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International Student's Chances of Pursuing a PhD


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Hey guys,

I'm looking to start a PhD in Political Science in Fall 2012. I'm of Dutch origin, hold degrees from European universities only (BA in the Netherlands; two-year MA in Austria and Germany, with a semester abroad in South Africa; and am currently enrolled in a two-year MPhil in the UK) and have only recently started considering continuing my graduate education in the US. The considerable time commitment notwithstanding, I find the set-up of most PoliSci PhD programs at high-ranking US grad schools very appealing, because of the combination of a large, interdisciplinary taught component, hands-on experience in teaching and thorough grounding in research methods. Since I have no first-hand experience with the US system, however, I'm a bit unsure about how well placed I am to make it through the admission process. I'm particularly anxious that my age (25) and my rather eclectic academic background, in terms of interdisciplinarity, the unorthodox nature of the programmes I have completed and the lack of a focused background in political science, will prove a hindrance vis-à-vis the altogether more conventional and highly qualified applicants that have come through the American system.

Based on my details, set out below, I would be grateful for any advice and insights that you're willing to share:

Academic background:

BA in Liberal Arts and Sciences (US-style Liberal Arts College in the Netherlands), GPA 4.00, Minor in Methods & Statistics

MA in Global Studies (Erasmus Mundus programme, with courses taken at the Universities of Vienna and Stellenbosch), summa cum laude (highest honors), awarded 'Best Graduate Student' and second-best MA thesis

MPhil in European Politics and Society (University of Oxford); awarded a competitive scholarship by the Dutch government; current degree with no insight, as of yet, into the expected GPA, but I think a distinction is unlikely.

US universities of interest:

Princeton and Georgetown, for two reasons:

  1. Because of the people working there (Christensen, Meunier, Keohane and Moravcsik for Princeton; Bennett, McNamara and Voeten for Georgetown).
  2. Because I'm looking to combine international relations with European politics, and have a particular affinity with normative/constructivist approaches as applied to LGBT-related issues. I'm therefore looking for programmes that a) attribute considerable time to qualitative methods, preferably on top of rather than in lieu of quantitative methods, and b ) have leading scholars working on EU politics.

I'm also looking at other places such as Yale (Stone Sweet, Scott would be great to work with), Stanford (Fearon, Goldstein), GWU (Adcock, Finnemore) and Cornell (Katzenstein), but in all these cases I think the fit between the respective politics departments' expertise and my research interests is not ideal.

GRE:

I have not taken the GRE yet, but I am confident that I can meet the requirements for the verbal component. The quantitative and verbal reasoning parts will require more practice, so GRE prep is one of my main summer projects.

Other:

  • Internship at the European Parliament;
  • Participated in a selective youth leadership and social entrepreneurship programme;
  • Working as a research assistant to a professor of European politics in Oxford (and did some research assistant work in Vienna);
  • Presented at two conferences, with one more forthcoming;
  • Co-authored a book chapter in an edited volume of one of the leading British publishing houses;
  • Student representative on the university management board (as undergrad).

In short, I feel that I'm a strong candidate in many ways and, conditional upon a good GRE-score, I should have no trouble meeting the admission criteria. I fully appreciate, however, that the pool of qualified applicants is considerable for the universities that I'm interested in applying to, so I'm curious to see, with a view to my perhaps unconventional profile, how you would estimate my chances. Any advice, insights and feedback would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks!

Edited by Martijn
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Hey! I feel compelled to answer to your post.smile.gif

I actually remember you from the Student Room two years ago. You were then applying to Oxford and I was applying to Cambridge.

Look, I think you definitely are a very strong applicant. What you need to do now is try get the best possible GPA at Oxford and score highly in GRE. For the universities you are looking at Quant 770+ and Verbal 650-700+ would be ideal. Spend a lot of time preparing for the test - just learn those damn wordslaugh.gif and relive the entire high school Maths curriculum.

As for your 'eclectic' academic background, don't worry. The rumour has it laugh.gif they still like Europeans who studied in different countries and speak several languages at ease.

After you get your GRE test done, focus on two very important things for admissions: (1) write the killer personal statement, tailored to each school. It really should be a very good statement that will make you stand out; (2) contact the faculty you want to work with.

The very best to you.

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You look like a strong candidate for the schools mentioned, but one quick note: Meunier does not work with students at Princeton since she is not a regular faculty member. She holds a research-only position. Listing her on your application will not help your chances. Likewise, Keohane, while still teaching a bit, does not work with many students either since he is about to retire. Don't expect to get to work with either of these folks, and realize that Princeton is much more heavily quantitative among its broader faculty and in its departmental culture than are the faculty you list.

Hey guys,

I'm looking to start a PhD in Political Science in Fall 2012. I'm of Dutch origin, hold degrees from European universities only (BA in the Netherlands; two-year MA in Austria and Germany, with a semester abroad in South Africa; and am currently enrolled in a two-year MPhil in the UK) and have only recently started considering continuing my graduate education in the US. The considerable time commitment notwithstanding, I find the set-up of most PoliSci PhD programs at high-ranking US grad schools very appealing, because of the combination of a large, interdisciplinary taught component, hands-on experience in teaching and thorough grounding in research methods. Since I have no first-hand experience with the US system, however, I'm a bit unsure about how well placed I am to make it through the admission process. I'm particularly anxious that my age (25) and my rather eclectic academic background, in terms of interdisciplinarity, the unorthodox nature of the programmes I have completed and the lack of a focused background in political science, will prove a hindrance vis-à-vis the altogether more conventional and highly qualified applicants that have come through the American system.

Based on my details, set out below, I would be grateful for any advice and insights that you're willing to share:

Academic background:

BA in Liberal Arts and Sciences (US-style Liberal Arts College in the Netherlands), GPA 4.00, Minor in Methods & Statistics

MA in Global Studies (Erasmus Mundus programme, with courses taken at the Universities of Vienna and Stellenbosch), summa cum laude (highest honors), awarded 'Best Graduate Student' and second-best MA thesis

MPhil in European Politics and Society (University of Oxford); awarded a competitive scholarship by the Dutch government; current degree with no insight, as of yet, into the expected GPA, but I think a distinction is unlikely.

US universities of interest:

Princeton and Georgetown, for two reasons:

  1. Because of the people working there (Christensen, Meunier, Keohane and Moravcsik for Princeton; Bennett, McNamara and Voeten for Georgetown).
  2. Because I'm looking to combine international relations with European politics, and have a particular affinity with normative/constructivist approaches as applied to LGBT-related issues. I'm therefore looking for programmes that a) attribute considerable time to qualitative methods, preferably on top of rather than in lieu of quantitative methods, and b ) have leading scholars working on EU politics.

I'm also looking at other places such as Yale (Stone Sweet, Scott would be great to work with), Stanford (Fearon, Goldstein), GWU (Adcock, Finnemore) and Cornell (Katzenstein), but in all these cases I think the fit between the respective politics departments' expertise and my research interests is not ideal.

GRE:

I have not taken the GRE yet, but I am confident that I can meet the requirements for the verbal component. The quantitative and verbal reasoning parts will require more practice, so GRE prep is one of my main summer projects.

Other:

  • Internship at the European Parliament;
  • Participated in a selective youth leadership and social entrepreneurship programme;
  • Working as a research assistant to a professor of European politics in Oxford (and did some research assistant work in Vienna);
  • Presented at two conferences, with one more forthcoming;
  • Co-authored a book chapter in an edited volume of one of the leading British publishing houses;
  • Student representative on the university management board (as undergrad).

In short, I feel that I'm a strong candidate in many ways and, conditional upon a good GRE-score, I should have no trouble meeting the admission criteria. I fully appreciate, however, that the pool of qualified applicants is considerable for the universities that I'm interested in applying to, so I'm curious to see, with a view to my perhaps unconventional profile, how you would estimate my chances. Any advice, insights and feedback would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks!

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Thanks for the heads up. I am not yet at the stage of writing application letters, so I'm sure I would have spotted Meunier's non-teaching position. I'm sad to hear Keohane is about to retire though. I find a lot of his work extremely fascinating, and his work straddles the quantitative-qualitative divide quite nicely. I recently attended a lecture by him at St. Hilda's College, which I found extremely inspiring (this was, incidentally, a sentiment that I found refreshing, as I'm used to being borderline disillusioned when attending talks by academics whose written work I greatly admire). Do you know when he will leave Princeton?

You look like a strong candidate for the schools mentioned, but one quick note: Meunier does not work with students at Princeton since she is not a regular faculty member. She holds a research-only position. Listing her on your application will not help your chances. Likewise, Keohane, while still teaching a bit, does not work with many students either since he is about to retire. Don't expect to get to work with either of these folks, and realize that Princeton is much more heavily quantitative among its broader faculty and in its departmental culture than are the faculty you list.

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Ha, yes, that was me. Time has passed so quickly, so only one year into the MPhil I'm already having to look beyond that. Did you end up making it to Cambridge?

I just did a sample test (Powerprep II) of the revised GRE, without having ever seen a complete test, and without having done any preparatory work. I scored 710-800 on the verbal and 680-780 on the quantitative section. I was completely at a loss for some of the quantitative questions, so there is a lot of work to be done in that area. I'm quite confident in my vocabulary, so with some studying the verbal component should pose no obstacle. All in all, I find these scores quite encouraging! I just ordered a practice book as well, so fun summer weeks are coming up :/

Do you have any recommendations re: the 'killer personal statement'? For previous graduate applications my personal statement has always been a bit unconventional in form, which so far has served me well, but it might be that in the States a more template-like approach might be better? And any tips concerning contacting faculty?

Congrats on your admission to Stanford, by the way. Amazing feat.

Hey! I feel compelled to answer to your post.smile.gif

I actually remember you from the Student Room two years ago. You were then applying to Oxford and I was applying to Cambridge.

Look, I think you definitely are a very strong applicant. What you need to do now is try get the best possible GPA at Oxford and score highly in GRE. For the universities you are looking at Quant 770+ and Verbal 650-700+ would be ideal. Spend a lot of time preparing for the test - just learn those damn wordslaugh.gif and relive the entire high school Maths curriculum.

As for your 'eclectic' academic background, don't worry. The rumour has it laugh.gif they still like Europeans who studied in different countries and speak several languages at ease.

After you get your GRE test done, focus on two very important things for admissions: (1) write the killer personal statement, tailored to each school. It really should be a very good statement that will make you stand out; (2) contact the faculty you want to work with.

The very best to you.

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Hi! I got in but ended up not going to Cambridge back in the day. My current Masters course is year-long, this is the reason this has been the second year in a row I have been applying for schools.

Regarding personal statement, it can be 'unconventional' in form but you then may be going for some risk there. After all, you will be applying for Ph.D. Political Science in top schools and do not want to appear as 'not serious' or artsy or 'too unconventional'. I'd stick to a strict plan for the personal statement. So much must be fit into that 1,000 words: your academic background, previous research, languages and qualitative/quantitative skills, academic interests and, finally, why that school and that programme and those professors. My general (and probably obvious) advice for the personal statement is to make yourself look very competent: know what you are talking about, project the persuasion that you are serious about the academia as your life career.

As for contacting the faculty, it always helps. Establishing personal links and putting your name out there should not be underestimated. You won't get replies from all faculty you contact laugh.gif but it's not the goal after all. I recommend e-mailing people closer to the application deadline: you don't want them to forget your name by the time they review your applications. Also, make the e-mail short. The point of that e-mail is to introduce yourself but courtesy requires that you do not make that goal too obvious, so you probably need to ask some question at the end of the e-mail (something you won't find on the school website).

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