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Reaching out to programs for feedback on my application?


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Hi all. I'm currently still waiting on my last program response but it looks like I'll be reapplying next application cycle; this was my first time applying for History PhDs and I've been rejected from all so far. I applied to eight schools not really knowing what I was getting into since I didn't really have a mentor/anyone to get advice/feedback from.

That being said, I was told by a top choice program of mine that I was on the waitlist at one point but ultimately rejected. Knowing that I'll most likely be reapplying to the same program next year, would it be a good idea to reach out to programs (especially that one) and ask what I could improve on my applications next time around? I know people have done this but I feel a bit uncomfortable asking for something and worry that it might not be well-received.

Is this a good idea? If so, how should I go about it? Ie, should I contact the admissions director, department chair, or another way? If it's not a good idea, what are some good ways to improve applications for a second round of admissions without much outside assistance?

Thanks in advance to all!

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4 hours ago, whatkilledthedinosaurs said:

Hi all. I'm currently still waiting on my last program response but it looks like I'll be reapplying next application cycle; this was my first time applying for History PhDs and I've been rejected from all so far. I applied to eight schools not really knowing what I was getting into since I didn't really have a mentor/anyone to get advice/feedback from.

That being said, I was told by a top choice program of mine that I was on the waitlist at one point but ultimately rejected. Knowing that I'll most likely be reapplying to the same program next year, would it be a good idea to reach out to programs (especially that one) and ask what I could improve on my applications next time around? I know people have done this but I feel a bit uncomfortable asking for something and worry that it might not be well-received.

Is this a good idea? If so, how should I go about it? Ie, should I contact the admissions director, department chair, or another way? If it's not a good idea, what are some good ways to improve applications for a second round of admissions without much outside assistance?

Thanks in advance to all!

The short answer: No. 

I don't know if the people you said asked for feedback actually got feedback, but I'd advise against it.

It would be inappropriate because there are several moving parts in an application to graduate school. Some of these moving parts have absolutely nothing to do with you or your application, they have to do with department politics, budget, needs, and previous cohorts. In addition, unlike some grants, faculty that see your application do not prepare feedback reports so you'd be asking faculty to put even more labor in providing personalized feedback. Although it may seem like a tiny task, I can assure you, it is not. Further, several people see your application, who would you ask? Finally, faculty don't know you so it would be hard for them to provide substantive feedback. Unlike UG admissions, PhD admissions is not only about your SoP or your LoRs. 

Let me point out, however, that this system of course benefits the privileged. Those who have the connections of a mentor to look over their application materials or those who can rely on a network of peers. It is incredibly unfair, I know, but I don't think that necessarily means that it's ok to ask for feedback. The AdComm is not the best position to provide feedback. 

Now, when you say you don't "really have a mentor/anyone to get advice/feedback from", what do you mean? How did you decide to apply to PhD programs? Who wrote your letters? Who read your SoP? Something you can do between now and the next cycle is try to attend (free) talks/events and mingle. Ask questions, introduce yourself, etc. This of course depends on where you are. However, if no school/museum/library in your area host interesting events, do sign up for newsletters and keep tabs on what's going on elsewhere. Sometimes some talks are videotaped (especially those of big-name scholars) and you can find them on YouTube. Additionally, consider listening to podcasts about research in history. My favorite is the New Books Network, but there are many others. Finally, I'd also venture keeping the conversation open with graduate students in the programs you are applying. Sometimes they are more helpful than faculty. (In my case, I met one of them when they were doing research in my city. They introduced me to a friend of theirs also doing research in the city. This friend met with me and tutored me during my application, so you never know where you'll find readers!). 

Good luck!

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I would largely agree with @AP's advice, here. The only exception I can think of is if you've developed a relationship with the faculty member in question beforehand. I did request feedback from one of the programs I applied to, and the professor gave me as much information as he felt he could. That said, I'd already corresponded with this professor and spoken to him in person at some length.  That's certainly an atypical case, though.

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2 hours ago, psstein said:

The only exception I can think of is if you've developed a relationship with the faculty member in question beforehand. I did request feedback from one of the programs I applied to, and the professor gave me as much information as he felt he could. That said, I'd already corresponded with this professor

I had a similar experience. I contacted my POI after being rejected to thank them for their time and to ask how I can make improvements before applying again, and their advice was very helpful; I did also have earlier communications with said POI. I sent a follow-up email to that POI one year later after I got accepted somewhere else just to thank their earlier encouragement and advice, and they very generously took the time to respond to that email as well. However, I now have come to see how my experience is very likely not the norm... I never thought about reaching out to the program (DGS, the administration, etc) though, just a POI. 

Apologies for being misleading because some of my posts mention how helpful I found reaching out to an POI after rejection was. >_<

Edited by AnUglyBoringNerd
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14 hours ago, AnUglyBoringNerd said:

I had a similar experience. I contacted my POI after being rejected to thank them for their time and to ask how I can make improvements before applying again, and their advice was very helpful; I did also have earlier communications with said POI. I sent a follow-up email to that POI one year later after I got accepted somewhere else just to thank their earlier encouragement and advice, and they very generously took the time to respond to that email as well. However, I now have come to see how my experience is very likely not the norm... I never thought about reaching out to the program (DGS, the administration, etc) though, just a POI. 

Apologies for being misleading because some of my posts mention how helpful I found reaching out to an POI after rejection was. >_<

I think looking back, we all did things that were not the norm. I bombarded the person who was then my advisor with RIDICULOUSLY ANNOYING questions throughout the application process. When I graduated and went out for drinks, we had a blast looking back to those e-mails. 

Anyway, if you have some rapport, you might as well use it. 

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I would like to add that it seems some schools are fine with a denied applicant reaching out. In my rejection, University of Washington specifically said that they would be happy to give advice after April 15. This may be a rare occurrence, but I was happy to see that. 

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18 minutes ago, starshiphistory said:

Just wanted to say I also got that in my rejection email from University of Washington, which I really appreciated.

Yes I think they widely offered that to all rejected applicants. Considering the low acceptance rate and high numbers of applicants, it was refreshing to see the program offer feedback. 

Edited by jocelynbymarcjacobs
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1 hour ago, jocelynbymarcjacobs said:

Yes I think they widely offered that to all rejected applicants. Considering the low acceptance rate and high numbers of applicants, it was refreshing to see the program offer feedback. 

Did you request it? 

I'd be interested to see what this feedback looked like. 

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14 minutes ago, AP said:

Did you request it? 

I'd be interested to see what this feedback looked like. 

I haven’t yet—they asked that these requests be sent after April 15. I plan on taking advantage of this offer, so I’ll update when the time comes. 

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Having done that myself, it's fine to reach out to POIs but frame your request as a means of strengthen your application so you can get into a PhD program somewhere to fulfill your career goals and interests in the craft.  

If you never made contact with anyone in that particular program, don't.  Just do what you can within your control.  

As @AP said, you're not going to get feedback at all from fellowships and grants when you apply.  Even for big ones like ACLS-Mellon Dissertation Completion Fellowship that claims to have feedback if applicants want them after a certain date.  I asked for it and I literally got nothing.  Getting that email saying that the readers left no comments was frustrating because it was a huge application with multiple parts.  This experience  showed me how much academia sucks, that readers are already so overburdened with their research/teaching/service that they don't have spare energy to make a few comments. Comments come only because there's a connection between you and the reader (i.e. your POI).

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9 hours ago, TMP said:

As @AP said, you're not going to get feedback at all from fellowships and grants when you apply.  Even for big ones like ACLS-Mellon Dissertation Completion Fellowship that claims to have feedback if applicants want them after a certain date.  I asked for it and I literally got nothing.  Getting that email saying that the readers left no comments was frustrating because it was a huge application with multiple parts.  

WTF!?

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On 2/29/2020 at 5:50 PM, TMP said:

I asked for it and I literally got nothing.  Getting that email saying that the readers left no comments was frustrating because it was a huge application with multiple parts.  

Ditto

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I would genuinely be interested to know if departments are starting to give feedback to rejections. It sounds like a huge amount of work that professors might not be willing to take on. *stares in grad student*

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10 hours ago, Tigla said:

I would genuinely be interested to know if departments are starting to give feedback to rejections. It sounds like a huge amount of work that professors might not be willing to take on. *stares in grad student*

I doubt it.  It's an individual initiative, I think. It has to come from the applicants themselves.

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