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Chances/Recommendations for American Politics


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Hi everyone,

So now that people have begun to receive their acceptance letters, I was hoping people could offer some input on my chances at various programs. I wanted to pursue a PhD in political science or in public policy and was planning on applying this fall. My research interests lie in state government/local politics and specifically on direct democracy and the influence of special interest groups, (I know, its a pretty nebulous term) Ideally, I was looking at a program with a strong American politics department with particular focus on formal theory and political economy. Trolling around the internet, I've made a list of the following departments.

Public Policy:


U Chicago

University of Southern California

Political Science:



U Wisconsin

Washington U




UT Austin

About me: I just graduated from a top ten policy school, (one of the ones mentioned above) with Master of Public Policy with a 3.8 GPA. Prior to that, I went to a mid-tier UC with a 3.5 GPA in Sociology. My GRE's the first round were decent, (640 Q, 670 V and 6 AW), but I plan on taking them again. Based on my last practice tests, I'll probably come out with a 162 V, 158 Q and who knows on AW. I can expect pretty good letters of recommendation from the faculty at my grad program. Also, I have about 6 years of work experience in both journalism and political consulting.

So here's the part where I ask for people's wisdom in what my chances are at the programs mentioned above and any other places I may look at. Thanks so much for the help and when I go through the admissions cycle, I promise to help the next generation of nervous applicants!

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First I would suggest figuring out if you want the degree in Public Policy or Political Science as they're going to be fairly different.

For policy, I would add the Wilson School at Princeton, the Sanford School at Duke and the Ford School at Michigan.

For political science, here's my two cents: scrap Minnesota, Penn, Austin -- none of these are great for your interests. Add Rochester, MIT, Stanford GSB. For slightly safer schools, maybe consider Penn State, Iowa, or Michigan State.

As for your profile, it looks good -- but be CAREFUL that your letter writers are tailored to the program to which you're applying. You don't want a policy professor writing about your strong aptitude in public policy work in a letter for a political science program. In general, political science adcoms want to know that you understand what political science is and how it's done. Also try to pull that quant score up. If you're wanting to work heavily in formal and economics, places like WUSTL and Rochester will (generally) prefer quant scores north of 160.

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Yeah, Michigan is the dream school for me. I want to do my research in an area where political science and public policy overlap, (research on political institutions). All three of the policy schools I listed above are strong in that interdisciplinary sense in that professors in the policy school do research that fits under the political science purview.

Thanks so much everyone for the recommendations so far!

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For Public Policy, Ford School at Michigan is touted as one of the best. For American Politics, I respectfully disagree with Brent09,UT Austin is a very good choice. Other good choices to consider: U of Virginia, Baylor, and Boston College (although it is tough to get into BC). Consider also whether you want a very quantitative bent or a qualitative bent to your doctoral studies. Qualitative research gets no love these days, but there are schools out there that cater to it.

UT Austin is good in American but not so much in formal; it also has a reputation for some dysfunction. Virginia is weak in formal or quantitative methods, as is BC. I don't know a lot about Baylor -- that might be indicative of something. I agree with RWBG that MIT is not great for formal; I included it because they're pretty good at political economy more generally.

If you're focused on institutions, definitely give WUSTL and Rochester close looks. I think you'll like what you find.

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