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English Lit PhD Fall 2009


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It looks like we have hit the calm before the storm. Who else is gearing up for English PhD apps? To which programs are you applying? Why? Here is my tentative list:

Vanderbilt

Michigan

Minnesota

WashU

Duke

Cornell

Iowa

Georgia (creative dissertation)

Florida State (creative dissertation)

Illinois

I'd love to apply to some schools in Boston and New York . . . but there is no way my wife and I can afford to live there without taking out a bunch of loans, and we don't want to do that. I'm still trimming the list; it's a bit long as is. What about the rest of you?

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Well I am applying only to schools in the Northeast, mostly around Boston. . My list as of now:

Harvard

BU

Yale

Northeastern

Tufts

Columbia

BC

I am also thinking about UPenn

Good luck to everyone!!!!

What is your concentration? I really can't decide, but because my undergrad thesis is on domestic literature, I think I should stick with it, even though I am not terribly passionate about it.

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What is your concentration? I really can't decide, but because my undergrad thesis is on domestic literature, I think I should stick with it, even though I am not terribly passionate about it.

If you aren't passionate about it now, do you really think you'll maintain interest in the 5-6 years it will take for you to finish your PhD? Not to be mean but I sincerely doubt it. If you don't love your subject, you aren't going to want to read for your comprehensive exams, work on your dissertation, or teach classes on it for years to come. I suggest finding a specialty you are genuinely passionate about.

P.S. Your lack of passion will likely show to the ad com in your statement of purpose...

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  • 2 weeks later...

I'll be applying to

1. Brown (Modern Culture and Media)

2. UC - Berkeley (Rhetoric - film track)

3. U Chicago (English)

4. WashU (English and American Literature)

5. UMass Amherst (English)

On the fence about UVA (English).

Anyone have any experiences with these schools/programs? I'd love to hear your experiences.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I can't help but notice that so far the number schools applied to is running on the short side (<10).

I got burned applying to only 9 schools last year (including too many Ivies), and my mood has swung all the way back to "apply to as many schools as you find that are good fits".

Which... at present... is 17.

Excessive? Maybe. But I have no intention of another "off year" at this point. To those applying to so few schools, and often very good ones, I would ask: Is this not your first time applying? Or is it pure confidence?

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17 is way too many. It will be very difficult to put together that many outstanding applications where you sound enthusiastic about the program and its offerings. I would apply to maybe 12 max, with a mix of MA and PhD programs (as there are MA programs out there that offer funding).

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I'm a first time applicant. My list is definitely on the minimal side; however, it is not a by-product of pure confidence. In the past, I've done very well academically but am not kidding myself in this situation. I want to be able to focus my energies on fewer applications so I can put forth the best effort possible rather than spreading myself too thin.

I am planning on considering some MA programs once my Ph.D. apps have been sent in.

How are you organizing so many applications at once? Are you recycling materials from previous cycles? A mix of MA and Ph.D.?

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  • 2 weeks later...

Well, my replies to the last couple posts all weave together. After much consideration, I decided to forgo the M.A. track right now. The number of schools that offer funding is very small, and -assuming that it is in fact possible for me to get into a PhD program as I stand right now- I don't see the reason to apply to UVA for an M.A. instead of UVA for a PhD. You professors will tell you that there are many paths to a doctorate, and I appreciate that I'm taking the most difficult by trying to do it head on, but I believe that I can.

As to the 17 schools, well, that's the other side of my internal debate. I'm not a sure-shot Cornell/Brown PhD candidate (if there is such a thing). But after talking with my professors, I think I'm right on the cusp of getting into a strong program. I'm going to try a wide middle ground of PhDs, believing that I can get into to at least one of these schools.

Rising_star, I understand completely your reservations about quality control on this many applications, but given that my background is limited to undergraduate studies, I have elected a more conservative tone for my statement of purpose. In other words, while I address the characteristics of the department, I don't pretend to know my dissertation topic, and therefore laud the work of one particular professor for having done work in just what interests me. I point out the couple of faculty members who cover topics of interest to me, and, say, the tendency of the Americanists to incorporate popular culture into their research.

I don't want to seem like my way is the right way; I'm definitely still in the process of figuring this out. I have, however, had one unpleasant go-around, and am trying to learn from my mistakes.

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This is one of those rare cases where I'm going to have to disagree with Rising. If you start work early enough, and get lots of sets of eyes on your application, you can manage ~15 applications. You have to have plenty of time and money on your hands, and you should make sure that you would want to attend all of the schools, even if it was only your "backup" school that accepted you.

I was really worried when I did my PhD applications, since all of my rejects came very early, and almost all of my acceptances came very late. It was nerve wracking, to say the least! I was kicking myself that I hadn't put together more applications.

It all worked out in the end for me, since I'm at a program I absolutely love, but I would err toward putting in too many rather than too few, if I had to fill out applications again.

Now I just need to find a job or post-doc in a few years. =)

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This is one of those rare cases where I'm going to have to disagree with Rising. If you start work early enough, and get lots of sets of eyes on your application, you can manage ~15 applications. You have to have plenty of time and money on your hands, and you should make sure that you would want to attend all of the schools, even if it was only your "backup" school that accepted you.

It's okay, Minnesotan. I'll try not to cry myself to sleep tonight, lol. 15 applications is hard and will definitely require time management. It'll all hit late in the semester, which is typically when courses get busier if you're an undergraduate. So, be careful with that. And definitely don't spend $50-125 applying to some school that you wouldn't really attend if they were to accept you. I mean that in all seriousness. It's hard to know without visiting but you shouldn't apply to U Iowa if you don't actually want to live in Iowa, you know?

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Agreed. You have to put a lot of time into these apps, and you can't rubber-stamp them. Each one has to be a pitch to that specific department, demonstrating how you are the perfect fit for that school, and that school alone.

This takes time, time you might not have when you're writing a thesis.

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I appreciate that the process will take some serious work. But I graduated in May, so I have plenty of time to devote to making sure that my full attention goes into each application. Nonetheless, a genuine thanks for the feedback. It's always challenging to go through the "can I see myself in Iowa/LA/Buffalo" routine, and it's exactly what I'm allowing to be the last obvious culling variable for my pool of programs. I'd expect that when all is said and done the list is 13-15 and not 17.

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I did 13 apps last year while trying to finish my thesis (and working full-time and teaching on top and trying to keep my wife from ditching me). I wound up extending my thesis through to the next semester and doing another round of applications this year. It's all a lot more work than you think. This year, I am applying to fewer schools, done with the thesis, not teaching, and spending more time with my wife. The final list is still unfinished, but it will be around 8 or 9 schools total, some from last year's list and some new.

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  • 2 months later...

I am finishing up the last of my applications as we speak. It's a short list, so I know I'm likely to find myself up a creek with only a very small paddle, but I think it's for the best. I'm in a master's program right now so I know that by next year's deadlines, I'll be much more likely to have a really strong writing sample. I was a bit limited since I haven't done the GRE Subject test. Since I went through the process last year with a pool of about 8 schools which landed me at Oxford for my masters (in women's studies), I knew my application quality would be improved if I only applied to programs I believed were a really strong match.

My list this year:

Duke (lit)

WUSTL (English)

U. Washington (English)

Northwestern (English)

and another master's in women's studies that provides full funding. I got in last year but was wait listed for funding, so hoping for better results this year.

I know those are all competitive programs, so I'm staying optimistic but still working on a backup plan. I know I could have picked a back-up/safety school, but I'm not ready to settle quite yet.

Good luck to everyone applying!

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I submitted 8 applications. I just finished them today. It is incredible how much time they took! I am working full time right now, but still, I really underestimated how time consuming the process is.

Thank god a friend volunteered to help me edit all of it. My writing sample, which I thought was 99% fine, took 3 weekends of intense rewrites.

Now the freak-out begins and as I payed the fee for schools like Columbia, I had to wonder if I was just wasting my money.

Any other east-coasters around? Here are my schools, 1/2 of them are complete longshots.

Columbia

NYU

(I figured I wouldn't move to NYC unless I won the lottery :)

Brown

UVA

Boston College

Tufts

Boston University

Brandeis

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If you all want $0.05 from an 'old pro' at grad apps, let me tell you this: when I applied to PhD programs last year, most of my schools were down near 1-2% acceptance rate. In the past, they quoted a rate between 3-15%. I would consider expanding your searches to some colleges in the top 100, rather than merely top 25-50 schools. Rankings at this level of study really don't matter a whole heck of a lot. Check placement rates, but don't put so much stock in US News, et al. Less people apply to mid-level schools, and fit is what really matters.

I decided long ago that I would rather get a PhD from any Research I than a whole bunch of rejections from the ivies.

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Minnesotan, now you've got me a little worried. My list:

Brandeis
Brown
Boston University (BU)
Chicago
Minnesota
Northwestern
Illinois-Chicago (UIC)
UPenn
Vanderbilt
Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL)

Would Vanderbilt and Brandeis fall into the mid-range category you're recommending, or are they as selective as schools like Minnesota and Northwestern? I'm almost beginning to regret applying to the ivy leagues, though maybe I'm just pessimistic. UIC is a back-up. If I get into any of the other nine schools listed here, I'll be happy. Meanwhile, waiting for admissions decisions is pretty grueling.

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My list:

Columbia
Cornell
Fordham
Harvard
Indiana
NYU
UVA
Wisconsin
WUSTL

And I haven't finished the apps yet. Even for the schools due on 12/15. Yikes.

I think that, as Minnesota says, it's all about fit, but the flip side is that getting in is also often about fit. So, orinincadenza, I don't think you should prematurely regret applying to selective schools: if you have really strong reasons for wanting to go to those programs, and if you are a strong match for someone's research interests at those places, I would think you have a shot if your numbers are anywhere in the ballpark.

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Right. I'm not asking people to dream smaller. What I'm saying is that you should remain open to, and in fact seek out, a few schools that aren't quite as prestigious, but are still solid. Prepare a nice, wide spread of schools to which you will apply.

So, a list like Harvard, Berkeley, Minnesota could be complemented with Georgia State, Washington State, and Florida StateĀ (or wherever you fit -- you get the point).

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