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Do we anticipate a better application cycle next year?


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We saw 50+ humanities and social sciences programs' applications cut (https://www.chronicle.com/article/more-doctoral-programs-suspend-admissions-that-could-have-lasting-effects-on-graduate-education?cid2=gen_login_refresh&cid=gen_sign_in). I think at this point we can extrapolate what happened to cohort sizes (Yale's English PhD program went down to THREE: https://www.chronicle.com/article/are-graduate-programs-pressing-pause-or-pulling-the-plug). Wondering who knows more about other programs. Many universities and programs have hiring freezes. I found one very random report in the fall citing "experts" (eye roll) that admissions to med/biz/law schools had skyrocketed. My rejection for Indiana's English PhD program said their applications had increased by almost 40%. Who knows what about what happened with other schools and programs? What can we project? There is a very annoying lack of data and information out there.

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I don’t know about “better,” but I forsee a shift in the admissions process that will probably remain permanent. I think admissions will continue limited admissions but will begin prioritizing academy trends rather than pure potential. And by trends, I mean that committees are going to want hyper specific things from potential scholars. 

Its just that the academy has known for a long time that they are producing more phds than their are jobs. And for years, there has been a moral debate on whether or not accepting students is the right thing to do. Universities have been very afraid of over saturation. And before the pandemic, there was huge discussion on limiting admissions. But there’s no nice or non embarrasing way to announce a drastic change in student admissions.

BUT I think Covid forced them to actually put those abstract thoughts of limitation into action. Before, we could only speculate would limited admissions would look like. Now the academy has experience on limited admissions. And even more so, they have begun considering how limitations can achieve a broader academy goal. Just look at U. Chicago, they have chosen rather experimental forms of assessment this year. And they have done so in a way that will directly sway the future of research. They will only accept black phds this year! Now I’m not saying that other schools will go that route. But just watching how this plays out and seeing academy reactions, I see universities embracing  very finite binaries. “This year we want scholars for victorian queerness”  “This year we only want Shakespeareans who are interested in our digital studies department.” Like they are going to both limit the number of entry for scholars but they will use that limitation to directly sway their own self interests. Specialty is one thing but committees are probably going to want something more specific than even that. 
 

I’m rambling but my point is that I don’t think admissions will go “back to normal” next year or even after the pandemic. Yale will stay at 3 admissions for some time. Other schools will decrease admissions or prioritize certain applicants. Either way, I think we are looking at a shift in admissions and instead of it being “better” next year, we may just be playing an entirely new game. Heck, we were playing an entirely new game THIS year.
——

So like, back to the admissions I mentioned, I think committee’s are going to look for different things when it comes to accepting applicants:

- Will this student sway the job market and research trends in ways that we, collectively as a department, have deemed important and necessary? How?

- Does this student have a solid idea of what their specific kind scholarship looks like? And do they have a scholarly identity that is, in our opinion, distinct enough for future employment?

- Does this student know what they are getting into beyond academics (poverty, job scarcity, etc) How does their background let us know?

So to sum all my garbage rant into a final point: Admissions committee have a different stance on admissions now. They will prioritize a very limited number and from that limited number, they will choose students based on a desired outcome rather than potential. Applicants have a different set of expectations....or they will have next year or in years’ future.

———-

Another thing I want to note is that a good majority of applicants are not ready for a phd. The number of applicants may be huge, but in all honesty, there’s far fewer who are actually “ready.” Like yea, a lot are ready for scholarship and research but don’t prove that they are also ready for the reality of external factors out of their control.

I’m not being cruel. If I am, I apologize. I think potential and skill is there for most applicants. There are so many amazing scholars out there. And in a perfect world, that’s all you’d need. But with the job market and humanities the way it is, its not enough to be a “good scholar.” You have to also be a firmly convicted one. And that has to be proven by proving that you have a very solid, and very unique idea, of what kind of scholar you are or are going to be. So yea, the number of applicants seem scary but not many meet this unspoken requirement. You also have to be good at teaching, the landscape of higher education is prioritizing instruction so students also need to understand that.

Edited by Oklash
organize babe
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6 hours ago, Oklash said:

BUT I think Covid forced them to actually put those abstract thoughts of limitation into action. Before, we could only speculate would limited admissions would look like. Now the academy has experience on limited admissions. And even more so, they have begun considering how limitations can achieve a broader academy goal. Just look at U. Chicago, they have chosen rather experimental forms of assessment this year. And they have done so in a way that will directly sway the future of research. They will only accept black phds this year! Now I’m not saying that other schools will go that route. But just watching how this plays out and seeing academy reactions, I see universities embracing  very finite binaries. “This year we want scholars for victorian queerness”  “This year we only want Shakespeareans who are interested in our digital studies department.” Like they are going to both limit the number of entry for scholars but they will use that limitation to directly sway their own self interests. Specialty is one thing but committees are probably going to want something more specific than even that. 
 

Actually, I really don’t think this is the case. While the UChicago situation was much publicized, I’m not sure we should draw too many conclusions from it. For one, the Covid situation was only partly the determinant in that decision. Historical inequalities in admissions and in the academy led to a decision to create a seismic change in the department culture (I imagine). While many departments have probably considered this given the past year, we shouldn’t forget that humanities departments are liberal havens and liberals love to make small temporal changes in lieu of massive systemic ones. I would bet anything that Chicago and other departments in similar positions will go back to the usual soon, having patted themselves on the back.

More importantly, departments know that it’s impossible to predict trends or accurately predict what students will work on. To select ultra-specifically is simply not going to work, and is a recipe for some fields going unrepresented. Even if you get the best future scholar of X in your cohort, by the time they defend their thesis X might not really be a thing anymore or the student might have moved on from X. My guess is departments will continue to use the general formula of “do we have all the general areas covered?” Not saying it’s good; it’s a shitty formula and has created many inequalities.

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51 minutes ago, WildeThing said:

Actually, I really don’t think this is the case. While the UChicago situation was much publicized, I’m not sure we should draw too many conclusions from it. For one, the Covid situation was only partly the determinant in that decision. Historical inequalities in admissions and in the academy led to a decision to create a seismic change in the department culture (I imagine). While many departments have probably considered this given the past year, we shouldn’t forget that humanities departments are liberal havens and liberals love to make small temporal changes in lieu of massive systemic ones. I would bet anything that Chicago and other departments in similar positions will go back to the usual soon, having patted themselves on the back.

More importantly, departments know that it’s impossible to predict trends or accurately predict what students will work on. To select ultra-specifically is simply not going to work, and is a recipe for some fields going unrepresented. Even if you get the best future scholar of X in your cohort, by the time they defend their thesis X might not really be a thing anymore or the student might have moved on from X. My guess is departments will continue to use the general formula of “do we have all the general areas covered?” Not saying it’s good; it’s a shitty formula and has created many inequalities.

yea, you’re right. i was just rambling a lot of nonsense!

i have a skewed perspective because i am very specific and have a distinct scholarly goal. And committees were “impressed” by the tangible the goal was. So maybe I assumed that that is what committees are starting to want. I put impressed in quotes because it wasn’t that impressive. I just talk too much. 

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I agree with @WildeThing. The way this cycle has worked (or next cycle will work) is not going to stick around for too long, but on the other hand, some of the changes being made regarding drastic cuts in admissions: I truly believe these things will never return to "normal." We'll be looking at much smaller cohorts for many years to come, I reckon.  

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  • 3 weeks later...
On 2/21/2021 at 12:13 AM, Oklash said:

yea, you’re right. i was just rambling a lot of nonsense!

i have a skewed perspective because i am very specific and have a distinct scholarly goal. And committees were “impressed” by the tangible the goal was. So maybe I assumed that that is what committees are starting to want. I put impressed in quotes because it wasn’t that impressive. I just talk too much. 

Still, I don't mean that there will be a change in the literal sense. But instead suggesting that the application process will never go back to normal or back to the way we've grown accustomed to. And just giving potential reasonings as to why and how.

The academy itself is changing and so are the expectations for incoming students and their role in it. 

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  • 1 month later...

My program seems to be shifting quite a bit to meet hiring trends. I think they are going to be looking much more at what applicants are interested in doing and how that corresponds to the market. We're a young and very well-funded program though, we're actually making more offers now than in past years, so no idea how this might work elsewhere.

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