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I've posted here before with my thoughts about choosing graduate school. Seeing how so many of you are in the middle of this supremely stressful time, agonizing over admissions and deciding where to g

Realist, what program are you at.

Wow, that's depressing...I scored 89th percentile on the English section of my GRE, received a perfect 6 on the writing section, and received an 82nd percentile on the subject test. I had a 4.0 GPA at

That was quite helpful, thanks.

Do you have any advice on how to improve an application if someone isn't in school anymore? I'm finishing up my MPP this year, and am already preparing myself for a possible 0/10 this year.

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A wonderfully informative post. It certainly puts a lot of speculation to bed, though it doesn't really ease any anxieties I have; if anything, it confirms them.

If you're able to reply to this, can I ask why political science departments, in general, don't do interviews? Or some other method of gathering more information or 'psychological' testing? I presume that when you speak about students who will complete the program and get jobs, that is largely a psychological measure. You want to know which students might have tendencies towards 'flaking out' when the going gets tough, being ambitious but not overconfident, etc. Perhaps an interview or some sort of questionnaire tailored to 'measure' such attributes would contribute to the process. I don't say all applicants should have to take the MMPI, but it's a thought.

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Thank you for the information. It is much appreciated.

However, I guess I'm sort of left at a bit of a loss with part of what you've told us. Looking for someone who will complete the PhD and get a job seems to imply a few things: 1) the person has the pure smarts to be able to complete all the classes primary and secondary fields with at least a B+/A- average, 2) The person has the study habits and is able to handle the pressure in order to complete 2 comprehensive/major field exams, 3) the person has the ability to produce enough papers that are of such a quality to be published, 4) the person has the public speaking ability to make both classroom and conference presentations, and 4) the person has the ability to, essentially, write a book (his/her dissertation).

I guess GPA and GRE scores would be an indicator of the person's ability to do things 1 and 2. A writing sample would help to figured out #3. However, and I'm going to echo wtncffts' question, it seems that if you interviewed the application you could get a much better feel for their personality and their speaking abilities. I know you've said it's an inexact science, but recommendations, personal statements and a resume can only shed so much light on a candidate's ability to be a teacher which is an important part of being a graduate student and then becoming a professor. There are certain skills, qualifications, and abilities that are necessary in order to get a teaching positions like public speaking ability, giving presentations, personal confidence, patience, etc that can't be captured in written material.

There is ultimately no indicator of a person's ability to write a dissertation, unless someone has already written one, but perhaps a personal interview, or a phone interview, could make the inexact science a little bit less inexact.

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Wow, that's depressing...I scored 89th percentile on the English section of my GRE, received a perfect 6 on the writing section, and received an 82nd percentile on the subject test. I had a 4.0 GPA at the Master's level, and have multiple publications at academic presses including Brill and Routledge, alongside five years of conference activity and thirteen years of teaching at the high school and college level, and the writing sample I submitted is currently under peer review for a major journal in my field...and you are telling me that all of that means crap, because my Math GRE was a 480, thirteen years out of school.

If that is really the case, I sure wish that when I emailed to ask about that score prior to submitting my applications and fees, someone had told me "Don't bother, you won't make it past the first round because of your Math GRE score." But, I was definitely told that it would not keep me out of the running because of the rest of my application. :blink:

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Wow, that's depressing...I scored 89th percentile on the English section of my GRE, received a perfect 6 on the writing section, and received an 82nd percentile on the subject test. I had a 4.0 GPA at the Master's level, and have multiple publications at academic presses including Brill and Routledge, alongside five years of conference activity and thirteen years of teaching at the high school and college level, and the writing sample I submitted is currently under peer review for a major journal in my field...and you are telling me that all of that means crap, because my Math GRE was a 480, thirteen years out of school.

If that is really the case, I sure wish that when I emailed to ask about that score prior to submitting my applications and fees, someone had told me "Don't bother, you won't make it past the first round because of your Math GRE score." But, I was definitely told that it would not keep me out of the running because of the rest of my application. :blink:

Well, I suppose it does vary by department and school, but I do agree that if they have a hardline, categorical rule about cutting at <500, they really should say so upfront. The only reason I can think of to not do so is to charge application fees to those who the department knows have no chance. That's unfair, but not surprising.

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Wow, that's depressing...I scored 89th percentile on the English section of my GRE, received a perfect 6 on the writing section, and received an 82nd percentile on the subject test. I had a 4.0 GPA at the Master's level, and have multiple publications at academic presses including Brill and Routledge, alongside five years of conference activity and thirteen years of teaching at the high school and college level, and the writing sample I submitted is currently under peer review for a major journal in my field...and you are telling me that all of that means crap, because my Math GRE was a 480, thirteen years out of school.

If that is really the case, I sure wish that when I emailed to ask about that score prior to submitting my applications and fees, someone had told me "Don't bother, you won't make it past the first round because of your Math GRE score." But, I was definitely told that it would not keep me out of the running because of the rest of my application. :blink:

I do not think the procedures for a Poli Sci or Govt department would be the same for English and Medieval Studies. The quant score is much more important in Poli Sci than for humanities disciplines.

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I can't speak for other departments, but we don't do interviews because we simply do not have the time. I agree that interviews would definitely add some information that cannot be captured in written format. Given unlimited resources, that's what we'd do. But we just cannot accommodate the number of interviews we'd have to do, even if we only did them on the final round.

I think that there are some other political science departments that do interviews during the admissions weekend, but they tend to be smaller and wealthier than ours. Regardless, it's a fine idea and something that we'd do in a perfect world, but as you'll learn, political science is all about making hard choices under constraints.

One of the things that helped me greatly was reading the results profiles threads to get a sense of what a competitive applicant looks like. Could you give an example of a profile that future applicants can try to match and have a reasonable chance of success?

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Wow, that's depressing...I scored 89th percentile on the English section of my GRE, received a perfect 6 on the writing section, and received an 82nd percentile on the subject test. I had a 4.0 GPA at the Master's level, and have multiple publications at academic presses including Brill and Routledge, alongside five years of conference activity and thirteen years of teaching at the high school and college level, and the writing sample I submitted is currently under peer review for a major journal in my field...and you are telling me that all of that means crap, because my Math GRE was a 480, thirteen years out of school.

Medievalmaniac - As others have pointed out, this is likely to differ a great deal across fields. I can't imagine that there is much math in English/Medieval Studies (correct me if I'm wrong). On the other hand, it is important in political science to be able to interpret a wide range of quantitative and formal models (even if not using them yourself). Thus, it is much more understandable that there would be a minimum cut off.

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Thanks, Realist. That was a lot to type, but I think the responses show you it was worth it.

The post is immediately sobering. It's easy to focus on the sheer number of well-qualified candidates and despair. How will someone ever find you in the pack? How can you distinguish yourself? Is it all just luck of the draw in terms of interest?

But notice this and put the anguish in perspective:

The Realist posts from a program among the top 40 in the country, which draws 30 to 40 times as many applications as they have spots. In other words, if applicants to RealistU represents the entire Top 40 schools and those schools all admit similar numbers, everyone that applies to RealistU gets into a Top 40 school.

Obviously that's not the case, but there IS significant overlap. For a student with the qualifications to make a final round at RealistU, the chances of admission at some great program is actually very high. Part of the game (for most of us) is to put up with more rejections than acceptances as programs like RealistU's sort out the great candidates (you) that fit into their programs.

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Sorry if that's disappointing, but I really, really believe that "comparing stats" is likely to be the least useful way to diagnose a "problem" with your application.

Not to encourage wild speculation on your behalf, but are you willing to comment on how prevalent this view is among admissions committees?

And thank you again for your candid discussion.

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I have a question for The Realist. How did the department generally react to people with very low undergraduate GPAs but solid applications otherwise. Specifically, applicants who had done poorly in undergrad but then later did well in an MA program. I've read on some departments sites that they won't consider anyone with less than a 3.0 UGPA, but its not clear how that's affected by MA grades. Was there anyone with that profile that you admitted, and if so what convinced you to let them in?

I'm looking to apply for Fall 2012 (finishing terminal MA this year) but am concerned about my application getting "weeded out" due to low undergrad grades without the rest of my application being looked at, similar to the way you described applications with low GRE scores getting removed automatically.

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Does anyone have any ideas or thoughts about how much this applies to Masters programs? I'm applying to the M.Ed EPM at HGSE and my ungrad GPA is below a 3.0. I got a 3.75 in my first Masters program and my SOP and LOR's are strong. I'm just nervous that I may have been cut in the pre-screening which is really depressing since I do think my resume shows a strong committment to education and what I want to do long term.

Any thoughts or comments would be helpful as I wait this thing out...

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Thanks for this insight. It is much appreciated.

One question I've wondered about is why do most applications ask what other programs an applicant is applying to? Is this info used during the process at all? Would applying to programs that have very different styles and focus lessen an applicant's credibility? Or is this simply a "market research" question for admissions?

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this raises another question related ot my last post. there is clearly overlap in the applicant pools for many schools, especially the top programs. is there ever communication between admissions committees across universities in ordere to minimize overlap of acceptances of top applicants? that may be far-fetched, but have wondered if that ever happens....

Thanks, Realist. That was a lot to type, but I think the responses show you it was worth it.

The post is immediately sobering. It's easy to focus on the sheer number of well-qualified candidates and despair. How will someone ever find you in the pack? How can you distinguish yourself? Is it all just luck of the draw in terms of interest?

But notice this and put the anguish in perspective:

The Realist posts from a program among the top 40 in the country, which draws 30 to 40 times as many applications as they have spots. In other words, if applicants to RealistU represents the entire Top 40 schools and those schools all admit similar numbers, everyone that applies to RealistU gets into a Top 40 school.

Obviously that's not the case, but there IS significant overlap. For a student with the qualifications to make a final round at RealistU, the chances of admission at some great program is actually very high. Part of the game (for most of us) is to put up with more rejections than acceptances as programs like RealistU's sort out the great candidates (you) that fit into their programs.

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Never. Top schools want to compete for the top applicants.

this raises another question related ot my last post. there is clearly overlap in the applicant pools for many schools, especially the top programs. is there ever communication between admissions committees across universities in ordere to minimize overlap of acceptances of top applicants? that may be far-fetched, but have wondered if that ever happens....

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I don't think that this is a productive exercise, for a couple of reasons. One, there's no single profile that you should try to emulate because there are multiple paths to admission. Two, I think that the obsession with test scores and the name of the undergraduate institution have just encouraged applicants to focus on these things, because they are the easiest to compare across individuals, whereas letters and statements of purpose and writing samples are more revealing than test scores and pedigree. (Not to mention, the difference between, say, a 690 math GRE and a 730 math GRE is essentially meaningless. The only really revealing bits of information are a perfect or near perfect score and a really really low one.)

Instead, you should always try to make your application better. In this game, your dominant strategy is to improve every piece of the entire package. If you don't get admitted to your choice program, there are any number of reasons why, none of which are knowable to you, which means that your job is to improve every component of the package that you can manipulate.

Sorry if that's disappointing, but I really, really believe that "comparing stats" is likely to be the least useful way to diagnose a "problem" with your application.

Certainly, I totally agree about how idiosyncratic and individual-specific this process is (and should be), but for some given applicant, knowing whether his/her profile merits a reasonable chance of success, can mean saving a few thousand dollars of application fees and months of wasted effort into the app process as well as heartbreak.

I guess what I'm asking is, what does the median admit at your program look like. Knowing full well that the stats on paper do not fully capture their unique qualities.

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