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Am I a competitive Ed Psych/Learning Sciences PhD applicant?


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I'd love some help figuring out whether my application makes sense and whether I seem likely to be a competitive applicant. I am applying to doctoral Ed Psych and Learning Science programs focusing on the psychological foundations of instructional design, and because I want to move my career in the direction of instructional design leadership. I want to go into this field because this is something I've been fascinated by since my first teaching experiences, and because I . But my background seems pretty different from the sorts of people who typically go into this field, so I have no idea how my applications are going to be received. Any insight would be appreciated.

Background info: I have a BA in philosophy from an R1 state school and MA in philosophy from a nationally prestigious private university. For the past four years I have worked in higher ed administration, though not in a particularly impressive position. I also teach Intro to Ethics every semester for the philosophy department at my school and taught during my MA, so I have quite a bit of teaching experience. 

PhD Programs applied to: Michigan St Ed Psych and Ed Tech; Northwestern Learning Sciences; UNC-Chapel Hill Learning Sciences; Vanderbilt Learning and Design; Pittsburgh Learning Sciences and Policy; Penn GSE Learning Sciences and Technologies

Undergrad GPA: 4.0

GRE: 167 V, 153 Q, 6.0 AW

LORs: Great, I think. The letters are from two professors I worked with closely in the past and the Asst VP who supervises my administrative division (whom I've gotten to know pretty well).

I have already had an interview with Michigan St., and while this seems like a good sign, overall I do not feel that it went well (an interviewer asked me to describe a study I would like to run during my first couple of years in the program and I bombed the answer). That said, one of the interviewers did mention that my letters of recommendation were particularly impressive.

So I have two specific worries:

  1. My GRE quant score is pretty bad (before studying for the GRE, it had been 15 years since my last math class). Is this typically a big deal in Education doctoral programs?
  2. Looking at recent cohorts at these schools, it seems as though I'm pretty different from the usual Ed Psych/Learning Sciences student, particularly in that I have no K-12 experience and have a humanities background.

Any insight into whether I might be a competitive applicant to these programs?


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I wouldn't worry about being different than the applicants in those programs. People come to LS programs from all kinds of backgrounds. Similarly, I would not worry about your quant GRE keeping you out of programs. Your verbal and writing are strong. If it was optional, I might have left it off, because it will take you out of the running for many fellowships (and if you had left it off they wouldn't consider it).

It seems you don't really have any research experience and this will be the biggest question mark for prospective PIs. It will be important for you to discuss research-like things you've done (did you do any action research when you were teaching?) and to be familiar with the work of your prospective PIs and to have good answers for the types of things you want to study and types of research questions you want to ask. When I interview prospective students, this is the #1 thing I am looking at: their response to the question, "What are some research questions you would like to investigate?" I'm looking to see that their questions are interesting, are a reasonable fit with my work, and are well-structured.

This is my area (I'm faculty in LS specializing in ed tech), so feel free to PM with specific questions. Good luck!

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