to 25 spots. That’s intensely competitive. I got in. It is and will remain the greatest achievement of my history career thus far.

Also, I hate to admit it, the reason I applied to the history of science programs, even though I am clearly a history student all the way with a sub-field interest in history of science, is because statistically it is easier to get into history of science programs. I know you’ll all scream that it’s just as competitive, IT IS NOT! With the definite exception of Harvard (acceptance rate 10-13%), History of science programs are not as competitive as history programs. And maybe with the exception of MIT and Johns Hopkins. There! I said it. Statistically, the acceptance rate is 20-30 percent across the board, I am not exaggerating, I have actual numbers from my POIs, with the exception of MIT and Hopkins, I don’t know those but I heard their acceptance rate is brutal. For goodness sake, I was good enough for Harvard and Princeton, I was encouraged to apply, AFTER they saw my profile, my grades, my writing sample. Princeton POI encouraged to reapply. You may bulk, but again look at my profile, is it competitive? That’s up to you to decide.

I will say this to everyone, believe in yourself! You can do it! I got into Columbia, if I did it, you can too! I am not special by any stretch of the imagination.

I can tell you the specifics of every rejection, Yale, Princeton, and Brown. Well, Brown I mucked up pretty bad. But I won’t bore you further. If you would like to hear what advice I got from Princeton and Harvard, PM me. I didn’t get in, but I could certainly pass on the advice. But then I didn’t reapply to Harvard. So who knows. For Princeton, I shouldn’t have applied at all, not with my topic, I was a bad bad bad fit.

My first choice were Penn, Columbia, and Princeton. My back ups (as ridiculous as they are for phd apps) were Yale, Brown, and NYU.

I read somewhere, and was also advised by my supervisor to apply to 5, and will likely get 1 acceptance. Also, my supervisor actively discouraged me from applying to Yale and NYU. But at the end relented, clearly to assuage my anxieties.

What I would do differently?

I would have applied only to Penn, Columbia and Brown. I would still keep Penn, because it is a first-rate program, by all standards, even if it is an STS/HOS program, and not too aligned with my interests. But it is an excellent program, with outstanding faculty. To prepare, I would have tried to develop and further my interests in STS/HOS, and style myself less of a regional/temporal historian (which is how we are taught in History) and more of a historian of biology or chemistry. Also, I would have worked harder on the Brown application. Brown has some great faculty, and I should not have made it a back up, and I did that against my supervisor’s advice. He thought Brown should have been one of my top choices.

I am extremely happy with the outcome, and I wish everyone the best!

Good luck and Excelsior!

 

Edited by jazzman
typo

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@jazzman, that's the kind of advice I wish I'd gotten before I applied. I'm probably going to Wisconsin, as I'm an excellent fit and they've focused heavily on Jesuit science. I was in the final 5 at Hopkins, but didn't get in.

If I could do it again, I wouldn't apply to either Princeton or Harvard. Anthony Grafton (my PoI) is about to retire and isn't taking graduate students, so there's no good reason for me to apply. Rampling's work doesn't interest me. Harvard simply doesn't have anyone who does early modern (they just hired Hannah Marcus, but she's very junior). Another thing you did (that I should've): writing separate SoPs for each department. I feel pretty confident that I could've gotten into Indiana or Chicago with a better tailored SoP.

 

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Grafton is legendary, indeed. Although, I am pretty sure he's not on the admissions committee for Princeton HOS. I was told to target committee members specifically, at least three.  

Bottom line, I think having the right advice, or running into the right people giving you advice, can be a game changer. This is specific to my case, because I had a few weaknesses in my application package. Others, who are brilliant, knew not to screw up their undergrad, probably got no advice and still got into an Ivy on the first go.

Hopkins is quite competitive, from what I've heard. I also wonder if interviewing on the last few days, or the last day, puts you in a slightly worse position - but also better (if you are an excellent fit/interviewer). Recency effect is stronger, and any blunder you make, is remembered that more vividly. But on the flip side, you also have a stronger chance at dazzling and having that remembered. The latter scenario isn't applicable to me, I cave under pressure.

Wisconsin's history program is a top program. I heard they've got funding woes. But more acute for International students, such as myself. Americans aren't really affected.  

You got interviewed by Hopkins, accepted into Wisconsin. I don't think that Indiana and/or Chicago were really out of your reach. Tailoring the SOP could have done the trick. Who knows.   

All I know is, I no longer buy into the whole 'special' nonsense. It's all about knowing how to present your application the 'right way'. Obviously, you still need to be good on paper, gpa/gre/lors. But you don't have to be a special cookie to get in, or need to have a stellar profile.

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Mine is a bit of a different situation (except for having underperformed in undergrad), but advice almost on the inside for my research proposals was helpful for me, as well.  My master's supervisor was great about helping me with his shop's admissions committee, and a potential advisor at another university was happy to give lots of advice about getting past the dragons at his place.  His suggestions were differently slanted, but not conflicting, on the whole.  I tend to be self-effacing and too willing to point out qualifications and limits-- perhaps stemming from a background with securities regulations.  So having an experienced reader tell me it was not emphatic, enthusiastic about the big picture, or general enough to be interesting to non-specialists, was useful.  

Also, I had two people argue opposite sides of whether I was too focused, or too broad in my proposed venue-- my project started from interest in a situation in Boston, but one guy asked why anyone [on his committee] would care about the significance of that one example.  Another seemed leery about the practicality of moving to New York, Philadelphia, Virginia, et al., and repeating everything.  So I ended up finding a way to say that it would be easy to transport my approach to different regions and situations if/when I found time, but that I could also tailor my research if I found more than I could cover in this one project.  [Unlike Jazzman, I won't have two years to change my outlook completely, so some precision was necessary even if I also needed to communicate flexibility and humility.]

I did a little revision and tailoring to re-shape for each application; some places wanted a maximum of 1,000 words, and another had no word limit but wasn't getting a writing sample.  For that one, I inserted a pithy summary of one of the high points on my thesis.  [FWIW, this committee figured that if your referees wouldn't spew enthusiastically about your writing in their letters, then they didn't need to waste their own time on it.  I dropped a hint to my referees that quoting from the more flattering parts of my readers' feedback on the master's dissertation would be useful to me, as well as time-saving for them.  My readers were anonymous, so I couldn't ask them for recommendations.  :D]  But once I digested the POIs' feedback, it wound up being the same basic essay.

Edited by Concordia

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On 3/1/2017 at 1:00 PM, jazzman said:

Also, I hate to admit it, the reason I applied to the history of science programs, even though I am clearly a history student all the way with a sub-field interest in history of science, is because statistically it is easier to get into history of science programs. I know you’ll all scream that it’s just as competitive, IT IS NOT! With the definite exception of Harvard (acceptance rate 10-13%), History of science programs are not as competitive as history programs. And maybe with the exception of MIT and Johns Hopkins. There! I said it. Statistically, the acceptance rate is 20-30 percent across the board, I am not exaggerating, I have actual numbers from my POIs, with the exception of MIT and Hopkins, I don’t know those but I heard their acceptance rate is brutal. For goodness sake, I was good enough for Harvard and Princeton, I was encouraged to apply, AFTER they saw my profile, my grades, my writing sample. Princeton POI encouraged to reapply. You may bulk, but again look at my profile, is it competitive? That’s up to you to decide.

 

I thought I'd clarify for the sake of future readers that while the acceptance rate is relatively high, the funded rate is much lower.

I have a hard time believing that the acceptance rate for JHU, Yale, et al. rests solidly at 20-30%. I've known quite a few people who have applied to those programs, and most were not accepted. In contrast, the acceptance rate to Harvard seems, anecdotally, higher than 10-13%. For one, the program is probably the largest history of science program in the United States, so they can more readily take on students (although this is somewhat an assumption on my behalf). They currently list 49 graduate students on their website in the program. Assuming that it takes around 6-7 years for completion, that's an average of 7-8 students a year. That means that Harvard would have to receive roughly 60-70ish applicants per year? Sure, that's possible, but the history of science world isn't exactly a huge world.

Heck, if Peterson's may be trusted (and I'm not sure that I'd say that it should be), Harvard has a 38% acceptance rate. If memory serves, any numbers reported on Petersons are published by Harvard, not collection independently. 

Just some two cents. 

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Things I Wish I'd Known Before Applying
  • If a particular school is your top choice (or even in your top three), make it known on your application somehow, especially for schools that do not have waitlists (*cough* University of Chicago). I made that mistake, and was told later that the admissions committee feared I wouldn't come, and didn't want to take the risk of admitting me. 
  • The response you get from POIs after writing to them to express interest in their programs is indicative of the relationship you will have with them later, and can be indicative of the department's culture. I don't buy the argument: "Professors are busy and find emails from prospective students annoying." Everyone is busy and everyone finds emails annoying. Professors who care about mentoring grad students will respond, maybe not within 24 hours, but they will do it at some point. I am very happy to report that I continue to correspond with amazing people, both faculty and current students, even though I won't be attending their schools. Those are the people who will become both colleagues and (with luck!) friends.
  • Once you're in the pool with people whose CVs resemble yours, acceptances and rejections are extremely difficult to predict. At visiting day events, I met people who were rejected where I'd been accepted and vice versa. So much of admissions comes down to department politics, which is annoyingly hard to figure out before you're in the thick of it. Which brings me to the next point...
  • Students who are further along, feel free to correct me on this, but: I kinda wished I'd asked POIs whether their departments were accepting people in my subfield. Before I applied, I thought such a question was gauche and shouldn't be asked. But I ended up applying to one school that wasn't taking anyone in my area of interest, because the school had promised its two spots to people already enrolled in a masters program there. I didn't find this out till after I applied. 
  • Do deep Google searches on your POIs, and update those search results as the deadline nears. I had compiled a long Google doc of POIs long before applications were due, and did not update the doc much as I was writing my statements of purpose. It turns out that the main person I wanted to work with at one school was going to be moving elsewhere in the fall -- but the school of origin didn't update their website till the end of November. By that time, I had already written my statements, and ended up sending off an SoP full of specifics about that person's work, not realizing that they weren't going to be around in the fall. 
That's all I can think of for the moment. Hope it's of some help.
Edited by laleph

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On 4/21/2017 at 7:36 AM, laleph said:
If a particular school is your top choice (or even in your top three), make it known on your application somehow

1000% agree. There is no downside to enthusiasm when it is genuine. 

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On 3/1/2017 at 2:00 PM, jazzman said:

I can tell you the specifics of every rejection, Yale, Princeton, and Brown

Brown hasn't come out yet this year. Is this for last year? Sorry, I'm really confused which parts of your post is about this year vs last year.

Edit: nvm, didn't see that date that this was for last year. 

Edited by Manuscriptess

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This has been a thread I'd like to contribute to for a while, and I am so very glad that I finally am in a position to do so! Please pardon my typos and the bad grammar. 

Current status (2017-2018): 

Applied (7): Columbia (History - East Asia), Michigan —Ann Arbor (History and Women's Studies joint program), UChicago (History), UCSB (History), Wisconsin - Madison (History) , U of Toronto (History), Princeton (East Asian Studies)

Accepted (declined) : UChicago, UCSB, U of Toronto, Columbia

Rejected: Princeton, Wisconsin-Madison, Michigan

Past status (2016-2017):

Applied (6): Columbia (PolSci), Berkeley (PolSci), GWU (PolSci), UVA (PolSci), Harvard (History), UPenn (History)

Accepted: N/A

Rejected: All of them (UPenn post-interview)

Executive Summary:

1. Choose programs that are the best fit (in my case, this begins with choosing the right discipline...)

2. Contact not just one but multiple POIs (not just to gauge fit, but for advice)

3. Ask multiple people to review SOP (make sure some of the reviewers are advanced PhD students)

4. Not just make an effort to revise the writing sample, but make sure that the original research in this writing sample is very strong

4. (if applicable) Think of ways to proactively make the non-History related work experiences/degrees in non-History disciplines into one's advantage

5. Make sure that one has a strong support system

6. (this may only apply to me, but at least in my case) If applying to PhD programs is like shooting a target under great pressure with your life at stake (to some extent), then one may want to present oneself as a professionally trained sniper, instead of a passionate soldier. 

Background Info:

I'm an international student with no degree in History but two Master's degrees from non-U.S. schools. I would like a career in the academia not bc this is the only option I have, but the one I desire most. So, to some extent, I am aware of the trade-off, the opportunity cost, and the risk, which means applying to PhD programs itself is an informed decision. And, in my humble opinion, the lessons I've learned are--

1. Choose programs that are the best fit

I know this is a bit cliche, but in my case this was a fundamental and challenging task to complete. To begin with, I needed to know who I am as an academic in order to choose the discipline that is the best fit given my intellectual identity. On paper, I am a significantly better applicant for PhD programs in PolSci than I am for programs in History.  And I wasn't sure if I wanted to become a historian or a political scientist during my first cycle of application. For instance, I didn't know if I want to approach international politics as a historian or become a political scientist with a historical perspective. When I was preparing for my applications to History programs in 2016, I felt like I was "defecting" from one field to another. That identity crisis did real damage to my first cycle, and completely turned my existent academic training against me. Multiple POIs  even (explicitly or implicitly) asked  me why I wanted to be trained into a historian. 

So, the lesson is, if I cannot even identify my intellectual self, then the committees and POIs cannot either.

I spent the past year painstakingly coming to terms with the fact that I want to be a historian (with my research interests encompassing field A, B, C...). And this has not only made the "searching for programs that are the best fit" process in 2017 a lot easier, but also helped me to concentrate all my energy on accumulating more research experiences in field A, B, C. And I am a lot happier. 

From the results you can see that I applied to Columbia twice, once to the PhD program in PolSci (rejected) and this time to the PhD program called History - East Asia (accepted). I think the results speak for themselves. (And I am openly glad that I only need to send TOEFL and GRE scores once!)

2. Contact POIs

For the first cycle, I only contacted one POI for each of the program I applied to, and the contacting itself was of a very superficial nature- I simply asked if a given POI was interested in my research plans/academic background and if they were taking students. That was helpful but not productive. For the second cycle, I made sure to at least contact 2-3 POI for every program I was considering to apply to, and also asked all of my POIs if they have any advice on how to further develop my research interests and prepare my application. Most of them replied and most of those who replied gave advice in great detail. Two POIs literally pointed out that some of my research topics were not as original as the others, and have been already well studied. As you can imagine, I avoided writing about those research topics in my SOP. Some POIs shared their idea about what a good writing sample was, e.g. based on solid and original work, creative narrating, etc. And others suggested that I elaborated on a few research topics I originally considered not so important, bc they thought these topics could potentially lead to important research.

In short, by contacting POIs via dozens of emails, I became a better applicant already, even before I made a decision on which programs I should apply to. In retrospect, contacting POIs was a significantly helpful experience where I had a perfect excuse to ask renowned historians to take time to mentor me on how the mind of a professional historian should work. 

3. Ask multiple people to review SOP

Many people have offered excellent advice on how to revise one's SOP, so my focus here is rather on asking reviewers to help with the revision. For the first cycle, I asked three PhD students to review my SOP, but none of them are actually doing PhDs in History (oops!). For this cycle, six PhD students selflessly offered insight. Three of them were my own senpai, who are doing PhDs in top History PhD programs and would like to go the extra mile to get me in a top program too. Three others were people I know from this very forum - I didn't ask for their permission, so please allow me to refrain from revealing their identities - with two of them being advanced PhD students/candidates. I did lots of heavy revisions to my SOPs according to their advice, e.g. I abandoned all the language about "passion", "hope", "enthusiasm" bc they show nothing about my expertise or my professionalism. 

What prevented me from asking more people to review my SOP during the first cycle was that I was shy, and unconsciously afraid of hearing people say "this wouldn't work, you need to rewrite everything". Yes, showing my SOP - a piece of my mind and my intellectual self - to other people, especially strangers made me feel exposed and vulnerable, but this was nevertheless a must do. It's way much better to consciously feel vulnerable rewriting a SOP for the 17th time than to unknowingly submit a vulnerable SOP to the committee and get it slaughtered. I am so very grateful that so many people took their time (while being crazy busy with their own work) to selflessly rescue my SOP again and again. And in my humble opinion, it is significant that one always humbly asks for permission to send a SOP to a potential reviewer in advance, with great respect and gratitude, before sending out the SOP.

4. Not just make an effort to revise the writing sample, but make sure that the original research in this writing sample is very strong

My writing samples for both of the two cycles are actually about the same research topic. And no, my English skill/narrating style didn't improve that much in the past year. What changed is that I wrote my master's thesis based on the 2016 version of the writing sample, adding to it a lot more original research, then wrote the 2017 version of the writing sample based on the thesis. In other words, the research itself was stronger, more sophisticated, and significantly more mature. I thought revising the writing of a writing sample took a lot less time than enriching the original research the writing sample was based on, so in 2016 i focused solely on the "writing" part of the writing sample. But this was a tactical decision instead of a strategic one. A stellar research may end up producing a good (but not extraordinary) writing sample, but i feel it is unlikely that an immature and weak research can produce an original and solid writing sample. After all, the people who make decisions are established historians themselves, they can see.

4. Think of ways to proactively make the non-History related work experience/degrees in non-History disciplines into one's advantage

I don't have any degree in History, so this is more like my own "demon" to deal with. Please ignore the following if you don't have the awkward disadvantage of never having majored or even minored in History. 

This is easier to say than to do, but is doable. I have been spending my gap year working as a researcher for an NGO and was hired bc of my expertise in politics instead of history.(ironic~)  Bc of the nature of my work, I got to travel a lot (domestically and internationally) and communicate with academics from non-History disciplines, activists, and other professionals on a regular basis. At first, I was afraid that this kind of non-History experience was bound to further add to my disadvantage of not having a degree in History, but i was wrong. Many of the ideas - especially the good ones- in my SOP were a result of my learning from these people's perspectives. Hypothetically speaking, if one's interested in the historical transformation of gender norms, it doesn't hurt to work with those who endeavor to shape gender norms in our era. No, they are not the historians who study what I study and what happened one century ago, but they (are trying to) make or shape the history someone's gonna write about 100 years later.

So how did this play out? During my first interview with Columbia, the professor asked nothing about my research in History but a lot of my "work", and was very interested in knowing how i make connections between my work and my research. I later learned that another applicant who was also interviewed was asked similar questions - not about their research in History, but their non-History experiences. So, when it comes to the final decision and the quality of everything else  is the same/highly similar, the committee may also look at applicants' non-History experiences.

So, if you are also in a similar situation where you have a significant amount of non-History training and (work) experiences for whatever reasons, which can potentially lead the committee to assume that you are not committed to/experienced in History,  don't think about defending or justifying yourself (like i desperately tried doing in 2016 but in vain). Instead, think about how you can offer the program something special which they don't usually find in other applicants

5. Make sure that one has a strong support system

And don't just confine it to family and friends. For instance and in my case, I would say a very important part of my support system is my colleagues from work. After I failed my first cycle, my supervisor made an effort to send me to attend more conferences and do more business trips. I think part of this was bc I was obliviously very upset and needed distraction, and part of this was bc (my supervisor from work confirmed) my supervisor believed that this kind of experience would help me mature more as a researcher (regardless of the discipline), which, in turn, could help with my second cycle of application.

Meanwhile, a colleague from work who's a native English speaker checked the language of all my SOPs and writing sample for me, that was A LOT of time-consuming work. 

In addition, I would also say that all the POIs I contacted were also part of this support system. First, they were all very kind and encouraging. (and this is pretty much a guaranteed response from them) More importantly, many of them would offer advice on how to better prepare one's application if one asks nicely and skillfully, and this kind of support is what, in my humble opinion, an applicant might need more - even more than the emotional support (not saying emotional support is not important, though) from family and friends.

6. (this may only apply to me, but at least in my case) If applying to PhD programs is like shooting a target under great pressure with your life at stake (to some extent), then one may want to present oneself as a professionally trained sniper, instead of a passionate soldier. 

In my humble opinion, one won't be offered admissions to top programs bc one is passionate about one's research. I believe I was only offered admissions bc, first of all, the committees and POIs saw me as a professional historian in the making. In retrospect, during the first cycle i acted like a passionate soldier marching towards my targets like (no offense) a lot of people did or would do, but during the second cycle I somehow managed to behave, to some extent, like a sniper -  I was a lot more precise, I made calculations,  and I shot at my target professionally with the intention of getting the job done. 

My final two cents: there are many many soldiers and significantly fewer snipers in this world. Many soldiers can be replaced by other soldiers, but each good sniper has their professional signature and style (and even self-made bullets!) which eventually make them stand out and get "caught" by the "good people". (yes, I've watched too much crime drama...)

 

Best wishes to everyone!

Edited by AnUglyBoringNerd

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[EDIT: This is a later thread that has been merged with the existing one  - Telk (3/3/19)]

 

Hi historians! I was hoping we could get a thread going (before all the ones who got acceptances leave this forum because they're you're busy with actually getting ready for grad school!) with advice for those who are applying next year. I know I've learned a lot from applying this cycle and it'd be great to hear what others have!

I would tell past me to get started so much earlier! I decided to apply in September, but only started working on applications in November. Not only did it mean I had to choose programmes not according to fit but by their deadlines. Then I was picking programmes, studying for the GRE, writing my SoP, writing a Writing Sample from scratch, and asking for recommendations all at once (not to mention working, volunteering, and dealing with senior year stuff -- the worst I had it was driving two hours for the GRE at 8am, getting back at 7pm and writing an essay that was 100% of a module grade at 8pm, due the next morning. . .) It also meant I never got to chat with POIs, which would've been so helpful--not many got back to me when I emailed them two or three weeks before app deadlines; in retrospect, I imagine emailing them that late hurt my case more than it helped it.

Would love to hear everyone else's lessons learned--and congrats to everyone who have been admitted already!

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My top advice is to setup a timeline of application process. I started 8 months before they were due. This helped out immensely because I was really able to think about my application, research interests, and potential profs/schools. I literally sketched out a timeline with important deadlines. I found that this was really good practice for when it came to writing my honors thesis.

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Find one or two, but not more, professors to mentor you through the process. Professors nice enough to read drafts and comment thoroughly and constructively, but not those who will let your flaws slip through in order to avoid hurting you. Not more than that, because then you can get 4-5 contradicting opinions that will make your essays a hodgepodge of crap.

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1. Be honest with yourself. I chose a field that I felt like I had to be in instead of one that I was more interested in, which was my first really big mistake. I also didn't think about whether I was actually ready to do a PhD straight out of undergrad. When my thesis advisor encouraged me to apply to Masters programs, I was feeling like he just was underestimating my abilities and I was almost insulted. In the process of writing my thesis, I realized that I could benefit from more practical training. I also chose schools based on their ranking and made very loose fit judgements.

2. Don't apply to too many schools. This is advice I should've taken from people on GradCafe, but I was a lot more worried about getting than I was with making sure I only applied for the programs I fit best in. This backfired immensely, and I wasn't able to write really good, focused statements of purpose. When I apply to PhD programs next time 'round, I will definitely be tailoring my SOPs much better and make sure I only apply to about 5 schools with a good fit.

3. It's okay to be rejected. I think that one thing that has been hard for me is being willing to put it out there that I was rejected, especially when I see people getting accepted to amazing programs. It's not something to be ashamed of, though, because it's not because you're not good enough. It's because someone else had a better fit for the program than you did. 

4. Don't be afraid to apply for an MA program. Funded Masters programs exist in history, but they're harder to find. A Masters program isn't a consolation prize or a sign of failure-- a lot of people on the results page have had MAs! 

5. Use your advisors/professors. They will be willing to help you go through your writing sample and SOP. Yes, people on here will help you, and writing services can help you with your grammar, but professors will probably be the best people to go through and make sure you have everything you need. 

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I really can't stress how important having a few good mentors was for me. When I started I was on this forum a decent amount, thinking I could mostly do things on my own, but once I realized how much some professors really are willing and enthusiastic about helping out a pretty driven student, I leaned a lot more heavily on their advice and left a lot of the more conventional, undergrad application-type resources (books, school advisers, etc) more or less alone. Show your mentors multiple drafts, and when you get those commented drafts back, follow their advice, even if it means scrapping huge parts of your SoP or re-writing some of your sample. This also shows them that you actually value their input. 

Listen to your mentors when they suggest POIs, based on your interests. Every single one of my POIs at programs I was admitted to are scholars that my mentors either suggested or green-lit. Reach out to POIs as early as (reasonably) possible. You never know how the conversation will go, what they might warn you about, or what help they might offer--the programs I was admitted to were the ones where I had the most contact with my POI and I have to imagine that's what made the difference. 

Also, when possible, I would say you should try to think strategically about who's writing your recommendations in terms of the programs you apply to. Two of my recommendations were written by professors who had strong connections with my top two schools and I know for a fact that this helped me a lot at at least one school. It feels a little like cheating, but academia is an insular place and potential advisers will be more likely to take a chance on you if their friend from back in the day tells them you're a good bet. That said, the first priority with recommendations is still that they actually know you and are willing to write positive things about you. 

Basically: applications are a lot more about interpersonal and academic relationships than you might think. Use the contacts you have. 

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I agree about setting up a timeline, I made one for myself with a rough estimate of what i should accomplish each week in terms of applications, and spreading the tasks out over several weeks really helped! I also alternated between heavy-duty things like working on the SoP or writing sample and smaller tasks like dealing with the administrative side of things, filling in application forms etc, which require less brain power (and which can be done while listening to music for instance, and thus make it feel a lot less like work!). That way you can feel like you're giving yourself a little break while still doing something that needs to be done.

A few things I've learned from my own mistakes: I'll echo what @historygeek said above, be really honest with yourself about where your interests lie. In my case, it wasn't so much that I wasn't being honest with myself, but I was immensely intimidated by the field I really wanted to engage with (which I had engaged with before but never in the context of History; in the end, I went back to what was essentially my "first love" in academia and I'm so, so glad I didn't let my fear stop me). Bear in mind that I had been a history student for barely a year  when I started working on my applications last summer, so my interests were a little bit all over the place, you may have a much better grasp of what you want to engage with, so take what I say with a grain of salt!

My point being, try to flesh out your interests as early as you possibly can, and contact POIs early. If you're lucky, they will prompt you to think about your proposed project and will be honest with you if they think that it's not particularly original (it's a little brutal to hear but very helpful in the end!). Also, try to allow for the fact that your interests may naturally evolve as you go through the process of applying, whether it be through conversations with POIs, or the research you're doing in a Master's program, or anything, really. This happened to me very late into the process (mid-November) and while the changes I made to my project weren't so significant that it would automatically rule out the schools I had decided to apply to, it did make my fitting into many of these programs a bit more of a stretch. I'm very lucky that it worked out for me and that I got admitted into my top choice program (which I added to my list very late in light of the shift in my interests; it was all very fortuitous really, I instantly fell in love with the program and made the very spur of the moment decision to apply despite the deadline being fast approaching), but I wish I had had more time to put together a more coherent list of schools. In a nutshell: time is your friend, give yourself as much of it as you possibly can.

And as a side note, I can't predict how active I will be on this forum in the future, but my PMs are redirected to my inbox, so I will get those and I am always happy to help! I can't promise groundbreaking advice (I'm hoping at some point I'll feel like I know what I'm doing, but for now the imposter syndrome is still strong!), but I can at least promise a sympathetic ear and insider info about my own program. :) Also this cycle isn't over yet, don't lose hope!

 

 

Edited by Karou

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The other posts here cover the more rudimentary, yet also most fundamental mechanics here, like having specific research interests and potential project ideas, and the importance of discussing these questions in detail with your mentors--I cannot endorse these posts more strongly. My undergraduate mentors were instrumental to me developing my research ideas and formulating them into solid proposal. Since that stuff was covered and is also laid out in similar threads, I'm going in a different direction in my post using personal experience as my vantage point. The following (mostly) assumes you have your ideas of what you would like to research in order. I'll add at the outset that, like a few others I've seen here, I have a perhaps unconventional background and only very recently did I begin to believe I had a chance at getting into the top programs. I almost flunked out of high school, went to community college and then to a low-ranked national university because I was offered a tuition scholarship while working a full-time job, and was, quite frankly, scared shitless the first time I applied to a graduate program. So then,

Start as early as possible: My preliminary preparation for this season's applications began way back in the winter break of 2016/2017, as I thought I would be applying to programs that fall. This was my second time applying for graduate programs after being admitted to Syracuse University with the hopes that my experience there would make me competitive for admission into a more elite program by 1) proving that my GPA was a reflection of me and not my less than glamorous undergraduate institutions, and 2) improving my less than adequate research language skills to a level as close to fluency as possible. 

Be realistic and honest with yourself, but don't count yourself out: Elite programs are very difficult to get into even for people with elite undergrads, perfect language skills, solid research interests, and high GRE scores, but this doesn't mean that you shouldn't at least entertain the idea of applying if you don't quite check all of the boxes. That said, you've gotta be honest with yourself and identify your deficiencies. Once identified, you can work toward improving them. This is a great advantage of going the MA route before making the leap toward your dream program: it gives you time to resolve your deficiencies. In my case, I got lucky and was awarded a Fulbright right before the end of my second semester in grad school. I'll say something on this point I wish I had realized a few years ago: you don't need to apply only to terminal MA programs for this purpose! I'm sure this might be an unpopular idea for some here, but it's ok to transfer out of a PhD program and into another. You shouldn't be duplicitous or deceitful if you're applying to lower-ranked programs with the intent of applying elsewhere after a couple of years--that is exactly what you don't want to do, as you do need letters of recommendation from people from your program. But I do think it's ok to apply to a PhD program you can realistically be admitted to and see how it is. I know some who did this, realized they were quite happy there, and stayed. Applying to PhD programs is after all expensive and there's no guarantee of admittance. At the same time, if you're excelling in the program and have a shot at the elite programs, talk about it with your adviser. Our profs know the job market and they ultimately want for us to succeed. Sometimes that means going elsewhere. 

Do your research and consolidate/organize your findings: For me this meant looking through the US News rankings, making word document list of all of the programs in geographical locations I would be interested in living in (and maybe some where I wouldn't, but the program itself outweighed my geographical preference), visiting the websites of all of these programs, and recording basic information for each of the programs (faculty with relevant research interests, terms of fellowship, service requirements, stipend amounts, extras like travel allowances, etc.) into the word document list. For me, this first list with basic program information--most importantly noting whether or not there was a faculty member with relevant research interests--was about 40-50 programs. I then consolidated it to a second document which only included programs with relevant profs, and then further to a third which included only programs I would be interested in applying to. For me, this was about 9 programs. The document was initially a page, but ended up totaling thirty from the collection of further research into the programs and from the recording of correspondence with points of contact.

Contact your potential adviser with a brief message that addresses your research interests and that asks if they're accepting grad students: The reasoning is simple here. If they happen to not be accepting students to advise in your application season, you're throwing your money away by applying. If they don't think your topic is compatible with your research interests, you're also throwing your money away by applying. You can also ask whether or not they'd be willing to Skype with you, or, if you live near them, if they might be interested in meeting in person. I met with three in person this last summer, one of which a month later reached out to me and advised me not to apply because due to a rule change he was eligible for sabbatical, and Skyped/telephoned with the others. At the very least, doing this footwork shows you're serious about your interests and path in pursuing them. A phone call or Skype might not always be possible, but reaching out sends the message. Before one of these conversations, prepare questions about both research interests and details of the program itself. During these conversations, it's a good idea to take notes, which can then be used to supplement information not available online and to include in your SOP. Try to be yourself and be comfortable. It turned out that one of my potential advisers played guitar and we ended up spending half the conversation talking and joking around about that. While I would not recommend mentioning career interests outside of academia in your SOP,  mentioning it to your potential adviser might not be a bad idea. I did so during my interview at Georgetown, and it turned out my potential adviser was also heavily involved with the School of Foreign Service and she told me about the University's dual MA in German and European Studies at the School of Foreign Service and PhD in History, in which the PhD fellowship covers tuition fees for the MA. Oh, and I've noticed in other threads here that this is controversial, but if you're meeting a professor in person to discuss prospects of applying and research interests, dress nice. While not all, or even most profs will think it's necessary to do so, some will, and those who don't think it's necessary aren't going to think less of you for dressing up.

Email program directors and professors with relevant interests: For program directors, give a brief message about yourself and then ask some questions that might not be answered on the website. You can also ask for advice on the SOP. This is a good idea because different programs sometimes like to see different things emphasized. Sometimes they'll tell you they don't give advice on that--that's ok. Give a polite reply and say you're excited about replying. For professors with relevant interests, tell them who you're hoping to work with, what you're interested in, and what you find interesting about their research. Maybe ask some other things, like what they think about an aspect of your research interests that is relevant to there. You might not get a reply. Again, that's ok. The important part is that your name is being put out there to people who might be on the graduate committees who will play a role in making a decision about your admission. For this reason, avoid sending out a bunch of stock emails. Personalize them. Add any correspondence you have to your word document list of programs, as it saves you from having to retrieve it from your email when working on your SOPs. It can be a little disorienting, so make sure if you do this, you keep a list of everyone you've reached out to and whether or not you've received responses. I'll admit that this is rather time-consuming and perhaps a little overkill, but it's not a bad idea if you have the time.

Tailor your SOPs: Your SOP should address your research interests, your academic background as it relates to your research interests, why you're applying specifically to that school, who you want to work with and why. Some programs give you four to five pages for it. Others only one and a half. Some parts of all of them will be very similar/the same, others should be totally different. This is where I'll go back to one of the first things I mentioned: the document where you have all the details of every program you're applying to, the research interests of relevant professors there, and any correspondence you've shared with them. The key word here is efficiency. It will take you much longer to tailor your SOPs for each program if you're continually needing to go back the program's website, to the professors profile, to email correspondence, to the notes you wrote down during your conversation with them, etc. 

This contradicts a previous post, but Don't apply to too few schools: @historygeek mentioned five would be a good idea. That depends a few factors, including how many elite schools you're applying to, how strong of a candidate you are, how capable you are (time and comfort in your field are the big factors here) at being able to tailor your applications for each university, and how compatible you are with the program. As I mentioned above, even "perfect" candidates get rejected from the elite programs, so there's a big game of chance when you apply to them. For this reason, if you're trying to get into the most competitive programs, you need to make sure 1) every one you apply to fits, and 2) apply to more than just a couple because you could get turned down even if you're a perfect match. I applied to six, five of which had at least one professor with direct corresponding research interests, plus two programs I considered safe. 

 

This is a bit more than I intended to write when I first started, but here's to Sundays. Everybody's experience with graduate applications are different, so I don't expect for everybody to subscribe to what I have written here. And, to be honest, I didn't do anything on this list the first time I applied to graduate school and was still able to get into most of the programs I applied to, but then I also didn't apply to any PhD programs that round because I did what I recommended not to do here and counted myself out. Hope this is helpful.

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I just wanted to add, I absolutely agree that mentors are so, so important! The reason why speaking with POIs was more helpful in my case was because none of my current professors are experts in the field I hope to contribute to as a doctoral student. That being said, their help and support throughout this process was still very valuable and cannot be underestimated.

On a similar note, if you're an international applicant, I think it's important to have someone that is familiar with the system in the US on your side (this is assuming of course that you're applying to PhD programs in the US. Adapt it to your own situation, if you're applying to a school in Australia, same thing, try and find someone who is familiar with that particular system). For instance, my professors here in Europe only had very minimal comments on my statement of purpose, which left me feeling pretty confident about it. However, when I sent it to a US professor (after they had offered to read and review it), I ended up *significantly* revising it. Now I don't know if my current professors were trying to spare my feelings, or if it comes down to cultural differences about what a statement of purpose should or should not say but, just to be on the safe side, I would recommend having people who are familiar with the educational system from wherever it is you want to apply look through your application materials.

Edited by Karou

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