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Speculation about COVID and fall 2021 polisci applications


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Hello everyone!

A little bit of background. I'm new here (well, I saw this forum a couple years back, but I only just created my account) and in the process of applying to a polisci phd in the US. I'm an international student, and as of yet I've taken the GRE and the TOEFL, plus my writing sample is pretty much done, so I'm like halfway there I think (I only need to write the SOPs and talk to some faculty about my LORs). I know the application process hasn't started, so do not think of this thread as dedicated to the fall 2021 admission process. I just wanted to hear your thoughts on what you'll think happen December through February, and how you think it'll be impacted by the ongoing pandemic. I was surprised that there wasn't a thread like this already in the polisci forum (the only one I found was that uncertainty thread, but it was dedicated to the fall 2020 cycle and only for international students), so I'll start :)

Supply: I think this is the most straightforward category, so I'll start with it. I think it is pretty much obvious less offers will be handed out, for two reasons. First, universities will have less resources to work with (less undergrad enrollment, less grants, etcetera), so GSASs will probably force departments to decrease the incoming cohorts. And second, departments will know that people will not likely pass on their offers (due to economic uncertainty), and as the yield will be higher, to even achieve their normal cohort goals they would need to make substantially less offers (and, again, they will want a smaller number of grad students this year). I don't know by how much the supply of offers will decrease, but if I had to guess I'd say if they normally hand out like 30-4 offers, they'll lower it to like 15-7. Ouch. I thought that some departments might cancell their admission processes this year altoghether (as Princeton's Sociology department did), but as of yet I haven't seen any instances of this. If you know any departments that will, please do point them out.

Demand: Now this is a bit trickier. In principle, it should be simple: economic crisis -> more people want to enter grad school. However, this is not a regular crisis, so therefore common wisdom might not hold up. First, it does not seem so clear as to when this crisis will be over. I think I'm not alone in that I originally thought this was going to be over by May. Now it is clear that it will not be over until there is a vaccine, and who knows when that'll be done. So people might not want to even think of applying before this crisis is over, which could hold domestic demand steady. Second, every paper that studies grad school enrollment and economic crises centers around MBAs and other MAs, rather than PhDs. I think that it is not unreasonable to expect an increase in the demand for those types of degrees. But a 6 year PhD in political science is not something that someone does in the middle of their careers (in contrast to something like MAPSS and QMSS, which I expect to experience an increase in demand). So, I think that domestic demand might increase a bit, but not too much. In contrast, I do think that international demand will decrease. First, this whole situation will probably instill a bit of fear on every international applicant (even myself, buy I remain unmoved in my resolve to go to gradschool), and a whole lot of uncertainty in the process (for example, who knows when you'll be able to get a visa?). And second, there is the whole Tr*mp variable. I have read that international applications have not taken too much of a hit in the midst of the most anti-foreigner administration in recent american history, but the uncertainty around the election might just do it. Even if he looses (which I so want), we might not be sure until the period in which applications close. Therefore, I think international applicants will decrease significantly.

GREs: I'm lucky enough that I could still afford to pay for the GRE, and that I have a suitable environment to take it at home. I don't think everyone will be so lucky. I think it is likely that most programs will make it optional this year (I think UPenn and Chicago have already announced this for their polisci applicants, if someone knows of another case please point it out), but this will generate a pretty unjust situation. A first group in principle will not be affected (people who took it before this crisis), but the rest will. I think that taking it at home makes the test significantly easier (I'm sure my scores should have not been this high), which of course benefits people who a) can still afford to spend like US$300 in the test + score reports, b) live in tranquil residential areas, and c) have a reliable internet connection. People that do not satisfy one of those criteria will not be able to take the test, and therefore choose not to include it on their applications. I am sure that no matter how much universities say that they'll consider every application regardless of score, there will certainly be a bias towards people that hand in a good score. This will benefit the first and second group (but, as the latter will tend to have a better score, the people who took it before the crisis will also be affected). All in all, I expect an significant increase in the median incoming GRE score, both as a result of more selective processes and of the new at-home format.

Funding offers: Difficult to predict, but I think they will stay the same, at least for good departments. I think that T20 depts will prefer to make less offers, than to get a rep for being stingy. Middling depts might make more offers without funding, but I'm not sure. Public universities might decrease funding packages for all grad students, but I'm not sure about this either (they will probably fire some of the adjunct faculty or increase undergrad tuition before).

Duration: I think the lenght of the decision process will increase significantly. I think we won't hear the final offers until like late march, rather than mid february. Please feel free to disagree, but I think the selection committees will still be stuck at home, which will make coordination between profs and bureaucrats slower.

Departments: I think T10 departments will be affected negatively by all of this, as they won't be able to admit all of the grad students they need to (in the future, there will not be enough TAs and RAs to satisfy internal demand, which might be good for MA students!). I do not think their incoming cohorts will be better (except for GRE scores, as mentioned above), as they are already so selective that I do not see how their students could get even more competitive. On the other side, the rest of the T20, and especially the T40, will be significantly benefited by all of this. As more of the 'best applicants' will be available (due to smaller cohorts in T10 departments), their cohorts will be significantly more competitive. Yes, they will have less incoming students; but they will make up for this with a much better incoming cohort (and the prestige that comes with it!) Feel free to disagree about this.

Summary: we're doomed hahahah. The thing is, I'm not even sure how long these changes will last. Therefore, I think it is unwise to postpone our applications until next year. Less offers this year will mean that a lot of demand will build up, which will definitely impact subsequent years. I think only in like 5 years, things will get back to normal.

That's it! Sorry for the length, but I sorted out my own thoughts while I was writing it. What do you think? Feel free to add your own category :)

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I am far from an admissions expert, but I am slightly more optimistic than you.

If departments are so concerned with limiting admits then it does not benefit them to not require GRE scores. I saw some Departments even removing the application fee. To me, this signals a Department enticing applicants. If these Departments weren't planning on admitting something like a normal size class then why would they change their admission requirements at all? With that being said, I agree admits will decline slightly , but I think (hope) much of it may be offset by less demand. I agree there will be less international students, which make up large portions of American graduate programs. There may even be less American applicants because of all of the uncertainty and chaos the COVID-19 pandemic has caused. This forum even seems to be slightly less active than last year. A lot of people may have changed thier grad school plans because of the pandemic and even more may be turned off by the perception that schools will limit their admits. Obviously, I am just stating my opinion.

As for the GREs, I think that pool is already highly self selected. The majority of Americans will not be affected by at home GRE requirements and I would think most international students that are planning on an American PhD most likely have the necessary resources to take the GRE. Also, if there is an uptick in people seeking Masters, then there could be a subsequent uptick in GRE test takers as well.

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I'll be applying for a PhD in English for next fall, and I would be lying if I said I wasn't a bit worried. I was already worried about getting into a good school way before COVID-19 happened. Like @DrGonzzo mentioned in his response, I do try to see things in a more optimistic way. I'm still not sure if less applicants, especially to a PhD in English program, will benefit me or not. Will that just mean they're more selective? Less selective? I'm not really sure. All I can say is that I'm hopeful for the future, and I'm hopeful that I'll get into a good PhD program in English. As of now, I haven't been immediately affected by COVID-19, and I hope it stays that way for me. *Knocks on wood.* 😅

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18 minutes ago, The Maritime Scholar said:

I'll be applying for a PhD in English for next fall, and I would be lying if I said I wasn't a bit worried. I was already worried about getting into a good school way before COVID-19 happened. Like @DrGonzzo mentioned in his response, I do try to see things in a more optimistic way. I'm still not sure if less applicants, especially to a PhD in English program, will benefit me or not. Will that just mean they're more selective? Less selective? I'm not really sure. All I can say is that I'm hopeful for the future, and I'm hopeful that I'll get into a good PhD program in English. As of now, I haven't been immediately affected by COVID-19, and I hope it stays that way for me. *Knocks on wood.* 😅

Seconded.

Sociology departments are closing because a lot of their research largely depends on social experiments and working with groups of people. This is impossible in our socially distanced world. At the end of the day, we just have to submit our applications and hope for the best.

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I highly recommend you (and others) change the scope of your perspective. You shouldn't ask yourself how COVID is going to affect admissions - which at the end day, is a pointless exercise because you either get acceptances or you don't.

You should be asking yourself why you want to enter into an industry that is essentially collapsing from the inside? You most certainly will not get a job. I'd highly recommend not getting a PhD.

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43 minutes ago, polsciguy88 said:

I highly recommend you (and others) change the scope of your perspective. You shouldn't ask yourself how COVID is going to affect admissions - which at the end day, is a pointless exercise because you either get acceptances or you don't.

You should be asking yourself why you want to enter into an industry that is essentially collapsing from the inside? You most certainly will not get a job. I'd highly recommend not getting a PhD.

I was told the same nonsense in undergrad. A major in political science will get me nowhere, but I secured a full-time job working in politics before I even graduated. For people that understand networking and how to properly position yourself in modern America, there will always be jobs. Maybe not always as a professor, but as a researcher for the government or writing for a publication. Also, there is a staggering amount of universities across the world to consider. Some of us do not mind moving, have language skills, and U.S. PhDs look good on applications.

We have a short time on this planet and many of us just want to pursue what makes us happy. You have no right to act like you have any idea what you are talking about trying to ask us some pseudo-profound question. You should ask yourself what choices you made with your life to find yourself here on a grad school forum trying to discourage excited people from getting PhDs.

I am not going to make my life decisions based on some person on the internet acting like they know better. Get off your soapbox.

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2 hours ago, polsciguy88 said:

You should be asking yourself why you want to enter into an industry that is essentially collapsing from the inside? You most certainly will not get a job. I'd highly recommend not getting a PhD.

 

53 minutes ago, DrGonzzo said:

I was told the same nonsense in undergrad. A major in political science will get me nowhere, but I secured a full-time job working in politics before I even graduated. For people that understand networking and how to properly position yourself in modern America, there will always be jobs. Maybe not always as a professor, but as a researcher for the government or writing for a publication. Also, there is a staggering amount of universities across the world to consider. Some of us do not mind moving, have language skills, and U.S. PhDs look good on applications.

We have a short time on this planet and many of us just want to pursue what makes us happy. You have no right to act like you have any idea what you are talking about trying to ask us some pseudo-profound question. You should ask yourself what choices you made with your life to find yourself here on a grad school forum trying to discourage excited people from getting PhDs.

I am not going to make my life decisions based on some person on the internet acting like they know better. Get off your soapbox.

 @polsciguy88 is asking a different question than the ones you're answering, @DrGonzzo 

The question "why?" is visited almost every season at the grad cafe in one fora or another.

(Also, the rules for positioning oneself in modern America are very much in flux.)

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58 minutes ago, Sigaba said:

 

 @polsciguy88 is asking a different question than the ones you're answering, @DrGonzzo 

The question "why?" is visited almost every season at the grad cafe in one fora or another.

(Also, the rules for positioning oneself in modern America are very much in flux.)

I know why I am applying, but I expect it varies for different people. Personally, I am applying because it is the only occupation I can imagine doing for the rest of my  life. I have had several jobs in politics and government over the years and I now have a pretty decent idea of what I want out of my life. I am going down this path because I want to and because I want a job that I actually enjoy, not a safe one or one that pays well. I do not know about anybody else, but I am prepared to struggle endlessly for this goal. 

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27 minutes ago, DrGonzzo said:

I know why I am applying, but I expect it varies for different people. Personally, I am applying because it is the only occupation I can imagine doing for the rest of my  life. I have had several jobs in politics and government over the years and I now have a pretty decent idea of what I want out of my life. I am going down this path because I want to and because I want a job that I actually enjoy, not a safe one or one that pays well. I do not know about anybody else, but I am prepared to struggle endlessly for this goal. 

You may benefit from taking a very deep dive into older threads centering around the "why" question (if not also non-traditional students)  and/or reading extensively posts by members of the GradCafe who posted prolifically in seasons past. Such a dive may reveal that your aspirations are similar to those who eventually reached the limits of their endurance and to others who reached their goals.

The purpose of this recommendation is to guide you to information that will enable you to benefit from the experiences of others--the "received wisdom" of this community.

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11 minutes ago, Sigaba said:

You may benefit from taking a very deep dive into older threads centering around the "why" question (if not also non-traditional students)  and/or reading extensively posts by members of the GradCafe who posted prolifically in seasons past. Such a dive may reveal that your aspirations are similar to those who eventually reached the limits of their endurance and to others who reached their goals.

The purpose of this recommendation is to guide you to information that will enable you to benefit from the experiences of others--the "received wisdom" of this community.

I appreciate the recommendation, but, with all due respect, you have no idea who I am. I have even less idea who you are or where this "received wisdom" comes from on an anonymous internet forum.

I based my decision on conversations with my co-workers who have completed PhD programs in political science, the professors I have conducted research with, plenty of POIs, my significant other, and the political science faculty at my undergrad school.

I am at peace with my decision. I only hope that all of us can find peace in our decisions as well.

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Brown admissions cancelled: https://www.brown.edu/academics/political-science/graduate/application-graduate-admission

Universities are not in a good financial spot right now and would rather spend their limited funds on current students than on new additional students. My money is on more programs cutting the amount of students they take on/cancelling the 2020-2021 cycle fully. 

 

 

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On 8/17/2020 at 10:08 AM, DrGonzzo said:

Seconded.

Sociology departments are closing because a lot of their research largely depends on social experiments and working with groups of people. This is impossible in our socially distanced world. At the end of the day, we just have to submit our applications and hope for the best.

With all due respect, soc (especially a department like princeton) isn't cancelling admissions this year because of social distancing. First years take classes full-time (fine to do online) and do very little fieldwork, plus these decisions were made months ago before we knew how long covid was going to drag out. This is almost purely a financial decision. 

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On 8/11/2020 at 10:18 AM, clesanbar said:

Second, every paper that studies grad school enrollment and economic crises centers around MBAs and other MAs, rather than PhDs.

A recommendation. Please do what you can to avoid using words like "every", "all," "always," and "never" when describing your findings of a literature review. By using such determiners, you can paint yourself in a corner that could be easily avoided. All a disinterested party has to do is to find one paper that looks at enrollment patterns during the Great Recession and your credibility takes a hit. 

https://www.cgsnet.org/ckfinder/userfiles/files/R_ED2009.pdf

A fellow graduate student or, worse, a professor that wants to use you as a chew toy could additionally point to subsequent studies and reports from the Council of Graduate Schools and academics that look at enrollment rates by discipline, year over year.

As a rule of thumb, it is "always" safer to qualify one's findings. "Based upon my cursory search of available studies..." "The provisional findings of my preliminary research suggest..."

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37 minutes ago, DrGonzzo said:

I appreciate the recommendation, but, with all due respect, you have no idea who I am. I have even less idea who you are or where this "received wisdom" comes from on an anonymous internet forum.

I based my decision on conversations with my co-workers who have completed PhD programs in political science, the professors I have conducted research with, plenty of POIs, my significant other, and the political science faculty at my undergrad school.

I am at peace with my decision. I only hope that all of us can find peace in our decisions as well.

To me, it is odd that you seek to discredit 1.2 million posts written over many years because the posts are on an "anonymous internet forum" while, at the same time, you offer opinions on this application season anonymously. And it's also a bit odd that you say you have no idea who end users are even though much can be gleaned through reading of others' posts. To be fair, at least 2,405 of those 1.2 million posts are YMMV but then there are still the posts of old hands who have moved on as well as those of senior members.

IMO, these oddities beg two (rhetorical) questions. Why participate at the Grad Cafe if the only opinions that matter to you are yours or those that align with your views? Also, if you're so "at peace" with your decision, why are you so reluctant to take a look around? 

 

Edited by Sigaba
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2 hours ago, BunniesInSpace said:

With all due respect, soc (especially a department like princeton) isn't cancelling admissions this year because of social distancing. First years take classes full-time (fine to do online) and do very little fieldwork, plus these decisions were made months ago before we knew how long covid was going to drag out. This is almost purely a financial decision. 

That could very well be true, but I stated the reason cited by the Princeton Sociology Department Grad Director.

https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2020/06/01/some-departments-plan-suspending-or-limiting-graduate-cohorts-year-or-longer-free

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A PhD In political science is designed to get you a job as a researcher and Professor primarily. Yes, a PhD in political science will teach you tangible skills you can take and get good jobs in Data Science, government, etc. 
I won’t say don’t do it like some people will, but you have to come to the terms with two questions: 

1) the job market for tenure track position sucks And may not improve anytime soon. Are you ok with not getting a tenure track position? https://mobile.twitter.com/tylerreny/status/1293175667702497281

2) if you are targeting an industry job, are there other routes other than a PhD that could get you to your industry job quicker and sooner without years of low pay and long hours?
 

admissions are going to hurt this year  I think come September and October a lot more departments are going to pull the plug. Even if you still decide to apply, just make sure you are comfortable with your answers to the two things above. The shifts in academia are only going to make things harder.

 

Edited by munch22
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Does anyone have an informed perspective on PhD/DPhil expectations in the UK? I'm an American, but Oxford is my first choice (with funding). Is there any indication that supply and/or demand with wane in the UK or Europe? 

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20 hours ago, Sigaba said:

A recommendation. Please do what you can to avoid using words like "every", "all," "always," and "never" when describing your findings of a literature review. By using such determiners, you can paint yourself in a corner that could be easily avoided. All a disinterested party has to do is to find one paper that looks at enrollment patterns during the Great Recession and your credibility takes a hit. 

https://www.cgsnet.org/ckfinder/userfiles/files/R_ED2009.pdf

A fellow graduate student or, worse, a professor that wants to use you as a chew toy could additionally point to subsequent studies and reports from the Council of Graduate Schools and academics that look at enrollment rates by discipline, year over year.

As a rule of thumb, it is "always" safer to qualify one's findings. "Based upon my cursory search of available studies..." "The provisional findings of my preliminary research suggest..."

This response is quite odd. I think I omitted the "I've read" part in "...every paper I've read that studies...", and for that I get a whole lecture on the importance of nuance. I apologize profusely for my mistake, professor. Many thanks, I will try to be more rigorous when writing on online forums in a language that is not mine.

Anyway.

On 8/18/2020 at 2:04 PM, polsciguy88 said:

I highly recommend you (and others) change the scope of your perspective. You shouldn't ask yourself how COVID is going to affect admissions - which at the end day, is a pointless exercise because you either get acceptances or you don't.

You should be asking yourself why you want to enter into an industry that is essentially collapsing from the inside? You most certainly will not get a job. I'd highly recommend not getting a PhD.

Another odd response. While I completely agree that one should always keep in mind the dire state in which our discipline is (at least in relation to the job prospects), I find it troubling that someone would take the liberty to comment this way on other people's choices. As @DrGonzzo said, we know nothing of what other people in this forum have taken into account when they made the decision to pursue a graduate degree in polisci. I would bet that most people here know exactly how bad the situation is (not that you provided any new info on that, mind you), and still think it is worthwhile. Your recommendation is noted, but I particularly could care less about the American academic market. I intend to come back home when I finish my degree (if I manage to get admitted), and I think my odds of getting hired at my undergraduate alma mater with a US degree are pretty good.

Anyways.

On 8/17/2020 at 12:27 PM, DrGonzzo said:

I am far from an admissions expert, but I am slightly more optimistic than you.

If departments are so concerned with limiting admits then it does not benefit them to not require GRE scores. I saw some Departments even removing the application fee. To me, this signals a Department enticing applicants. If these Departments weren't planning on admitting something like a normal size class then why would they change their admission requirements at all? With that being said, I agree admits will decline slightly , but I think (hope) much of it may be offset by less demand. I agree there will be less international students, which make up large portions of American graduate programs. There may even be less American applicants because of all of the uncertainty and chaos the COVID-19 pandemic has caused. This forum even seems to be slightly less active than last year. A lot of people may have changed thier grad school plans because of the pandemic and even more may be turned off by the perception that schools will limit their admits. Obviously, I am just stating my opinion.

As for the GREs, I think that pool is already highly self selected. The majority of Americans will not be affected by at home GRE requirements and I would think most international students that are planning on an American PhD most likely have the necessary resources to take the GRE. Also, if there is an uptick in people seeking Masters, then there could be a subsequent uptick in GRE test takers as well.

Thank you for being one of the few here who posted a relevant reply. Could you share which departments have waived their fees? I'd be interesting in checking them out hahaaha. I think you make valid points, especially regarding the unusually-low activity in this forum. If GC resembles real life, then it could mean that people are holding out this year. But, and I forgot to mention this in the original post, a key factor that might diminish demand even more is deferrals. I think they will be a substantially higher amount of people deferring their admissions to fall 2021, which should impact the admission process this year.

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5 hours ago, clesanbar said:

Your post

Is snark going to help you in an academic discussion when someone disagrees with your views on your area of interest or is familiar with secondary works that you've not had the opportunity to consult?

Edited by Sigaba
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