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erebuni2

Number of schools applied to

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Hi everyone,

I am applying to History (and Near East) PhD programs this year. I have applied a few years in a row and haven't been accepted into my top choices. This will be my final year applying so I want to make sure I'm thorough with my choices. I wanted to ask what the average number of programs is most people applied to?

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there is no "average."  Some people can financially afford a lot of applications.  Some people have uncommon interests that they just can't apply widely as they'd like. Some people are constrained by their families' needs. Do what's best for YOU.

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I went through the process twice. I applied to two schools each time. I went one for two each time.

The first time, I was not admitted to the program I most preferred, the second time, I was.

The point I'm making is that sometimes more is less. It's not about how many applications but also how many applications to the "right" programs. (And then the first question becomes--what are the "right" programs?)

 

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7 hours ago, erebuni2 said:

Hi everyone,

I am applying to History (and Near East) PhD programs this year. I have applied a few years in a row and haven't been accepted into my top choices. This will be my final year applying so I want to make sure I'm thorough with my choices. I wanted to ask what the average number of programs is most people applied to?

If I had the chance to do it again, I'd apply to no more than 4 or 5. Realistically speaking, there are only 5 or 6 programs worth attending in any given sub-field.

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3 hours ago, psstein said:

If I had the chance to do it again, I'd apply to no more than 4 or 5. Realistically speaking, there are only 5 or 6 programs worth attending in any given sub-field.

FWIW, in my fields, there are easily twice that number. (My list of potential schools was developed by taking a very deep dive in a physical copy of the AHA's current Directory of History Departments and Organizations coupled with research on a select list of persons of interest/potential advisors.)

That being said, were I to do it again, I'd add one school to my first time through the process. For the second time, I would swap my second choice with another school. (Oh, got to love those time machine musings.) 

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Thank you everyone for the input. I agree with finding the right schools that fit, I just want to make sure I cover all my bases when applying. Thank you again for your help!

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I know this is an old post, but my 2 cents is: whatever the number of programs you fit and to which you can afford to apply. If I could do it all over again, I would've also cut programs with sketchy funding

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Make a massive list then cut?

Then cut: those with even a shred of doubt about funding like @ashiepoo72 said (compare with the vaguely worded department pages, spreadsheets here, and what you can see late-stage PhDs there doing on the web)

Then cut: ones with only one person who is clear fit to guide you. This one can be tough because some of the best and most exciting (young) scholars are at these departments (having just got out of their top-five programs after absolutely killing it). Those whose works have influenced the way I think about my field on the daily are at departments where, for me, they are the absolute only person there I could get help from. It hurts but you gotta let these ones go.

Then cut: places you don't want to live

That's what I did. It sure took a long time and I might reassess the approach next year if necessary - but it's what I know at this point. What do you guys think?

 

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12 hours ago, hojoojoh said:

Make a massive list then cut?

Then cut: those with even a shred of doubt about funding like @ashiepoo72 said (compare with the vaguely worded department pages, spreadsheets here, and what you can see late-stage PhDs there doing on the web)

Then cut: ones with only one person who is clear fit to guide you. This one can be tough because some of the best and most exciting (young) scholars are at these departments (having just got out of their top-five programs after absolutely killing it). Those whose works have influenced the way I think about my field on the daily are at departments where, for me, they are the absolute only person there I could get help from. It hurts but you gotta let these ones go.

Then cut: places you don't want to live

That's what I did. It sure took a long time and I might reassess the approach next year if necessary - but it's what I know at this point. What do you guys think?

This was my approach too. Some things I might add, having seen it from the other side as an admit/ grad student:

1) Cut every program without a guaranteed five-year funding package, but I wouldn't start choosing between five year funding packages too early, e.g., not applying to a program because the funding "looks" to be "mostly" TA-ships or because it doesn't appear to offer summer funding and a bunch of other schools do. You won't know exactly what your departmental funding package looks like until you have an offer in hand. Also, a lot of time department pages are vaguely worded because there's a larger academic unit controlling their purse strings, and until the academic unit disburses the department's funding, the department itself isn't 100% sure what's available. 

2) Note, too, the definition of "fit." If you're a 20th century French historian, a 19th century French historian can be your advisor. Also, for our hypothetical 20th century France applicant, a lot of times programs will have just 1 French historian, so if you look for 2, you'll come up very short— instead think in terms of a committee, where in addition to your advisor, there's 3-4 folks who work on your major field (modern Europe), and ideally one to three people who work in different geographic areas but in your same thematic area/s (science and technology, gender, colonialism, etc). I think the most important of these is being in a program where your major field has a robust presence; being the only person who works on [insert major field here] in your cohort, and only having 1-2 professors to take classes with or guide you, is a very lonely road.

3) Like, really don't want to live. Like, there would be nothing that could sway you to live there. Like, if this were the only program you got into, you would prefer not going to a PhD program at all. Like, if this program had amazing funding and the best advisor and you got in, you would take the program with worse funding over great funding at this location. 

TLDR: Don't apply to everything under the sun, but don't reject too much out of hand, either. I think if you are striking the right balance, there should be about 6 to 8 schools that are reasonable fits for you to apply to. 

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I applied to 6 schools. I'd say 3 of them were "reaches" in that my stats are fair for the programs but the acceptance rates are so low that it's impossible to predict.

2 more were solidly in my range, and the last one is my safety (prestigious name but I have a personal hook there).

I think it's important to envision yourself actually attending the school, rather than just applying to have the choice of going there. I made this mistake when applying to undergrad - I applied to 20 schools, a significant number of which I didn't actually want to go to. 

Anyway, this is just one data point for you. Hope you get into your dream school this time :) 

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On 9/25/2019 at 8:53 PM, psstein said:

If I had the chance to do it again, I'd apply to no more than 4 or 5. Realistically speaking, there are only 5 or 6 programs worth attending in any given sub-field.

Completely agree, I feel like you could easily start the process analyzing all of the schools that have your broad subfield in history, but by the end you should reasonably have 5 or 6 at most. That's also including other factors such as location, funding, how strong the program actually is, etc. I know I started with 13 and sussed it down to 6, with at least one being a complete gamble.

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On 12/14/2019 at 11:25 PM, ashiepoo72 said:

I know this is an old post, but my 2 cents is: whatever the number of programs you fit and to which you can afford to apply. If I could do it all over again, I would've also cut programs with sketchy funding

Can I ask, what's your definition of sketchy funding? I feel like that's the next step in this game: identifying the packages that the programs are offering. 

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2 hours ago, historyofsloths said:

Can I ask, what's your definition of sketchy funding? I feel like that's the next step in this game: identifying the packages that the programs are offering. 

Certainly anything with "competitively based" funding, or that is unwilling to commit up front to a 5+ year package with tuition remission and stipend included. You're likely going to take more than 5 years to finish the PhD, so a clear sense of "what do I have to do for funding after year 5?" is necessary.

I see you're interested in Madison, btw. Send me a PM if you like, I'm glad to discuss.

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1 hour ago, psstein said:

Certainly anything with "competitively based" funding, or that is unwilling to commit up front to a 5+ year package with tuition remission and stipend included. You're likely going to take more than 5 years to finish the PhD, so a clear sense of "what do I have to do for funding after year 5?" is necessary.

I see you're interested in Madison, btw. Send me a PM if you like, I'm glad to discuss.

Thanks for your answer! Some of the websites do talk about what happens after year five (that they'll offer additional funding up to year 7) but many remain pretty mum on the topic. I'll keep that in mind. 

And thanks, just sent one!

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On 12/16/2019 at 8:33 AM, historyofsloths said:

Can I ask, what's your definition of sketchy funding? I feel like that's the next step in this game: identifying the packages that the programs are offering. 

Any program that won't fund you for 5 years minimum isn't worth your time imo. It's a good idea to contact the grad program coordinator and/or chair at schools that aren't clear on funding. I highly recommend getting in touch with your potential advisers' grad students, as well. They can discuss your POIs advising style (invaluable information!) and give you info on how funding plays out in practical terms (cost of living, research/conference funds, department awards, funding for a potential 6th or 7th year, how well the department does in supporting applications for external funding, etc)

FWIW I'm currently in my 5th year and will be finishing the dissertation at the end of my 6th if all goes as planned. Most people take more than 5 years, which is why it's so important to get at least that in guaranteed funding. Ask programs if they will count university-wide or external fellowships against the funding they guarantee you; the better ones will not, and this gives grad students a bit of a cushion in the event they need more than 5 years to finish.

Edited by ashiepoo72

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On 12/16/2019 at 5:21 AM, gsc said:

This was my approach too. Some things I might add, having seen it from the other side as an admit/ grad student:

1) Cut every program without a guaranteed five-year funding package

 

On 12/16/2019 at 11:20 AM, psstein said:

Certainly anything with "competitively based" funding, or that is unwilling to commit up front to a 5+ year package with tuition remission and stipend included. You're likely going to take more than 5 years to finish the PhD, so a clear sense of "what do I have to do for funding after year 5?" is necessary.

 

 

21 minutes ago, ashiepoo72 said:

Any program that won't fund you for 5 years minimum isn't worth your time imo.

Does any program offer a funding package that does not include a year end review of a student's progress? If that review is required and funding can be cut for cause, it is a bit misleading to those who have not received such support to say that a funding package is "guaranteed."

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12 hours ago, ashiepoo72 said:

Any program that won't fund you for 5 years minimum isn't worth your time imo. It's a good idea to contact the grad program coordinator and/or chair at schools that aren't clear on funding. I highly recommend getting in touch with your potential advisers' grad students, as well. They can discuss your POIs advising style (invaluable information!) and give you info on how funding plays out in practical terms (cost of living, research/conference funds, department awards, funding for a potential 6th or 7th year, how well the department does in supporting applications for external funding, etc)

FWIW I'm currently in my 5th year and will be finishing the dissertation at the end of my 6th if all goes as planned. Most people take more than 5 years, which is why it's so important to get at least that in guaranteed funding. Ask programs if they will count university-wide or external fellowships against the funding they guarantee you; the better ones will not, and this gives grad students a bit of a cushion in the event they need more than 5 years to finish.

Thanks for the info and the advice. I've already received some invaluable information from @psstein about one of the programs I'm applying to. If I do get offers, I think I'll create a new phase to the grad school process to make sure I'm getting the truth from the programs.

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54 minutes ago, historyofsloths said:

 I think I'll create a new phase to the grad school process to make sure I'm getting the truth from the programs.

I recommend that you ask to be put in touch with ABDs who are at least one year post quals for information about the department. Even then, I suggest that you manage your expectations -- IME a history department consists of black boxes intersecting with black boxes that contain black boxes.

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@Sigaba that's a good question to ask a program for sure. My comment assumes people will have satisfactory reviews at the end of each year. My program won't cut a student's funding if one of their end-of-year reviews is unsatisfactory as long as they get satisfactory at the end of the following year. If not, it becomes more of a having to leave the program entirely issue than a funding issue.

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Truthfully. most people will pass through with a satisfactory report.  Professors have other ways to share their displeasure with your performance that will make the situation look like it's your fault for leaving the program, not theirs, to avoid being punished by the Graduate School (which controls the number of funding lines it will offer each year).  You are better off asking how many people leave each year and why.  Ask what ABDs are doing to extend their funding--TAships in other departments? GAship in a Writing Center? External or internal fellowships? Most graduate students will be honest enough to share.  Ask how supportive the department is about students finding external sources of funding. Remember, most funding packages include TAing and you DON'T want to be TAing all the time. A done dissertation is a good dissertation and to get a done dissertation, you need to do less teaching and more writing.

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