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Just thought a separate forum area should be made for when the cycle is over for us each individually. Just like in previous years, we can post about our profiles, the various decisions we received, and any advice or insight we have regarding the application process! My cycle won’t be over until April likely, so I have quite a wait :) 

The following format is what has been used before regarding the profile:

PROFILE:
Type of Undergrad Institution: 
Major(s)/Minor(s):
Undergrad GPA: 
Type of Grad: 
Grad GPA: 
GRE: 
Any Special Courses:
Letters of Recommendation:
Teaching Experience:
Other: 
 

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  • 3 weeks later...

Figured I would get things started as my season is essentially over.

PROFILE
Type of Undergrad Institution: R2 State Institution
Major(s)/Minor(s): Major - Political Science, Minor - Japanese, Statistics
Undergrad GPA: 3.83
Type of Grad: N/A
Grad GPA: N/A
GRE: 159V/157Q/4.0W
Any Special Courses: Graduate-Level Political Methods Course, CS Class in Python, Classes in R, Advanced Statistics Courses
Letters of Recommendation: 1 Professor, 2 Associate Professors, all tenured, I'm close with two of them.
Teaching Experience: Taught one lecture on using functions in R
Other: Summer Fellowship, Applied for NSF GRFP

RESULTS
Acceptances: WashU ($$), Texas A&M ($$), MSU ($$), IU ($$), Iowa ($$)
Waitlists: UIUC
Rejections: Princeton, Michigan, UCSD, Emory, Northwestern, UW-Madison (With Interview), UT Austin
Pending: UMCP
Going to: I'll never tell ;)

 

LESSONS LEARNED:

1. I feel like this sums up this application season for a lot of people:
   giphy.gif
   (If y'all ever need something to laugh about I would recommend the podcast that comes from this GIF, My Brother, My Brother, and Me. It's the best.)
2. Well, if there's anything I can say about this year is that I am glad there was a wide amount of schools I applied to. Most of this came from the advice of my adviser, who I am glad I discussed possible schools in-depth with. Your professors will know places that would fit well, so ask them what they think.
3. One thing I haven't mentioned much is that I applied for the NSF GRFP in October, and I ended up reusing most of my materials from that application with small tweaks. Applying for that grant was the single best thing I was able to do myself. I spent weeks on my statements and sent them to quite a few people to get revisions. The input I got from the many people who read my SoP helped me out so much. Send your SoP to professors, relatives, anybody who is willing to look over it. That input is important.
4. One part of my application I thought was going to be especially weak was my writing sample, since it was a grant proposal. The proposal was mostly a literature review with a proposal of general methods I could use, but was pretty broad and I could have done better to make use of political science literature. I think my proficiency in technical skills (R, LaTeX, Python) made up for  the weak spot of my writing sample.
5. I want to echo something that was mentioned in last year's lessons thread by @sloth_girl, who was EXTREMELY SUCCESSFUL last year, and that is "Success in grad school applications requires both a great profile and luck. Both are necessary, but neither alone is sufficient." I feel especially lucky that I got accepted to so many places. In a normal year, I would not have made the cut at most of these places.
6. Fit. If you are struggling to find professors whose research you are interested in, why are you applying there? I would have cut out maybe 3 schools if I had followed this.

 

If I think of anything else I'll add it later.

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My cycle is mostly over, so I'll join as well. I might update later once I get my final decisions.

PROFILE
Type of Undergrad Institution:  Midwest SLAC
Major(s)/Minor(s): Conflict Studies
Undergrad GPA:  3.99 CGPA / 4.00 Major GPA
Type of Grad:  Chinese C9 - Chinese Ivy
Grad GPA:  4.00
GRE:   N/A
Any Special Courses: Graduate-level Econ, Intro Stats Class, SWE classes in Java and MySQL, Honors Thesis, Graduate-level Political Econ
Letters of Recommendation: 1 Professor, 1 Associate, 1 Emerita
Teaching Experience: Taught as a lab assistant in Languages dept.
Other: Lots of conference presentation experience, two undergrad pubs 

RESULTS (PHD)
Acceptances: N/A (so far)
Rejections: Princeton, Chicago, Michigan, Berkeley, Rice, Cornell
Pending: Yale, Concordia
 

LESSONS LEARNED

1. Unless you're in theory, quantitative skills matter more and more every year: The field is leaning towards quant methods as time goes on, so get some coding/technical (R) and stats experience under your belt as soon as you can.

2. Competition for spots is getting much more intense: A lot of schools reduced cohorts of 15-20 people down to 8 this year.

3. Connect with professors early: Don't wait until October or November to email a POI. The sooner you can get in touch with them, the better.

4. Fit is just as important as departmental knowledge: You might have two professors you are interested in working in, but they are leaving the department that year. Fit and information are two of your best assets. This ties into point 3 as well.

5. Don't beat yourself up: Most applications to graduate school are not successful. Rejections are not a reflection on your academic abilities or your personal worth. Make sure you have a good support system and healthy coping mechanisms before going into application season because your stress levels and patience will be tested.

 

I will update once I hear back from my MA programs.

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PROFILE
Type of Undergrad Institution:  Ivy League
Major(s)/Minor(s): Major: Politics. Minor: Statistics and Machine Learning. 
Undergrad GPA:  3.812 overall GPA / 4.00 Major GPA
GRE:   168v/167q/6.0aw
Any Special Courses: Intro to computer science, probability and stochastic systems, Mathematical models in politics (game theory), Regression and Applied Time Series, Machine Learning for Predictive Data Analytics. 3+ courses using R, some experience with Python, MATLAB, Java 
Letters of Recommendation: 1 from RA adviser (tenured prof in politics/political economy), 1 from another RA adviser (untenured assistant prof in finance/econ), 1 from Junior Independent Work advisor (untenured prof in political theory). 
Research Experience:  I worked as an RA on four separate occasions, involving about 5 projects, spanning a duration of 2 summers and 1 semester. 1 project in Econ, 3 in poli sci. Mostly did data analysis work, also did some work with formal modeling using MATLAB. Three semesters of required undergraduate independent research work. 

Writing sample: Junior independent research paper (cut it down to meet some page requirements) 

Other: Undergrad Research Fellow in one of the research groups in the Politics dept here. 

RESULTS (PHD)

Acceptances: UCSD
Rejections: Yale, Stanford, Berkeley, Princeton, UChicago (referred to CIR MA), Michigan

Pending: Harvard, MIT, NYU (implied rejection), Vanderbilt (implied rejection), Chicago CIR MA 

Going to:  Idk might try again next year, might go to UCSD, might get lucky at one of the pending (unlikely) 

Long time lurker--went ahead and decided to post because i can clearly see the trend indicating what will happen with my remaining apps since I have now gotten 6 straight rejections (or 8, if you count the silence from NYU and vanderbilt). This might be a bit long but I need to get this off my chest. 

 

Some context: I decided I wanted to apply to graduate school very late (only about 2 months before the deadlines), which meant the learning curve for optimizing these applications was very steep. Clearly, I could and should have learned a lot more about each school and the process in general. I almost certainly should have waited a year before applying. In fact, I was leaning towards taking a year to prepare first (either to do a MA or work as an RA), but I was told by a current graduate student that he expected me to do “very, very well” in the admissions process; one recommender told me he thought my prospects were “excellent”; another recommender, when I explicitly asked him whether I should wait a year to shore up my app, said no, that I was a "competitive applicant already"; a Prof. I reached out to at Michigan said that she thought I would get in to most programs. Taking this advice, I went ahead and applied. Clearly, things could have gone better for me... (although I am of course happy to get the acceptance at UCSD). 

Definitely think my SOP was not as good as I thought it was, otherwise my results would have been better. If I had to guess my single biggest application weakness, it was that my argument for why I was a good fit for each individual school was weak and/or boilerplate. Also, I didn't have a good reason why I was interested in my subfield/research agenda, which remains a difficult question to answer for me, in truth—I am very interested in it, but articulating a neat and simple “why” is tough. 

I also think recommendation sourcing was a severe weakness:  I got no recommendations from professors in my particular subfield (CP), only 2 out of 3 were in political science (one a theorist), and 2 out of 3 were untenured. However, these were the professors I assessed as having the best knowledge of me at the time of applying, and all three advised me on research projects (either me working as an RA for them or on my own independent projects). I know they were all strong letters, but I don’t think they came from the right people, I guess. 

I had planned on getting a fourth recommender, and he actually agreed to write me a rec (in writing, too!), but then promptly ghosted me despite repeated email followups. Luckily I wasn’t counting on his application to meet the minimum three, but I think he could have helped me out-- I did well and participated frequently in his class. His class was also one of the courses which inspired me to pursue a PhD. 

Another major weakness to my app was probably that I applied saying I was interested in comparative political economy, but have almost no economics coursework under my belt. I also did quite badly in an introductory economics mathematics course (although my quantitative skills are shown through other, more advanced courses that I performed well in). I thought my Econ deficiency would be compensated for by having received a very strong LoR for my RA work with an economics professor on an economics project, but I guess not. I also switched to comparative politics relatively late in undergrad, so I had only a few courses explicitly in CP at the time of applying. I had been a theory-focused major prior to switching to CP. 

GPA was also maybe a hindrance, as it’s definitely on the low side for acceptance ranges at the programs I applied to. If this ended up affecting my chances a lot, I’d be irked as the majority of my non-As were freshman and sophomore year in a foreign language class I was required to take. Hard to know how much of a factor grades were, though.  

A lack of publications definitely hurt me, but there’s very little chance I could have changed this before the application deadline anyway. 

Finally, I believe GRE was within the range of acceptability and probably played little to no role in my rejections. 

Takeaways: I approached the process with the idea that I could differentiate myself from other poli sci applicants by showing off my technical chops in statistics/data science/CS. I told professors to emphasize these skills in LoR, and I emphasized it in SoP as well. I think this was the wrong approach. I needed to convince the committee first and foremost that I was passionate about political science, and let my transcript speak for itself. The frustrating thing is, I AM very, very passionate about political science research, but I suppose I did not do an effective enough job conveying this in my application. 

Grad admissions are extremely difficult. I’m kicking myself for making avoidable errors in my applications which have cost me time, stress, money, and self-esteem. I should’ve done much more research about optimizing applications before I decided to apply this cycle. I resent somewhat that I was slightly misled by mentor figures in my life to believe my profile was better than it really was, but it was my responsibility to actually write a strong application. It appears I failed to do so. 

I should have waited a year before applying--at the very least to get some more clouty recommenders and to shore up some of the other weaknesses in my app. In truth, I (naively) expected the prestige of my undergrad institution to carry me far by itself. This turned out not to be the case whatsoever. I have not decided what I'll do yet--UCSD is not the best fit for my interests, so I'm not ecstatic about going there, although it is a good program. I will probably apply again next cycle, but this has been a very discouraging process. 

Edited by bigfishtheory
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I have accepted an offer despite pending decisions because I feel confident in my decision. 

PROFILE:

Type of Undergrad Institution: Public EU Uni 

Major(s)/Minor(s): Law

Undergrad GPA: 3.7, with honours 

Type of Grad: Top 3 UK 

Grad GPA: Distinction, equivalent to 4.0 

GRE: N/A

Any Special Courses: Stats with R, Quant Analysis 

Letters of Recommendation: 2 tenured profs, 1 associate prof - all know me very well and I took courses and conducted research with them

Teaching Experience: N/A

Research Experience: 3+ years RA experience, several research internships w/ governmental department 

Other: Several publications in peer reviewed journals and blog posts 

 

RESULTS (PHD)

Accepted: USC, UChicago (both funded) 

Rejected: Indiana, Yale, Princeton, Cornell, Boston U, LSE

Waitlisted: Georgetown

Pending: 2 EU options 

Going to: USC

 

Lessons

As this was my first and only cycle, I really consider it a success and am so grateful to have gotten any offers given the immense competition. 

What I strongly recommend/advise: 

1) Have professors (especially the ones writing your recommendations) and current PhD students read your statements. Make sure they are tailored to each department you are applying to and always highlight POIs. 

2) Don't apply to places where you don't have fit. 

3) Rankings are not everything, especially depending on your expectations of a program, and your end goals/ career trajectory. 

4) Don't be hard on yourself if you don't get any offers from 'higher ranked' options or any offers at all. It usually isn't a reflection of your abilities, rather it's a reflection of the reality that there are hundreds of equally qualified and capable scholars out there. 

Edited by BrownSugar
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PROFILE
Type of Undergrad Institution: Private University on East Coast, Top 50
Major(s)/Minor(s): Political Science and Area Studies, with Minor in Language
Undergrad GPA: 3.7
Type of Grad: M.A. in Area Studies
Grad GPA: 4.00
GRE: Q 162/ V 170/ AW 6.0
Any Special Courses: Two graduate level stats courses
Letters of Recommendation: 1 Full Prof from Undergrad; 1 Associate Prof from Grad; 1 Assistant Prof from Grad
Teaching Experience: N/A
Other:  1+ year of graduate RA work; 2 years of Professional Research work; 1 conference presentation; Fluency/Proficiency in two languages relevant to research

 

RESULTS (PHD, Comparative)

Accepted: Wisconsin, Johns Hopkins

Rejected: Princeton, Yale, Stanford, UT Austin, Cornell, Northwestern, Michigan, Chicago

Waitlisted: N/A

Pending: Harvard

Going to: Still pending

 

Lessons

I'm going to focus mainly on issues beyond preparing everything well in advance and getting lots of advice:

1. One point does bear repeating, this cycle was a complete mess. If you are reading this and 2020-2021 didn't work out as planned, I'm sorry, you probably didn't deserve it. I watched real life friends and gradcafe acquaintances that seemed destined for top programs get devastating results. I got headscratching rejections from schools that seemed like perfect matches. This is the worst cycle to try and draw inferences from. 

2. Emotionally prepare for the results cycle. I was blindsided by how all-consuming January and February would be. Be intentional about how you are going to structure your time to keep yourself on task with other responsibilities, I guarantee it will take more discipline than riding the adrenaline of preparing and submitting your files. Plan in advance that you simply will not be functioning at 100% or even 50% during this time. Kudos to those who can, but realizing this in advance would have been productive for me.

One trick: once you get into a school you could picture yourself attending, assume that you'll land there and start imagining your future accordingly. Once I did this rather than holding out for the remaining lottery tickets, I found more peace. If you did this process right, you should be excited about getting in anywhere.

3. I wish I had contacted more POIs in advance. While many people told me that this was not part of the "culture" of political science applications (as opposed to History and Anthro where it is standard practice), it seems like the vast majority of the people on this forum did this and I assume it didn't hurt. Perhaps more importantly, it may have helped me manage my expectations better about schools I later found out weren't taking anyone in my sub-subfield.

4. Doing a Master's is more helpful than many people may lead you believe. Not because of the M.A. itself, but because of how much more "mature" your ideas will be when you sit down to produce a writing sample and SOP. Area studies M.A.s are typically funded much more generously than policy degrees, and are a particularly good option for comparativists if you can use your electives to build some quant chops.

5. Fit is important but...you likely do not yet have a full grasp on what every scholar in your field is currently doing or where their research is going. You may say, "but I read all the journals in my field and made a spreadsheet a year in advance!" So did I, but that scholar whose work only seems tangentially related to yours? They may actually be just beginning a book project that is spot on for your interests, with no indication of that on their CV. This is where contacting POIs and networking comes in, and where applying broadly rather than looking only for matches made in heaven can work. 

6. Stuck on your SOP? Think out loud. My first few drafts of my SOP were jargony messes. The most productive way of moving past this was calling someone who was familiar with my field on the phone and trying to pitch the ideas verbally. Slowly but surely, this strategy helped me find a way to express my interests to a broad (poli sci) audience in the plainest english possible. By the end, my SOP and the intro of my writing sample read more as punchy journalism than academic writing. This was definitely for the best.

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PROFILE
Type of Undergrad Institution: R2 state school
Major(s)/Minor(s): political science, area studies
Undergrad GPA: 3.9
Type of Grad: N/A
Grad GPA: N/A
GRE: 170V/167Q/5.0W
Any Special Courses:  2 grad seminars, data analysis (R and Python), one stats course
Letters of Recommendation: 1 professor, 2 associate professors, all had supervised research projects
Teaching Experience: N/A

Research Experience: some work in R, undergrad thesis

Writing Sample: section of undergrad thesis, kind of related to research interest
Other: 

RESULTS
Acceptances: 2 T25, 1 T40, all $$
Waitlists: 2 T15, 1 T40
Rejections: UCSD, UVA, Princeton, Chicago, Yale, Cornell, Gtown (assumed)
Going to: not sure yet

LESSONS LEARNED:

1. If I had planned on applying to PhDs earlier, I would definitely have taken more straight math classes.  I had coding and applied experience, but I don't think that was enough to signal my quant prep.  Coming straight from a no-name state school, I also think taking the GRE and doing well on it was critical to my successes.  The best schools I got into required the GRE, and I can only assume it helped me.

2. I think a writing sample more closely related to my research areas would have been good. I don't think it's essential, but I could have set myself up better there.  My sample was strong and I contextualized it in my SOP, but I fear it might have introduced some questions about my interests that I could have avoided.

3. There's no such thing as a safety school! Other than my CHYMPS rejections (not unexpected), I was accepted to and rejected from schools across the spectrum.  Also, if you're picking a T40 school to apply to, don't make it Georgetown (seems like everybody does).

4. Only apply to schools you would go to!  This seems obvious.  My preferences definitely shifted throughout the app process and waiting for results, but I would have happily gone to any school that accepted me.  I was also lucky to get some acceptances early on, which made the weeks of rejection much easier to handle.  I totally agree with @Habermas - start imagining your life instead of agonizing.

5. I'm sure fit is important, but I thought I had a solid fit with professors everywhere I applied, and I don't see much of a correlation between that and where I got in.  I don't know the right balance between how many profs to mention and how much detail to go into, but I would say some thematic interests and some methodological interests is a good bet. DON'T stick to experts in only one area (for CP).

6. I'm going to disagree with what others have said here about SOP reviewers - the people in your life who aren't poli sci profs will be looking for something different than adcoms.  Your SOP should focus on the questions you want to ask, preparation, and fit, and the important stuff should go first, not a personal story of your first interest in politics.  Save civilian reviews for later, once you've decided on content.

7. This cycle sucked! I was waitlisted at places where I might have gotten in normally, and who knows how much waitlists will move this year.  I feel really lucky to have been accepted to some great programs where I know I'll be happy. Good luck to you all.

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PROFILE
Type of Undergrad Institution:  Not sure how to categorize so I'll just say: U. South Carolina
Major(s)/Minor(s): International studies
Undergrad GPA: 3.94
Type of Grad: Georgetown (R1), Masters in International Development (not really poli sci at all, though tangential)
Grad GPA: 3.94
GRE: 170v/169q/5.5
Any Special Courses: lots of math/econ the past few years (mostly after getting my masters): several econometrics courses, calculus1-3 with diffyq, math stats, linear algebra, real analysis (brutal!), intermediate micro/macro econ (I was considering applying to econ programs too, but decided against it in the end)
Letters of Recommendation: 2 profs (one econ, one poli sci), 1 supervisor at a research institute (an economist)
Teaching Experience: econometrics TA in grad school
Research Experience: worked 3+ years at a think tank as an RA, doing some academic research with an economist and some non-academic research; research consultant with the World Bank for a little while (not poli sci though); supported a field experiment in Rwanda for a few months; lead author in a journal (not poli sci or econ); lots of coding experience (Stata and R)

Other: long time lurker; served in the Peace Corps (helpful for CP?); short stints at a few other intl development orgs; avid bird watcher 

RESULTS
Acceptances: NYU
Waitlists: none
Rejections: Stanford, Berkeley, Princeton political economy

Pending: Harvard, MIT
Going to: prob NYU, maybe Harvard if I get in 

LESSONS LEARNED

Since most of us don't receive feedback from faculty on why we did/didn't get in anywhere, I think it's hard to extract lessons about what was good or bad about our applications. With that said, I think I have a relatively strong quant background, and NYU is known to be a quantier school, so maybe that helped. I'm sure fit matters a lot too, but I also think it's hard to know from the faculty's perspective whether you will be a good fit. Honestly, I think the number one lesson is that there is a ton of randomness and luck. We've seen a bunch of people get into top programs and nowhere else, and super qualified people get in nowhere. With so many qualified applicants and so few slots, there will inevitably be a lot of luck involved. So the main takeaway I think is to apply to lots of programs. And don't get discouraged this year if it didn't work out--just roll the dice again next year (and maybe get some more research/math experience?).

Also, feedback from academics on SOPs is huge--they had a lot of advice for me.

 

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PROFILE
Type of Undergrad Institution: State School (R2)
Major(s)/Minor(s): Political Science and Economics 
Undergrad GPA: 4.0
Type of Grad: N/A
Grad GPA: N/A
GRE: didn't take 
Any Special Courses: lots of quant background, even though my subfield and speciality don't require much (or any) quant. 
Letters of Recommendation: extremely good. All three are professors that worked/supervised me for years. 
Teaching Experience: Not a TA position, but similar teaching capacities/responsibilities at the undergraduate level 
Otherresearch conference presentations, thesis, research grants  

RESULTS
Acceptances: University of Michigan, UChicago, Berkeley
Waitlists: Cornell
Rejections: Princeton, Northwestern  

LESSONS LEARNED

This cycle was very challenging so kudos to everyone that had the energy/resources to go through it!!

I don't come from a background that 'preps' you for academia/graduate school, quite the opposite actually. For future applicants that have the odds stacked against them, start preparing early!! Make spreadsheets, go through each faculty profile, go through graduate student profiles, look at recent graduates, recent dissertations, etc..Determining fit is much harder than people make it out to be. I still believe that I was rejected from places that had a much better fit for me. However, you can't tell if your professor of interest is not taking any students this year, going on leave, new hiring happening, grad students with similar research interests are staying longer than expected, or if there's no grad student with similar research interests. This is why it is very important to reach out to grad students that have similar interests. Don't send them vague emails!! Make sure you have done your research and ask questions that can help you determine if you should apply and how to tailor your SOP. A lot of grad students would be happy to help and direct you. Also, look into PhD pipeline programs, diversity visits, and summer research opportunities. Anything to signal basic familiarity with the field would be helpful (depending on your background, extensive knowledge of graduate level political science is not needed nor expected). 

 

Also, tailor your SOPs!!! Don't write them with only 1-2 faculty in mind, think about the department and subfield as well. I didn't tailor my SOPs, and I regret that (also, good SOPs take a lot of time). 

 

Always happy to connect with future applicants!! Good luck to all. 😊

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PROFILE
Type of Undergrad Institution:  International university
Major(s)/Minor(s): Economics
Undergrad GPA:  3.7 
Type of Grad:  European university
Grad GPA:  4.00
GRE:   168 Q, 165 V, 5.5 AW
Any Special Courses: Lots of statistics and econometrics courses. 
Teaching Experience: Worked as a TA for two courses last year.
 

RESULTS (PHD)
Acceptances (all $$): NYU, Duke, Yale, Rochester

Waitlists: UChicago, WUSTL

Rejections: Stanford, Harvard, Princeton, UCSD, Cornell, Georgetown, Michigan

Going to: Still don't know

LESSONS LEARNED

1. Take the GRE if you want to do quantitative research. Getting a good quant score will be good for your chances, and it is still a requirement for some good quant-oriented programs (e.g. Rochester). 

2. Fit matters. I applied to some places where my fit was very bad, and they all rejected me. Interestingly, fit was a far better predictor of where I got acceptances than ranking. 

3. Work on your SOP early. It is much more time-consuming than it seems. I left it for the last moment and it was very stressful. Also, ask your POIs and any academically-oriented friends you have to read it. The input from these people can be extremely valuable. 

4. If you are still an undergrad, also consider getting an M.A. before applying. 

5. I did not contact any POIs before applying, so I think it makes little difference overall. If you have a good reason to contact them, it may be useful, but I would advise against contacting POIs just because you feel pressured to.

Always happy to connect with future applicants.


 

Edited by Sad Politics
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PROFILE
Type of Undergrad Institution: very small Public Ivy, T40
Major(s)/Minor(s): double majors in Government and German studies
Undergrad GPA: 4.0
Type of Grad: /
Grad GPA: /
GRE: 170/168/5
Any Special Courses: German philosophy, German literary studies, critical theory, Marxist theory
Letters of Recommendation: one letter from each of my major advisors (one tenured, one untenured), another one from a well-recognized scholar in the UK
Teaching Experience: four semesters as TA in German
Other: ICPSR summer (A and A+ for the courses I took)

 

 

RESULTS (PHD)
Acceptances (all $$): Northwestern

Waitlists: Harvard

Rejections: Uchicago, Yale, Berkeley, Princeton, Cornell, JohnsHopkins, Duke, Ann Arbor

Pending: UCLA, UCSC (History of Consciousness), Oxford (MPhil)

Going to: Most likely NW

 

Lessons Learned

My experiences are not applicable to most people since I was applying to do critical theory, which is a very small niche intersecting political theory, philosophy, and gender studies, etc. So take advices regarding the nuts and bolts of application process from the other wonderful posts on the thread, and I just wanna leave some more personal suggestions. (ofc if you also want to do critical theory please pm I am more than happy to talk and offer those kind of advices)

1. Fit matters: Looking back, I probably should not have applied to places like Princeton, Duke and Michigan which have basically no one doing what I am interested in and I was just trying to widen my chances. So I guess my advice is to not panic, as hard as it is, and apply to a bunch of places. With that said, I don't think you should decide not to apply to top programs that really coincide with your research interests just because you don't think you "have a shot" there.  

2. Have a support system: I cannot emphasize this enough. This cycle has been particularly brutal. I've broken down in study halls, on subway, and in the shower. This didn't go away even after the cycle when I was at a school's visit day and listening to all other ppl's brilliant research ideas and suddenly had another imposter syndrome episode. 

It took me a long time to learn how to ask for help and realize that my friends have all been there waiting for me to ask for help (because, let's be honest, I was a mess psychologically). I am still learning how to say to people that I am in distress and need to talk. But you will need these emotional outlets not just for app seasons but also to be able to survive the years of grad school to come. 

Edited by verschiedene
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PROFILE (American Politics)
Type of Undergrad Institution:  West Coast R1
Major(s)/Minor(s): Double Major in Politics and Feminist Studies
Undergrad GPA: 3.93 (3.98 major GPA)
Type of Grad: None
Grad GPA: NA
GRE: 164v/155q/5.0
Any Special Courses: several upper division courses on teaching/tutoring undergrads
Letters of Recommendation: 2 profs (thesis/research advisors for each of my majors, one a Distinguished Prof, one an Associate Prof), former employer (political candidate/legislator and retired sociologist)
Teaching Experience: 2.5 years as a writing tutor for undergraduate students at my university, upper division teaching courses
Research Experience: Year-long politics senior thesis project that won a division-wide award for undergraduate research after completion, slightly smaller Feminist Studies thesis project on Feminist Science Studies, independently wrote and published two articles on the APSA blog last year

Other: I still wasn't sure if I wanted to go into academia right after receiving my BA, so I have 2.5 years of industry experience in government and politics (work on a Congressional campaign and in the district office for a long-time member of Congress), which I referenced heavily throughout my application as I felt it provided me with a unique perspective on American Politics (especially considering my interests in voting behavior and Congressional elections).

RESULTS
Acceptances: Boston University, UC Davis, USC, U of Arizona
Waitlists: CU Boulder
Rejections: UC San Diego, Yale, UChicago, Northwestern, Michigan, UMass Amherst, UT Austin

Pending: Harvard (presumed rejection), UCLA, UConn
Going to: Still deciding!

 

LESSONS LEARNED

- This was a tough cycle. Be gentle with yourself and don't make comparisons to those who came before. I have some good friends who got into some extremely prestigious schools in earlier years and I spent too much time comparing myself and my results with theirs. It's important to keep in mind that the landscape of grad admissions and academia has changed dramatically due to the pandemic, meaning there is no good comparison between the 2018/2019 cycles and the 2021 cycle.

I'm glad I had some diversity in my LORs. Having recommenders from three different fields who all worked with me in various capacities felt like a risky decision last fall, but I'm happy I took the chance because I'm satisfied with how everything turned out. Because all three recommenders knew me very well in very different ways, I felt that they were able to each able to add something new to the table. For example, while my former employer didn't know me in a strictly academic context, she was able to speak to my tenacity and perseverance studying for the GRE and publishing articles while working 60-80 hour weeks on a campaign. I was also able to structure my SOP around the letters by speaking to the  three core experiences (one with each recommender) that shaped my desire to become a political scientist.

Submitting my GRE scores for schools where they weren't required didn't necessarily make me a more competitive candidate. Like others, I took the GRE before COVID hit, assuming it would be mandatory for most of my applications. While only a few of my programs required I submit my scores, I decided to submit them across the board anyway, assuming it would help me stand out. I honestly don't really think doing this made a difference, especially because my scores weren't stellar. If I could go back, I would have saved the money.

- It never hurts to ask for what you need. My job ended in early November, meaning I had to shoulder application costs largely on my own, despite being unemployed (I didn't qualify for a lot of fee waivers because I couldn't get on unemployment with under a month between my job ending and the bulk of my application deadlines). I sent the grad coordinator for every single program I applied to a personalized email explaining my situation, and ended up getting multiple fee waivers. I also had a situation earlier this month where I was concerned I would have to turn down an offer because of an administrative snafu, but I was able to get it all straightened out by talking to the grad coordinator and DGS. Ask for what you need -- it's usually worth it and the worst you'll get is a no.

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PROFILE: (American Politics)
Type of Undergrad Institution: Large state public university in the South
Major(s)/Minor(s): Political Science/History
Undergrad GPA: 3.72
Type of Grad: Large state public university in the South
Grad GPA: 3.93
GRE: 155V/154Q/5.0AW (only submitted to 4 schools that required it)
Any Special Courses: Math up through calculus in undergrad. Full stats sequence in MA program. Lots of coursework relevant to my field of interest. 
Letters of Recommendation: In total I have five letter writers that I alternated between schools. Four associate profs, one full. All were considered strong.
Teaching Experience: None. 
Other: RA'd quite consistently since Junior year. Awarded a research fellowship for my MA program that included working in a "post-doc" type of research position. APSA Conference presentation. Pi Sigma Alpha Conference presentation. Two papers in publication (both under review). Lots of generic leadership roles in undergrad, as well as many graduate school bootcamps attended (like many). Also, I am an URM. 

RESULTS
Acceptances: UCLA, USC, UCSD, Vanderbilt, Illinois, Wisconsin, Northwestern, OSU, Princeton, MSU
Waitlists: None
Rejections: Michigan, Stanford

Pending: Harvard (presumed rejection)
Going to: Princeton

 

LESSONS LEARNED

1.) This cycle was unprecedented. I feel as though many got into schools they least expected. Others none at all. Some of us few got in to many. The cycle was exceptionally unpredictable and to be honest, I am not sure if there is one "golden ticket" package that gets you into graduate school anymore.

2.) GRE is not as important (at least this cycle). To all but four schools I did not submitted my GRE. They didn't require it so I didn't submit it. To be honest, not submitting didn't seem to affect my cycle much at all - plus I got into half of the schools that required it. This area was my biggest weak point and was a real concern of mine going into this. Overall though, it just didn't seem to matter all that much.

3.) Reach out to faculty. I did at all but one school, and I was rejected from that school. Every school I was admitted to I had extensive conversations with faculty and students who I thought matched my interests. Not only did it provide a personal connection, but it also allowed me to really tailor my personal statements to their specific research interests. 

4.) Personal statements are of upmost importance. Write them. Have someone review (preferably a faculty member you trust). And then rewrite. I cannot stress enough how important my personal statements were in this process. Tailor them to each school you are applying to. Write for the purpose of selling yourself and the department as a link that mutually benefit each other. 

5.) Everyone is different. I learned this through my own experience this cycle. We can spend all day comparing ourselves to previous people across forums, but in reality, each of us are unique and that plays a role in admissions. Just be yourself! Don't try to imitate other people's successes - be the best version of yourself. I admitted my flaws, displayed them brightly, and was still a successful applicant. I think in hindsight, being flawed actually shows that you are willing to be taught, which is one of the single most important aspects of graduate school. 

 

I hope this helps. After three years of being a lurker and an active participant on this forum, I believe today is the day I finally say goodbye (at least for now). I have been so thankful for everyone's guidance and support. Congratulations to everyone and I look forward to seeing many of you at conferences and in the profession! 

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Welp...never give up! Having to redo my profile.

PROFILE
Type of Undergrad Institution:  Midwest SLAC
Major(s)/Minor(s): Conflict Studies
Undergrad GPA:  3.99 CGPA / 4.00 Major GPA
Type of Grad:  Chinese C9 - Chinese Ivy
Grad GPA:  4.00
GRE:   N/A
Any Special Courses: Graduate-level Econ, Intro Stats Class, SWE classes in Java and MySQL, Honors Thesis, Graduate-level Political Econ
Letters of Recommendation: 1 Professor, 1 Associate, 1 Emerita
Teaching Experience: Taught as a lab assistant in Languages dept.
Other: Lots of conference presentation experience, two undergrad pubs 

RESULTS (PHD)
Acceptances: Concordia
Rejections: Princeton, Chicago, Michigan, Berkeley, Rice, Cornell, Yale

GOING TO: Concordia
 

LESSONS LEARNED

1. Unless you're in theory, quantitative skills matter more and more every year: The field is leaning towards quant methods as time goes on, so get some coding/technical (R) and stats experience under your belt as soon as you can.

2. Competition for spots is getting much more intense: A lot of schools reduced cohorts of 15-20 people down to 8 this year.

3. Connect with professors early: Don't wait until October or November to email a POI. The sooner you can get in touch with them, the better.

4. Fit is just as important as departmental knowledge: You might have two professors you are interested in working in, but they are leaving the department that year. Fit and information are two of your best assets. This ties into point 3 as well.

5. Don't beat yourself up: Most applications to graduate school are not successful. Rejections are not a reflection on your academic abilities or your personal worth. Make sure you have a good support system and healthy coping mechanisms before going into application season because your stress levels and patience will be tested.

6. Don't count yourself out until the end: I really thought I would be rejected from all my PhD programs, but at the end I managed to receive one fully-funded offer! I am really grateful.

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  • 2 weeks later...

PROFILE
Type of Undergrad Institution: Large state school in the Southeast, USA
Major(s)/Minor(s): Political Science, Philosophy/Spanish, Legal Studies
Undergrad GPA: 3.92
Type of Grad: N/A
Grad GPA: N/A
GRE (Q/V/W): 163/166/6.0 
Any Special Courses: Quant. Methods in Political Science
Letters of Recommendation: 3 tenured professors I was close to at my state school
Teaching Experience: TA position during my undergraduate, High School teaching experience in the Peace Corps (but about financial education, not Political Science)
Research Experience: Undergraduate thesis and poster presentation at MPSA using R
Other: Peace Corps tour in my region-of-interest, various leadership positions and awards within my undergraduate university

RESULTS
Acceptances: UChicago (PhD); UC San Diego (Masters - GPS MIA, $ pending)
Rejections: Yale, Michigan, Princeton, Stanford, Vanderbilt (assume), MIT, UC Berkeley, UC San Diego, UT Austin, NYU (assumed), Cornell, WUSTL, Noerthwestern, Georgetown, Duke
Pending: 
Going to:  UChicago

 

LESSONS LEARNED:

Keeping with @NeedaMormon's example above, I will be interspersing McElroy gifs throughout when appropriate. 

Sweet Griffin McElroy | Mcelroy brothers, The adventure zone, Cool baby  stuff

1 - Talk to your contacts in the field frankly, often, and in-depth. These probably would be the professors who are writing your Letters of Recommendation, but they could also be current or recent graduates from PhD programs. Be blunt and ask them to do the same. Have them critique your SoP as harshly as possible. Clearly articulate to them why you want to pursue a PhD, and press them for as many details as possible about the process or for any advice they have, since they are much more knowledgeable about the field than you. As long as you are a decent person about it, the worst they would say is "I am busy right now," but I found most people are happy to help and even happier to talk about their own experiences. This has the added benefit of helping to cultivate a more detailed relationship with the people writing your Letters of Recommendations.

Basically:  Mcelroy GIFs | Tenor

2 - To echo what NeedaMormon and many others have said, most people need to be both good and lucky to receive an offer. I have heard this from multiple admitted students and professors: PhD admissions programs are so idiosyncratic that, as an applicant, one can never really have a strong degree of certainty about one's admissions chances. Perhaps the professors you mention in your SoP are on leave, moved schools, or retired. Perhaps they are already at capacity with their PhD mentees, or perhaps they have decided to pivot their research into another area not related to your interests. The decision process is very much a black box.

3 - Based on the feedback I received from the professors who read my application, "fit" is still the most important aspect of your application. I was admitted, in large part, because my stated interests in my SoP and undergraduate thesis were interesting to the reviewers and closely aligned to both the regional expertise of the university as well as their substantive focus on democratization and authoritarianism. 

 4- Apply to many places! While this seemingly contradicts the previous point regarding "fit", it is necessary due to the 1st point regarding the idiosyncrasy of admissions decisions. I applied to 16 programs (17, including the referral to UC SD's GPS Masters program) and was rejected from all PhD programs but one. As a rough rule of thumb, almost everyone I have interacted with applied to more than 10 programs, with most applying to ~15 or so. This is frustrating and incredibly labor-intensive, since, even though you are applying to over a dozen locations, you need to think of each application as if it was the only place you are applying while writing that application. It's a grind.

5 - Put time and effort into crafting a specific pitch in your SoP for "why I would fit into your program," while giving evidence than you could succeed at a PhD level. There really is no shortcutting here. For example, for each school, I went through the listed profiles of each individual in my subfield and each person (including those outside of my subfield) who touched on my region of interest and reviewed their CVs for recent and not-so-recent publications related what I was interested in, writing a few notes on each person who most closely related to my interests. I then looked into other programs and resources the school could offer which related to my interests and balanced how/if those were closely-enough related to mention in my SoP, doing more research into it if it did (e.g.- I want to do work on Democratization and they have an interdisciplinary Center on democracies around the world; Many times, universities have regionally focused "Centers"). I then wrote my final paragraph on each statement from scratch, working in what I thought were the most important aspects of the research mentioned above to show my "fit" for the program. 

6 - If applicable, be sure to reach out *early* in the process to ask for fee waivers since some schools have a limited number while others require an additional small application which takes time to process. 

7 - Consider the prestige of the places you are applying, and why you are applying to lower tiers of schools. This calculation will be different for everyone. For me at least, I did not apply to schools with a lower (over-20th) USNWR ranking unless I had a very specific interest in the specialization of that school. For example, I am interested in surveys on democracy in Latin America, and Vanderbilt runs the preeminent survey on that topic, so I applied to Vanderbilt as well. In the end, I would suggest that one needs to recognize that political science as a scholarly profession is a relatively elitist field, and it is simply *much* more difficult to break into the field coming from a lower ranked program in terms of getting traction on papers or getting teaching positions after completing one's PhD. I was going to say "for better or for worse" about this reality, but... nah that's just unequivocally for worse.

 That McElroy Smile GIF by Aubron Wood | Gfycat 

But! If you are not looking to get a PhD to go into academia or want to pursue opportunities outside of the US, I have seen many arguments on this forum about how this is much less of a concern. I should also mention that my opinion here is not a settled matter -- Look through the 2020-2021 Application Thread for a lot more discussion, and people generally have a lot of thoughts about this anywhere you go on here. 

8 - After submitting applications, the period of time waiting for responses is AWFUL. Expect to be stressed and unfocused day after day. Try not to expect too much of yourself. I cannot speak to next year's posters, but this year's forum was incredibly helpful and positive. However, it may be worth it to simply avoid all discussion of applications and never check this forum, since that just adds stress to some others. Had me feelin like Mcelroy brothers GIFs - Get the best gif on GIFER

9 - The 2020-2021 admission cycle was brutal (see "It's Trash" gif above), which caught me off guard as all of my professors and current candidates I talked to thought I was a strong candidate. Hopefully it will not be so terrible in the upcoming years, but I honestly do not expect it to change very much. This may be a very cynical take, but I expect that many departments will keep the Covid cuts long-term, since that frees up resources to focus on their current students and activities in the increasingly austerity-prone world of academia. There are already too many PhD graduates looking for work in the field, and so for many years pre-Covid, departments were considering cutting spots as part of a general trend to cut back. This offers a great opportunity to do so while providing the political cover to say this was due to Covid. Once the spots are cut, keeping them that way is much easier than justifying increasing funding again. Hopefully I am missing something important, and we return to a world with more reasonable chances of acceptances (5-10% rates instead of the 1.5-2.5% rates we had this year). 

10 - Miscellaneous final thoughts, echoing things above: Quant skills are more and more important in all subfields (except maybe theory? But I am not in that field and have no direct information there).  I did NOT reach out to POIs during the process. This Twitter thread from a professor at Princeton gives a good indication about many professors' opinions on the topic (tldr - it's negative). If you DO feel you NEED to reach out to a professor, be sure it is to ask about something you could not find out online and generally be respectful of their time. I assume most professors have training on how to compensate for biases in research, and so simply talking to someone probably does not dramatically increase one's chances of getting in to a program. 

 

I'm out I mean what's cooler than having like three or four gifs of griffin mcelroy  dabbing – The King's Shield

 

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PROFILE:
Type of Undergrad Institution: Large public university (Latin America).
Major(s)/Minor(s): Law
Undergrad GPA: 3.54
Type of Grad: Law
Grad GPA: 3.9
GRE: 169/164/4
Any Special Courses: Quantitative Methods for Political Science (graduate); Comparative Politics (graduate).
Letters of Recommendation: 3 political science professors I worked with at my university.
Teaching Experience: TAed for the graduate class "Data Science for Legal Research".
Research Experience: Undergraduate and graduate thesis, multiple RAs during undergrad and grad. 
Other: Paper accepted at IPSA, editor of university's law review, 1st place at undergraduate admissions exam, two research fellowships, programming experience with Python and R, public interest legal work related to political science.

RESULTS (PhD)
Acceptances: Michigan ($$$), Duke ($$$), UT Austin ($$), Rice ($$)
Waitlists: WUSTL
Rejections: Stanford, Harvard, Princeton, UCSD, Berkeley, Yale, NYU, MIT
Going to: Michigan or Duke

LESSONS LEARNED

1. Do well on the GRE, especially if you don't come from a traditional/quantitative background. Yes, they say it's optional, but if you are an unorthodox candidate you should do it. It's an opportunity to signal some quantitative competence and general knowledge of English. 
2. Cast your net wide. You never know where you are going to get in, it's a very noisy and obscure process. I was rejected by some schools where I had very, very promising talks with faculty. At the same time, I was accepted at places where I almost didn't apply because I thought I had no chance.
3. Do a Master's degree if you can. Even if it's not at a top school, it signals that you want to pursue an academic career. It also gives you time to RA for professors in your desired field.
4. Really spend time on your SOP. I suggest the following structure, that I learned by reading other successful SOPs: 1 introductory paragraph listing each research interests; 1 paragraph per research interest, detailing what work you have done on each one; 1 concluding paragraph explaining why you want to go to that university in particular.
5. Learn computer programming. You can get wonderful research opportunities just by offering to write code. I recommend the book "Hands-On Programming with R", by Garrett Grolemund. The online version is free.
6. Focus on your strengths, particularly if you aren't already a political scientist. Explain why your background makes you uniquely qualified to do the work you want to do. As a Latin American lawyer, I got into programs with strong judicial politics and/or Latin American politics groups. I would have a much tougher time if I wanted to specialize in American Politics.
7. Accept that you can't really control the outcome. Luck plays a HUGE role in the admissions process. If I had to apply again next year, I would probably get into an entirely different set of schools.

EDIT: If you need help with some aspect of your application, please feel free to send me a private message :)!

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PROFILE:
Type of Undergrad Institution: Large R1 public school
Major(s)/Minor(s): International Relations and Economics
Undergrad GPA: 4.0
Type of Grad: n/a (applying directly from undergrad)
Grad GPA: 
GRE: 169/161/4.5
Any Special Courses: Above average quantitative background but not exceptional (stats, econometrics), 4 years of relevant language. 
Letters of Recommendation: two tenured and one tenure track faculty. Two in my subject area, other is my thesis adviser. Worked very closely with all three. 
Teaching Experience: Some tutoring experience but otherwise none. 
Other: Presented at MPSA and accepted to present again. Language study abroad + fellowship. Working paper published at well-known data institute. 

 

RESULTS
Acceptances: Ohio State, Michigan State, Florida, Emory (all funded)
Rejections: Princeton, Harvard, Stanford, UCSD, Berkeley, Vanderbilt, Cornell, Wisconsin, UCLA, Penn State, Northwestern
Waitlist: Yale
Going to: probably Emory, Yale if I get in

LESSONS LEARNED

1.  Nothing new compared to the people above: the process is terribly idiosyncratic (although fit does matter). For this reason, you'll have to try to separate your self-esteem from your application results, which is of course very close to impossible. For example, Wisconsin was one of my best fit schools both substantively and methodologically; one of my letter writers is also an alumni of their PhD program who has maintained close ties with faculty there. I had a very good interview and was subsequently rejected, which I later learned from another GradCafe user was likely due to the fact that my most likely adviser had about four students who had deferred the year before. 

2. Echoing the person above who recommends casting a wide net. As you'll notice from my quite lengthy list of rejections, I took this approach (perhaps too far) and I do believe it lessened my stress. This is related to everyone's point that the process is idiosyncratic. 

3. Start your SOP early. This especially applies to those who are in school while applying. I started mine in the summer and was able to get through a round of revisions (all three of my recommenders, one grad student) with before classes started, which saved me a lot of stress by the time December came around. 

4. More on the SOP from one of my faculty recommenders: demonstrate that you understand what being an academic means. For me, this meant clarifying why I viewed myself as primarily a scholar of comparative politics who also draws on IR literature. It also meant explaining how I planned to use my economics background in conjunction with my language training to produce mixed methods research. Rightly or wrongly, academics work in their own boxes of substantive and methodological orientation. Show where you fit. 

5. Think about backup plans early. I was fortunate to receive this advice early from a recommender and acted accordingly. Even though I've been admitted to PhD programs, I am waiting to hear back from a couple of yearlong fellowships that I would be able to pursue and defer my entry to my PhD program for a year. Options like that relieve stress and you can work with your PhD program to still pursue even when you are accepted. 

6. Not advice per se, but worth noting that I did not reach out to POIs. It might be useful in determining your fit for a program or a specific scholar's work, but it does not seem to affect your admissions chances. 

I've been really grateful for this community, both for the useful information and for the truly brilliant scholars I've gotten to know a little bit through the forum. I forced myself to get a Twitter as I enter grad school, so I'll leave that link in my signature for a little bit if anybody wants to keep in touch. 

Future applicants should feel free to shoot me a message - best of luck to anybody reading this!

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PROFILE
Type of Undergrad Institution: International Student
Major(s)/Minor(s): Political Science (Comparative Politics)
Undergrad GPA: 3.86 (equivalent)
Type of Grad: N/A
Grad GPA: N/A
GRE: 168V/168Q/6.0W
Any Special Courses: Political Methods Course, Statistics Courses
Letters of Recommendation: 1 Professor, 1 Associate Professor, 1 Assistant Professor (I've worked extensively with all of them).
Teaching Experience: I've been an undergraduate TA for six different courses
Research experience: Undergraduate thesis (which turned into my writing sample), RA for eight faculty projects

RESULTS
Acceptances: WUSTL, OSU, NYU, and MIT (all funded); Chicago (MACSS, 2/3 tuition covered)
Rejections: Texas (Austin), Chicago (PhD), Michigan, Harvard, Berkeley

I don't really feel like I "learned" a lot during this cycle, mainly because we get so little information about what we did "right" and why we did not get into the places we didn't get. Besides, we are working with such a small sample that it is easy to make unwarranted generalizations (for instance, looking at my results you could conclude that international students are guaranteed to get in at universities that are usually abbreviated using acronyms...) So, I'll echo some of the previous points that have been raised, as I feel they are sound advice.

1) I think starting early is a good idea, it gives you time to go through your materials several times (although don't over edit! especially your statement, at some point it's just not worth it) and you give recommenders enough time. Also, going over the online forms is a pain, so dedicate some time to that.

2) I would say that taking the GREs is mandatory for international students, even if they say its optional. I just cannot see them accepting an international student (that is not from a hugely famous school) without any frame of reference. One exception could be doing an MA in the US, but that is quite a lot more expensive than just preparing for the GRE.

3) I got offers without doing an MA so I'm glad I did not postpone the process, but maybe in other cases it would make sense (e.g. a bad undergraduate GPA).

4) I was glad of the amount of schools I applied to, I think nine is the sweet spot (as long as you diversify your pool).

5) During the process I only spoke with one professor from the departments I applied to, and it was because we knew each other previously. I think contacting people you don't know just to say "hi I'm applying to your department" is probably not productive. If you have questions, just ask the graduate coordinator. Again, maybe it helps (how can we know, really), but to me it felt wrong.

6) While we can do a lot of research about each department we apply to, some things are just out of our control. For instance, I later learned that one of my POI in one school had moved to a different school a year ago, without any sign of it a) in the original school's website, b) in his google scholar; c) even in his personal webpage. Lesson: academics suck at updating public facing portals, so just assume this will happen with at least one professor and don't worry about it too much (I doubt that was the reason that I didn't get in that particular place).

7) I think fit may be somewhat overrated. I applied to places that had people that were close to my current interests, but at the end I still weighed how broad the place was when making my decision. And I believe the committee assumes you'll change your interests once you start the program. So I guess just apply to places you like?

8/ When waiting for the results, assume that not hearing back is a rejection. I don't think there was a single case this year of someone getting an acceptance later (without being on a waitlist, of course).

9) Finally, some stuff that helped me decide where to go: a) everybody loves the place they are in, so read between the lines for criticism and stuff that is not great about their departments; b) speak with current graduate students individually (for instance, I asked the professors I spoke with to contact me with some of their graduate students), and not only the ones that directly approach you; c) open houses are useful, if only to meet your potential cohort; d) during one-on-one interviews with faculty I usually asked them about their current and future projects, which was useful for gauging how much I wanted to work with them; and e) former graduate students are also a great resource, particularly what their dissertations were about (for instance, if no one has done anything related to your current interests, that is a red flag).

I don't regred hanging around at Grad Café one bit, even if it was stressful sometimes. It really helped seeing other people in my same situation, and everyone are so nice. Take care, and good luck!

Edited by Barry B. Benson
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8 hours ago, Barry B. Benson said:

PROFILE
Type of Undergrad Institution: International Student
Major(s)/Minor(s): Political Science (Comparative Politics)
Undergrad GPA: 3.86 (equivalent)
Type of Grad: N/A
Grad GPA: N/A
GRE: 168V/168Q/6.0W
Any Special Courses: Political Methods Course, Statistics Courses
Letters of Recommendation: 1 Professor, 1 Associate Professor, 1 Assistant Professor (I've worked extensively with all of them).
Teaching Experience: I've been an undergraduate TA for six different courses
Research experience: Undergraduate thesis (which turned into my writing sample), RA for eight faculty projects

RESULTS
Acceptances: WUSTL, OSU, NYU, and MIT (all funded); Chicago (MACSS, 2/3 tuition covered)
Rejections: Texas (Austin), Chicago (PhD), Michigan, Harvard, Berkeley

I don't really feel like I "learned" a lot during this cycle, mainly because we get so little information about what we did "right" and why we did not get into the places we didn't get. Besides, we are working with such a small sample that it is easy to make unwarranted generalizations (for instance, looking at my results you could conclude that international students are guaranteed to get in at universities that are usually abbreviated using acronyms...) So, I'll echo some of the previous points that have been raised, as I feel they are sound advice.

1) I think starting early is a good idea, it gives you time to go through your materials several times (although don't over edit! especially your statement, at some point it's just not worth it) and you give recommenders enough time. Also, going over the online forms is a pain, so dedicate some time to that.

2) I would say that taking the GREs is mandatory for international students, even if they say its optional. I just cannot see them accepting an international student (that is not from a hugely famous school) without any frame of reference. One exception could be doing an MA in the US, but that is quite a lot more expensive than just preparing for the GRE.

3) I got offers without doing an MA so I'm glad I did not postpone the process, but maybe in other cases it would make sense (e.g. a bad undergraduate GPA).

4) I was glad of the amount of schools I applied to, I think nine is the sweet spot (as long as you diversify your pool).

5) During the process I only spoke with one professor from the departments I applied to, and it was because we knew each other previously. I think contacting people you don't know just to say "hi I'm applying to your department" is probably not productive. If you have questions, just ask the graduate coordinator. Again, maybe it helps (how can we know, really), but to me it felt wrong.

6) While we can do a lot of research about each department we apply to, some things are just out of our control. For instance, I later learned that one of my POI in one school had moved to a different school a year ago, without any sign of it a) in the original school's website, b) in his google scholar; c) even in his personal webpage. Lesson: academics suck at updating public facing portals, so just assume this will happen with at least one professor and don't worry about it too much (I doubt that was the reason that I didn't get in that particular place).

7) I think fit may be somewhat overrated. I applied to places that had people that were close to my current interests, but at the end I still weighed how broad the place was when making my decision. And I believe the committee assumes you'll change your interests once you start the program. So I guess just apply to places you like?

8/ When waiting for the results, assume that not hearing back is a rejection. I don't think there was a single case this year of someone getting an acceptance later (without being on a waitlist, of course).

9) Finally, some stuff that helped me decide where to go: a) everybody loves the place they are in, so read between the lines for criticism and stuff that is not great about their departments; b) speak with current graduate students individually (for instance, I asked the professors I spoke with to contact me with some of their graduate students), and not only the ones that directly approach you; c) open houses are useful, if only to meet your potential cohort; d) during one-on-one interviews with faculty I usually asked them about their current and future projects, which was useful for gauging how much I wanted to work with them; and e) former graduate students are also a great resource, particularly what their dissertations were about (for instance, if no one has done anything related to your current interests, that is a red flag).

I don't regred hanging around at Grad Café one bit, even if it was stressful sometimes. It really helped seeing other people in my same situation, and everyone are so nice. Take care, and good luck!

Just out of curiosity, since two of your acceptances are places I'm waitlisted at and we're the same subfield: where did you choose to go in the end? :P

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PROFILE:
Type of Undergrad Institution:  R1 U.S. West Coast Public University
Major(s)/Minor(s): Political Science (IR) / History Double Major
Undergrad GPA: 3.9
Type of Grad: N/A
Grad GPA: N/A
GRE: 167V/158Q/5.0W
Any Special Courses: IDK, Maybe???
Letters of Recommendation: 3 Professors (1 Senior Thesis Advisor/ Instructor, 2 Instructors who knew me and my research interests very well). 
Research experience: 6 Months RA for a Graduate Student's Dissertation, 4 Months Internship for research and policy with a company.

RESULTS
Acceptances: OSU (Waitlisted $), Johns Hopkins University ($), UCLA ($), Cornell University ($), UCSD (GPS Masters Program, $) 
Rejections: UW-Madison, UCSD, UC Berkeley, Princeton, UT Austin, Rochester, University of Michigan - Ann Arbor, University of Chicago, Yale, NYU (Assumed), Stanford, MIT, and Harvard

Going to: Cornell

LESSONS LEARNED:

1. This was a tough year to apply in, with more applicants and less open spots. The wait can be discouraging, but make sure to stay optimistic while retaining contingency options. I mention this, not only so that future applicants may reflect on this specific year's hardships, but because some departments have indicated to me that they may limit cohort sizes next year as well.

2. Fit does matter, or at least it did for me. Every place I got into had at least 2-4 Professors doing research in the broad area of my own interests. Now don't get me wrong, your research interests are very likely to develop and evolve as you learn more, but at the same time don't forget the question(s) you got into political science to answer; those that inspire you. The further away from your genuine interests the faculty are, the more it'll either be up to you to chart your own course and assemble a patchwork committee or else compromise and restructure your research to some extent to better match the expertise of the department and your advisors. I personally went where I felt I'd be free enough to decide what I want to change, or not, but also could access multiple faculty who engaged with aspects of the field fairly close to what I hope to pursue.

3. Interview everyone, and I mean EVERYONE! Professors, Grad Students, people from your undergrad/masters institutions, friends of friends who know a guy who has heard of the existence of higher education. You learn the most random, but essential, information from asking around. Be aware, some at the institutions themselves may be giving you not just advice but perhaps also a sales pitch, ranging from refreshingly-honest appraisals to very utopian pictures about how their department is a non-hierarchical paradise where grad students frolic amongst the meadows and research grants grow on trees. Just be wary, read their websites, attend the (sometimes virtual) open house, and get as many perspectives as possible. I cannot overstate how much this factored into my ultimate decision, and I really do advise you to get a feel for the department, its mechanisms, its reputation, its social conditions, its methodological camps (if there are any), and don't be afraid to ask (mostly the grad students) if they have any concerns they've noticed or think should influence your decision about their institution. You'll be at these places for 5+ years, you really, really, need to know it decently well before you commit.

4. MA may be especially useful for those who have to make up for something lacking in their undergraduate credentials. I didn't do one, but it's good advice I thought I'd pass on.

5. The GRE sucks, but it remains useful, even in a year where it was optional for many applications. Aside from all you data science R wizards, causal inference pioneers, and stats majors who jump into Political Science for your doctorate, the GRE (alongside your writing sample if it has these elements) may be one of your most straightforward proofs of quantitative capabilities. Study with free online stuff first (YouTube channels have an impressive selection, practice, and don't be afraid to take the exam again if you believe you can manage a better score).

6. Applying to a lot of places is a lot of work and having more options can be good and hard. I applied to 17 places (17.5 if you count the Masters program and 18.5 if you count my UNC-Chapel Hill application before they pulled the rug out from under us and closed applications for a year). It's very time-consuming and the pressure is tough, but it's worth it as long as you genuinely like the places you apply to. I applied broadly, but honestly, don't waste your time on programs where you'd think you'd be unhappy or wouldn't fit. I mostly didn't get into those programs I worried about, likely in part due to more imperfect fit, and I genuinely prefer the options I got to most of those I didn't. A broad brush may cover more options, but just be selective with where you dedicate your resources.

7. Almost everyone seems to recognize this already, but I'll reiterate: your statement of purpose matters. Professors do not know if they can support your interests without knowing what they are. Your grades and test scores usually can't speak to less quantified aspects of your profile, like your maturity (readiness to commit and complete graduate-level work) and potential innovative additions to the frontiers of the field. Length limits hit hard, so run your draft by experienced profs, TA/grads at your undergrad institution so they can advise you on what to prioritize.

8. Your writing sample is perhaps the 2nd/3rd most important piece of your application. Everyone I interviewed had at least skimmed my writing sample (my senior thesis [85+ pages, sorry]) and they will take it as an indicator of your interests and capabilities, much like the statement of purpose. Don't underestimate this aspect, send your best work that ideally demonstrates quantitative and qualitative work (unless you're a true specialist methodologist/theorist). Side-note: cutting your absurdly long writing-sample down to the length the admissions committee and professors will actually read (15-30 pages, 😧) is surprisingly painful, as you must reduce your hard work to its core components in a form that still communicates your skills, interests, and ability to produce coherent results analysis. Side-note on the side note: got a bunch of charts and data that take up precious room on a low page limit paper? Throw it all in an appendix at the end.

That's the most important stuff that I've already thought of. I might add more advice if I remember another important piece of advice. Happy to answer questions.  

Edited by JustAnotherScholar
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  • 3 weeks later...

PROFILE:
Type of Undergrad Institution: R2 private university 
Major(s)/Minor(s): Political science
Undergrad GPA: 3.98
Type of Grad: R2 public university
Grad GPA: 3.95
GRE: 165V/155Q/5.0V
Any Special Courses:
Letters of Recommendation: 3 profs (1 independent study supervisor, 1 MA thesis supervisor, 1 professor from my MA).  
Teaching Experience: 2 terms of TAing.
Other: 

RESULTS: 

Acceptances: UC Irvine ($), UC Santa Cruz ($), UMass Amherst ($)

Rejections: Northwestern, Cornell, Johns Hopkins, UVA, 

Pending: Michigan (unlikely), UBC (unlikely), York, BU,  Boulder

Going to: I'll never tell 😉

1. It definitely helps to reach out to professors beforehand.  I reached out to faculty for all 3 of the the programs I was admitted to.  It signals interest, and in a competitive year like this one, it's an additional boost to your application.

2. Start your SOP early.  I started mine 2 or 3 months before the deadlines, although some start even earlier.  My first and last paragraph were the same for all programs, but the contents were tailored to specific programs.  I wouldn't advise writing a generic SOP.  Adcoms can spot it in a mile away, and it won't do your application any favors.  Demonstrate interest by talking about your interests and how they fit with that of the program.

3. Make sure your SOP delves into specific research questions and puzzles, instead of just outlining the work of others.  During the last cycle, I made the mistake of spending 2 or 3 paragraphs outlining a professor's research, and then spending 2 or 3 sentences vaguely connecting it to my interests.  Needless to say, I wasn't successful that year.   The professors already know their own research, and I didn't need to provide a long summary of their work to demonstrate interest.  This year I devoted the bulk of my SOP (3 or 4 paragraphs or so) to fleshing out my own research question, and then I linked it with the profs' interests briefly.  If I was a prof, I think this is what I'd want to see.  They want to see that you can think for yourself and ask probing questions to research.  

4. I'm glad I did an MA, because I had a solid writing sample to attach to my application.  Definitely important to pick a good writing sample.

5. Make sure that the programs you are applying to are strong in your sub-field.  I applied to Michigan, for example, mainly because of its prestige.  But I realized after being on the wait that it is not so strong in theory.  My acceptances can compete with Michigan in theory, even though they may not have the same overall rank.

6. This has been an exceptionally tough year, so I just feel glad that I've either been accepted or wait listed at more than half the programs I applied to.  In the end, it was never-wracking, but I am happy with my results!  And this community has been wonderful.  

 

 

 

Edited by StarkDark1
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PROFILE:
Type of Undergrad Institution:
  SEC, Top 10 public institution according to USNews
Major(s)/Minor(s): Political Science, Anthropology, Minor: Sustainability
Undergrad GPA: 3.7
Type of Grad:  n/a
GRE: n/a
Any Special Courses: R class, Research Methods, Honors Thesis courses
Letters of Recommendation: 3 -  My thesis advisor who is also the chair of the polisci program at my uni, lecturer I have a good relationship with, lecturer for my R class who I also have good relationship with
Teaching Experience: n/a
Other: Basic R skills, no publications, just my in-progress thesis was used for my writing sample
RESULTS: 
Acceptances: UIUC, University of Maryland
Rejections: Rice, UCSD, Berkeley, Chicago, Northwestern, MIT, Michigan, Georgetown, Wisconsin
Going to: Maryland! 🐢

Lessons:
1. Trust the process. I have adopted this philosophy that I always know that I'll end up ok. This cycle really tested that patience in me. I really wanted to get into grad school, but I knew that if I didn't that I would find something else and be ok. 
2. results do not correlate to your worth. I knew this but it still hurt when I got another rejection, and I didn't think I would get in anywhere.
3. If I could do it again, I might have applied to a wider variety of programs/ Cast a wider net. While I applied to many schools (12) I could have applied to more programs. I only applied to Polisci PhDs, but could have considered Sociology programs, Public Policy programs, and even considered more masters programs. 
4. Find a hobby or get busy. I was so wrought with stress and anxiety this whole time. i thought that the applications were the hardest part but the waiting and rejections were so much harder on me mentally. I started working out more and focusing on making progress in the gym. I crocheted and tried to focus on homework. I procrastinated finishing my thesis. I spend some safe online time with frends, watched a couple of new netflix shows, etc. 
5. Where ever I ended up I knew I would be happy. I recieved my first acceptance and prepared myself to go there, started looking at apartments and things to do in the area. I was ready to commit if my last application was going to turn out as a rejection. When I got my second acceptance I went in with an open mind and chose carefully, while still listening to my heart when needed.
6. You are so much more qualified than you think!! I am finishing up my undergrad with what I feel is little to no experience so I doubted myself a lot. Why would any school want me? What do I have to show up against so many other scholars with grad school/real job/research/publication experiences? When I got my first waitlist it helped subside all of those thoughts for a moment, I was good enough to be on a waitlist so that must mean im actually a competetive candidate wow I couldnt believe it. Even now I have this sense of fear that my acceptance is going to be rescinded for some reason. 
7. Listen to your mentors. and ask questions!! My thesis advisor is an experienced Professor and researcher in the field. He's the one that recommended me to apply to at least half of the schools I applied to. When my advisor was suggesting schools, they suggested Maryland and emphasized how much of a good fit that would be for me and how they wanted to see me go there ultimately. It seems like they knew from the start where I would end up or it was just a really good prediction 😂

Edited by spotted
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PROFILE:
Type of Undergrad Institution: International - Top School in Turkey
Major(s)/Minor(s): Totally irrelevant major (TEFL) 
Undergrad GPA: 3.4
Type of Grad: UK - Political Science
Grad GPA: Distinction
GRE: Not taken
Any Special Courses: Basic stats courses and 1 year of relevant language. 
Letters of Recommendation: 3 tenured faculty. Two in my subject area, other one is from my undergrad major.
Teaching Experience: Teaching languages in 4 different countries. 
Other:  Field research that led to a publication. Published an article at an International Law journal, other one is also accepted to be published in the next few months. 

 

RESULTS
Acceptances: Ohio State ($), Michigan State ($), Indiana ($), Florida ($), UC Santa Barbara ($).
Rejections: Princeton, Yale, UMichigan, UCSD, Cornell, UCLA, Northwestern, Rice, Georgetown, Notre Dame.
Going to: Ohio State.

I won't be adding to all those great suggestions that other candidates mentioned above. One note is that if you're coming from an irrelevant major into political science, you need to be able to show you can do research in political science. In my case, it was the field research and publications. 

 

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PROFILE
Type of Undergrad Institution: Small liberal arts college in the Midwest
Major(s)/Minor(s): Political science/History
Undergrad GPA: 3.87
Type of Grad: n/a (I'm still an undergrad)
Grad GPA: n/a
GRE: 168 verbal 156 quant, 4.5 writing
Any Special Courses: Statistical modeling with R, math up through Calc II (I used to be a math major), accelerated stats sequence, undergrad thesis/capstone
Letters of Recommendation: My academic advisor, the department chair, for whom I TAed and researched, and my thesis supervisor
Teaching Experience: TAed a first year seminar this past fall
Other: Received a grant to sponsor collaborative research with a faculty mentor last summer and work for the department currently

RESULTS
Acceptances: UIUC (admitted from the waitlist), Chicago MAPSS (partial funding)
Rejections: Princeton, Harvard, UCLA, Duke, Wisconsin, Johns Hopkins, Chicago (PhD), UVA, Vanderbilt, Notre Dame (interviewed and then invited to/attended virtual visit)

1. If possible, the writing sample should reflect your research interests. I submitted my undergrad thesis in political psychology, but applied as a theorist to the majority of schools because of my low quant GRE scores and a sustained interest in philosophy. 

2. GRE scores don't matter as much as I had thought. I really limited myself by thinking that I could only get admitted in a non-quantitative subfield, but then ended up getting admitted for AP and taking an offer at an institution with a really rigorous intro methods sequence. 

3. Fit matters. I had a shortlist of 5 schools last November, but when Minnesota and Carolina both announced they weren't admitting students this cycle, I called up my advisor and sent out applications to every school he recommended, regardless of my fit in the department. It wasn't the best move, but I genuinely had no idea what to do once the number of schools to which I was applying was basically halved. The process was rushed and I frankly regret applying to as many schools as I did (11) because those that interviewed or admitted me were the three schools to which I was already going to apply. 

4. Apply to MA programs if you don't already have one! When it seemed like my cycle was over, I scrambled to submit MA applications but found across the board that I had missed the funding deadlines. Even if you want to go straight to PhD, it's truly better to be safe than sorry. 

5. Overall, I just feel really fortunate to have received an offer this year. This cycle was absolutely gruesome and I think that grad admissions will be forever changed. Programs that didn't take students will begin admitting again, but it seems as though smaller cohorts are going to be the norm. I fear that theory students are increasingly going to find that there are fewer places and fewer spots available for them. 

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