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History PhD at Carnegie Mellon


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Ok so here's the dizzeal:

I will be finishing my Master's Degree in German Studies at the University of Minnesota this spring. My department was recently ranked fourth nationwide in this field for PhD programs (the Master's Degree is part of that program, and is not normally intended as a terminal degree, although it can/does function as such). My GPA here will end up being something like 3.8-3.85. I am also pursuing a graduate minor in History here, with the Gary B. Cohen, the head of the U of M's history department, as my advisor in this field. He was for many years the director of the center for Austrian Studies (one of two in the US) here, and although he specializes in Habsburg history, he's quite competent with German/Central European history at large. He's rather old, so he's not exactly cutting edge, and he was never all that famous, but he did make meaningful contributions to his field and is not entirely a no-name, it's fair to say. He is the head of the history department, which is ranked better than the one that I most want to get into (CMU). He would hopefully (probably) be writing me a letter of recommendation. My GPA for the history minor is similar to my overall GPA.

I have decided to switch to a PhD program in History, and would like to specialize in early modern German history, particularly in confessionalism and economics in the early modern Hanseatic cities. My school of choice is Carnegie Mellon University (I'm from Pittsburgh), and they have a professor who specializes in Early Modern German and the Reformation period, although I'm not (yet) familiar with her work. My undergraduate institution is Washington and Jefferson College, which is well-regarded in the Pittsburgh area, and my GPA was 3.5 (I was foolish with some core courses freshman year, but still, I graduated cum laude). I did a double major in German and in History, with 3.85-ish GPAs in both. My GRE score was 1500 / 5.0 Analytical Writing, with a 760 verbal and 740 math. My writing sample will probably be my master's thesis, or part of it, so it will be well-written, scholarly, and generally quite impressive as a writing sample, I imagine. My statement of purpose will explain my realization through taking courses with Professor Cohen that I have a greater aptitude as a historian than as a cultural theorist, and that my department here at the U of M (German department) was not a perfect fit for me, although the skills that I have acquired there will leave me well prepared for further graduate study, especially in terms of post-modern thought, which is emphasized strongly here. Obviously my German is native-level fluency, although I have no other languages. I hope to take a year of French before entering a PhD program, as I will be applying next fall and hoping to enter in the fall of 2012, although I'm not sure if this will be worth mentioning on an application. I should have letters of recommendation from the aforementioned Gary Cohen, from a history professor at my undergrad who knows people at Pitt (and thus presumably at CMU), and from one other professor in my current department. How should I view my chances of being accepted to the PhD program in history at Carnegie Mellon? I desperately want to be accepted there - if I am accepted, I will attend there without a doubt. But I don't want to be unrealistic about the whole thing either.

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i think you'll be competitive at CMU. also consider applying to pitt. we just hired a german/central europe historian who should hopefully be here starting in the fall, provided the tenure review goes quickly. you can PM me for more details if you'd like.

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You clearly seem competitive enough to compete for admission at many schools. Just some pieces of advice:

1) Apply to several schools, including some lower ones (if you like), many similar and some of the top programs that have faculty that you would like to work with. It is expense and a pain, but it definitely increases your chances and you might end up at aceepted at many places, including your original first choice. I am sure that you could develop your interests at many institutions, including some top programs.

2) Contacting faculty and potential advisors with anticipation might be important. You can try to get to them by yourself by just writing an email, but it is better if someone that you know and they know presents you through a previous email. It has worked well for me. Discussing your application with potential professors is extremely helpful as that way you can get a sense of if they are interested, or not that interested (sometimes they don't answer mails but it does not mean they are not interested), and all that. I have heard that in some cases they might even help you with parts of the application. In my case, in a couple of schools I have been told that they would not accept students for my field for next year, or that professor X is the one I should convince.

3) Along with the recommendation letters, the writing sample is key, as it usually is the first filter. Do not mention that "you see yourself more as an historian than as cultural critic", or that you don't like your current program. I would not, unless you write a very personal and original piece. I think statements should be almost purely positive: what you have accomplished, where, how, and what would like to do and why there and with that faculty. Mention what you have klearnt in your previous program and what you would like to learn in the one that you are applying to. Your previous program is part of your CV, use it in your favor. Mention what sort of sources you have used, find a pathbreaking theme (you can change later) that has not been yet explored in your field (without stating that as areason to do it) or one that might seem very interesting to explore for some reason. Keep in mind that while it is important that you convince the specialist(s) in your field, others will certainly read you application, so you need to get all sort of historians interested in your proposal. And in terms of departmental politics, it is good to make it seem as if your are a good candidate for professors acroos many fields - ie, in your case, early modern europe, german, history of religion, economic history.

Hope this helps.

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