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Heimat Historian

Lessons Learned: Application Season Debriefings

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22 minutes ago, dsbanis said:

you could get turned down even if you're a perfect match

Mhm...I don't know about this. I feel what happens is that if the committee/professors at that specific school don't see us as a perfect match, we get rejected. This surely is more or less subjective, but does not necessarily mean that those professors are wrong. After all, it's more about what they think of us, not what we think of them. This might be sub-field specific, but my POIs from Harvard and Columbia both mentioned that they reviewed all the applications to my sub-field carefully. So, I no longer think the decision making in my sub-field is that random and arbitrary. Also, at least one of my POIs mentioned (figuratively) that someone whose style matches that of Harvard may not match the style of Columbia. 

So, I second historygeek, 5 is about right. After all, it's about getting in the program you want to get into, and then get a job after you are out of it....it's not really about getting into any school. And like what others have said for so many times, it's rather unlikely that there could be as many as 10 elite programs given our supposed-to-be flexible but somewhat refined research interests.

*elite= good funding and resources + good placement records + good advising + many other factors 

1 hour ago, cyborg213 said:

I'm sure many people with no connections are offered admission

Yes. I wouldn't worry about this "lack of connections". :) 

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1. Make sure your writing sample reflects all your skills. I study medieval history, so knowledge of Latin is very important in my field. I made sure to translate ALL the passages I quote on my own, and to add the original Latin in the footnotes. Also, I did my best to show that I can read in German (even if it takes me forever). Moreover, try to send a paper that is not only well written, but also somewhat original. I've heard from a current grad student that, as far as he knows, many applicants submit rather technical writing samples. By that I mean papers that show great proficiency in the historiography of a given field, but lack the ability to articulate original questions and to offer provocative assessments. So do your best to show that you have a unique perspective and that you can translate it to excellent research projects. Schools don't need grad students that can only say what hundreds of scholars have already said.

2. I agree with @Karou about the importance of figuring out your research interests. Coming up with a project to which you'll be devoting so many years of your life is not an easy task. I got really confused about it, and offered a project that I didn't really like. From my experience, the most important question you should ask yourself is what are the types of sources (narrative sources, legal documents, charters, epistolography, etc.) you see yourself working with.

3. Don't apply to universities you don't want to go to. Don't waist time on safety schools. I don't think it's worth writing an application for a school that can't fund you properly, or to a professor whose work makes you sleepy.

Edited by MARTINt

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I want to reiterate what someone said above which was definitely apply to MA programs. My first cycle I got rejected from all the PhDs I applied to but am now finishing my MA and have been accepted to all the programs I've heard back from so far. I expect some rejections, of course, but this has been a very different experience. I know many people on this forum have applied multiple times, so if the first round doesn't turn out as you hope it will then don't let that stop you. Having an MA or two as a backup plan is a good idea. If you don't end up needing it, great! 

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Firstly, I want to echo the discussion of considering an MA program. Honestly, for all this talk of elite schools, my goal was always to teach community college (for a variety of personal reasons). With that goal in mind, I set my sights on a terminal MA and NEVER considered applying to any PhD program out of undergrad. That goal has evolved as I have grown and gotten further into my research, and I am still shocked that I will be entering a PhD program in the fall, simply because it was not the plan until about a year ago.

Secondly, an advisor or two is a key element to this process. I had my MA thesis advisor working with me on my writing sample (as it is a chapter from my thesis), but my department chair helped me extensively with my SOP. Those types of instructors and mentors can also help you determine schools that are best for you to apply for. So many historians know each other, they will likely know someone who could be a potential POI.

Thirdly, contact potential POIs EARLY. I was in e-mail contact as early as March of 2018. Honestly, I started discussing my research interests with them and trying to work out if we would be a good fit because many of us live life on a budget, why waste time/application fees/stress on programs that are certainly not going to accept you because your POI is not interested. That's not a surefire way to be accepted, but it helps to know if the program is worth your effort and cost. I still ended up rejected from a program after speaking to a POI on the basis of "your intended advisor did not think he could properly advise your project." You never know, but networking and feeling people out never hurts, as long as you are polite and respectful about how you approach it.

Ok, for some reason this has turned into a much longer response than I planned, but I'll keep going. Visit schools that you are interested in (if you are able). Set meetings with the DGS and POI. It doesn't have to be a formal interview, but if you show up with questions prepared about the program and demonstrate that you are serious, it can go a long way. Dress nicely, make a good impression, and admission committees will be able to put a face with the name on paper. This also helps you because you can see if your personality fits with your POI. I can't imagine anything worse than entering a long term program and having to work closely with someone I could not stand! The program I will be attending in the fall is one that I went to meet with. Honestly, my verbal GRE score is not fantastic. My written was fairly high, as well as my letters, GPA, and presumably the rest of my application. I think that visiting helped to offset the fact that standardized tests are not my friend.

Lastly, I know the job market is hard. The goal of entering these programs is to find work after you graduate. That said, yes, the big elite schools look great to potential employers, but check out the placement records of some of the smaller state schools. ESPECIALLY if there is a POI who you mesh well with. Great historians do work outside of the well known programs, and if the school has a good reputation, a good placement record, and a good POI, there's no reason to not consider them. I am glad that I looked, because my research interests are relatively uncommon and I got very lucky with the school that I found. Do lots of research into different types of programs, sometimes what's best in a name is not necessarily best for your personal interests or goals.

**EDIT: Many state schools also offer funding packages, especially because they realize our job market is incredibly tough. Always look at the funding, but keep in mind that it is often offered. I am about to complete a partially funded MA at a regional school, and I had scholarships to cover what my Grad Assistant position did not. There's always ways to find funding, but you have to look!

I hope some of my rant helped. I'm clearly no authority figure, I just speak from experience.

Edited by DanaJ

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I'll parrot most of what has been said above. 

The keys to a strong application lie in the SOP and the writing sample.  The SOP is your opportunity to elucidate not only what you want to study, but also how you want to study it.  Absolutely tailor your SOP to each school (and probably more than tossing in an obligatory "I want to work with ..." sentence at the end).

In the writing sample, clearly demonstrate your use of primary sources, but don't slough on analysis.  

Finally, don't leave anything on the table when you're applying -- proofread, write confidently and honestly, and secure strong rec letters.  But, for the love of god, once you've submitted, STOP.  Do NOT reread anything until you have a response in hand because you will inevitably find a typo and spend all your time obsessing over it.

 

This process is capricious.  There are things you can do to make yourself stand out, but it is not an exact science.  Who knows which way the wind will blow from one year to the next?  Be kind to yourself and remind yourself that your worth has nothing to do with any school's admissions decision.

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6 hours ago, e_randolph said:

I'll parrot most of what has been said above. 

The keys to a strong application lie in the SOP and the writing sample.  The SOP is your opportunity to elucidate not only what you want to study, but also how you want to study it.  Absolutely tailor your SOP to each school (and probably more than tossing in an obligatory "I want to work with ..." sentence at the end).

In the writing sample, clearly demonstrate your use of primary sources, but don't slough on analysis.  

Finally, don't leave anything on the table when you're applying -- proofread, write confidently and honestly, and secure strong rec letters.  But, for the love of god, once you've submitted, STOP.  Do NOT reread anything until you have a response in hand because you will inevitably find a typo and spend all your time obsessing over it.

 

This process is capricious.  There are things you can do to make yourself stand out, but it is not an exact science.  Who knows which way the wind will blow from one year to the next?  Be kind to yourself and remind yourself that your worth has nothing to do with any school's admissions decision.

ohhhh, Stop would have been vital to my application process!!! I used a sample thesis chapter, but the thesis is still in progress. I have been back over these pages more times than I would like to count, and I did find a MAJOR typo! Luckily I fixed it after two applications, I staggered mine due to fees. The program that accepted me did not read the same sample as some of my earlier applications.

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26 minutes ago, DanaJ said:

ohhhh, Stop would have been vital to my application process!!! I used a sample thesis chapter, but the thesis is still in progress. I have been back over these pages more times than I would like to count, and I did find a MAJOR typo! Luckily I fixed it after two applications, I staggered mine due to fees. The program that accepted me did not read the same sample as some of my earlier applications.

I'm having a hard time determining what you're trying to say.  But I think my advice stands. As I said, once you've submitted, STOP reading your submitted materials.  If you haven't submitted, keep proofreading and sharpening your work.  It's destructive to stew over materials you no longer have any control over, particularly during the month(s)-long waiting period.

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1 hour ago, e_randolph said:

I'm having a hard time determining what you're trying to say.  But I think my advice stands. As I said, once you've submitted, STOP reading your submitted materials.  If you haven't submitted, keep proofreading and sharpening your work.  It's destructive to stew over materials you no longer have any control over, particularly during the month(s)-long waiting period.

I submitted a sample that I felt good about, but it was a chapter from my MA thesis, which is a larger work that is still in progress. As my thesis has evolved over time, I would go back and re-work aspects of the chapter I had submitted as a writing sample. I would probably have felt great if I never had to look at that section of my thesis again, but since I had to go back to it as part of a larger project, I discovered typos in the sample that I had submitted to programs!

I agree with your advice not to look at materials once you have submitted them, but I would add that if you are continuing to apply to other programs, an extra look does not hurt. Application fees can be hard for students, I staggered my applications over 2 week periods so that all of the fees did not hit me all at once. As I was spreading applications out over time, I was also continuing to work on my thesis so I was revisiting the sample I had submitted. I was happy to fix the error that I found before sending my writing sample to the program I was ultimately accepted into, but at the same time I doubt that one typo would have been enough to justify rejecting me! It can create unnecessary stress but using a writing sample that best demonstrates your interests can also work to your benefit because it emphasizes what you are saying in your SOP. If it's part of a larger work in progress, it is harder to walk away from.

Edited by DanaJ

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On 2/9/2019 at 12:19 PM, historygeek said:

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.

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. 

2

I would recommend that one not under any circumstances "use" advisors, professors. Accept their support, follow their guidance, make use of their experience and expertise, but don't "use" them. They will see through it right away and adjust accordingly.

On 2/11/2019 at 9:24 AM, historygeek said:

[M]y thesis advisor told me that I should "expect disappointment" (his words, verbatim).

 

Do you understand why he may have suggested that you manage your expectations?

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5 minutes ago, Sigaba said:

I would recommend that one not under any circumstances "use" advisors, professors. Accept their support, follow their guidance, make use of their experience and expertise, but don't "use" them. They will see through it right away and adjust accordingly.

Do you understand why he may have suggested that you manage your expectations?

"Use" in my post wasn't intended to mean to use your advisors just as a tool, but to get their guidance and their wisdom, if that makes sense! I meant "use" in the sense that you mean: to accept support and make use of their expertise, as well as asking them for guidance on SOPs, etc.

Yes, in retrospect I completely understand. At the time, it was disheartening, but ultimately necessary.

Edited by historygeek

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I'd say that my biggest pieces of advice, which have also been mentioned above, are:

  1. Apply to MA programs as well if you can. Or have some sort of plan B. Before I received acceptances I was very stressed because I didn't have any other plans.
  2. Get started early! I did this and it made the process much less overwhelming.
  3. Having a professor read over my SOP and answer my questions about grad school in general was such a great help. Definitely try to find a mentor.
  4. Reach out to POIs before you apply. It's nice to know if they are accepting grad students, and to see what they're really like. This saved me from sending in a few applications that probably would've been tossed since my POI was about to retire.

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I echo the advice on interpersonal relationships. The problem is not everyone has those great mentors just around the corner but something I have learned is that even during the application cycle you can forge new relationships. There are professor out there willing to mentor you through an application process if they see you are serious. Start early, take it seriously even if there is still a lot of time till the application is due, this is a marathon don't exhaust yourself on one part of the process. Ultimately what helped me tremendously has been the visualization that I already was working on my PhD rather than just applying. I could take myself very seriously when I considered it a job and didn't loose confidence if one thing didn't go as planned at fist. It's really simple actually, don't complicate it.

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I'm not entirely sure what's the process for this, but would any mods consider pinning this topic so it doesn't get lost as new threads are posted in the History forum?

Some really valuable insight for future applicants in this thread imo!

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5 hours ago, telkanuru said:

There's an existing thread pinned on the same subject; I merged the two and changed the title - does that work?

Love it!

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OK so there has been some nonsense and someone merged 3 threads into one. I've tried to pull them apart to the best of my ability, so if I've left one of your posts behind here

Please flag it using the report feature and tag me in the report, and I will port it back over.

 

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