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Hello all!

I just graduated from my MA program this May, and will be reapplying again for English Lit Ph.D. programs for Fall 2013. In my MA program, I was also a Teaching Assistant, so needless to say I was pulling my hair out for the last year of my program trying to balance school work, teaching, and 15 Ph.D. applications. Oh yeah, and I just got married in July too! I just think I was taking on SO much in one year.

Despite my hardest efforts, I didn't make it in to any programs for this fall, but I'm looking forward to the opportunity to do it all over again having learned what I did the first time around.

Who else is re-applying? What mistakes do you feel you made the first time around that you will do differently this time?

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I'm reapplying again this year too. This will be my third time applying. My first round I was completly unprepared - working FT and completing my thesis. I had no idea what I was in for or the time to really complete my applications. In addition, my GRE scores SUCKED. Last year I made it onto 3 waitlists out of 5 programs. I retook the GRE (increasing by 40 some percentile verbal and got a 6 on the writing as compared to 4.5) and revamped my SOP and writing sample. I think last year was a matter of number of schools applied to. I also think that it was my SOP -- I don't think I was as specific as needed. This year - my final year applying - I've rewritten my SOP and edited the writing sample further. At this point, I don't think there is very much else I can do. I'm applying to 12 programs this year. Crossing fingers.

I really don't have much advice to give you because I haven't quite figured out the magic recipe; however, make sure your GRE's are above their cut (usually 75 percentile or higher dependent upon program), your writing sample is flawless, and your SOP pushes confidence.

Edited by lolopixie
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Last year, I applied to seven schools and I really had absolutely no idea how to go about doing it. I didn't contact any POIs, I had a pretty weak statement of purpose, my writing sample was nowhere near as good as it could have been, and I was in such a tizzy between working, trying to pass a 200-level foreign language class and writing my thesis that it's a miracle none of the schools sent somebody to punch me in the face. I got onto three waitlists, none of which panned out, and got a much better sense of how to play the game this go around.

It is a very holistic process, and there's no great advice I can give you except do your work early. I didn't even start looking into schools until mid-October of last year and by the end of November I was in a complete whirlwind, spitting out applications like a lawn sprinkler. Take the time to tailor your application to each school, make sure your writing sample is lined up with what you want to study, get in touch with your POIs early (and don't be offended if they don't respond). Most importantly, if you realize in the middle of the process that a school isn't a good fit for you, DO NOT BE AFRAID TO DROP IT, even if you're halfway through your application for that school. You will be much better served using your time, effort, and energy trying to get into a school that really hits the sweet spot with your interests rather than spreading yourself thin for a school that you probably wouldn't even go to if they accepted you.

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I'm a 3rd year applicant, as well. I applied twice in Canada a few years ago without knowing anything about the process so I just did a pretty cursory application thing. Very, very foolish.

I wish I had known about this place back then... my life would have been very different! But I'm glad I went through what I did. Hopefully 3rd time's a charm and I'll be set.

ETA: I think the most valuable thing that I learned was what parts of the application are usually weighted more, namely the writing sample and SOP for humanities.

I was always under the impression that the GPA was the first and last determiner and I think that informed my choices. Now I know that I can use other parts of my app to counteract or balance out my lower grades.

Edited by ponponpon
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Thanks for your input everyone. Last year, I applied to 15 schools and was wait listed on only one. I was the next person to get into the program if anybody declined their admission, but shockingly NOBODY did, so I didn't make it in.

This year I will be reapplying to the school that I got wait listed for since the DGS encouraged me to, and am applying to 15 schools again. However, I am completely re-thinking the way that I choose the schools that I will apply to. Last year, I did not pay too much attention to fit because I didn't fully understand where I fit best. My specialty is 20th century British with a focus in war literature and trauma theory. Last year, I completely catered my SOP to British war literature, and I thought at the time that it would make me seem unique versus the many other people who are interested in 20th century British. However, I now realized that I pigeon-holed myself into something that not many people specialize in. This year, I am certainly re-thinking the way that I approach my SOP. I need them to know that I specialize in war literature, but I am thinking about expanding a bit to explain my interest from a trauma theory perspective and to explain how this fits in to my interest in the modernist period in general.

As far as improving my "fit," I am actually looking for faculty that lists "war literature" as an interest. As it turns out, it's a difficult thing to find, but it's something I wasn't looking for last time around; I was really focused on finding who specialized in 20th century British, and was hoping I peaked their interest.

I am also working hard to raise my GRE general and GRE lit scores from where I was last year. I had good scores, but I know that for a couple of programs that I applied to, I was a couple points below where I needed to be to look great compared with other applicants.

Last year, I feel that I put every ounce of time and effort into the application process that I could have, but it still wasn't enough and I really think that has a lot to do with how many things I had on my plate: teaching, school work, my MA thesis, my other job, and wedding planning. This year, I am working as an adjunct at my MA University and teaching 3 courses, which is going to be the only other thing I have to focus on besides studying to retake my GREs and the applications overall. I really hope that this means I will have a clearer mind and will be more motivation to give the second time around all that I've got!

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I also didn't reach out to DGS or POIs last year. I don't know if this was a mistake or not because I know people that got in without doing so, but I am definitely going to do it this year. I've already set up a few phone calls with DGS and will be contacting each program to ask more questions. I figure it can't hurt...unless I wind up sounding like a moron. I'm more of a shy person when I first meet people, so having a conversation with someone I don't know always seemed really intimidating. Guess I'll be getting over that starting next week.

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Thanks for your input everyone. Last year, I applied to 15 schools and was wait listed on only one. I was the next person to get into the program if anybody declined their admission, but shockingly NOBODY did, so I didn't make it in.

This year I will be reapplying to the school that I got wait listed for since the DGS encouraged me to, and am applying to 15 schools again. However, I am completely re-thinking the way that I choose the schools that I will apply to. Last year, I did not pay too much attention to fit because I didn't fully understand where I fit best. My specialty is 20th century British with a focus in war literature and trauma theory. Last year, I completely catered my SOP to British war literature, and I thought at the time that it would make me seem unique versus the many other people who are interested in 20th century British. However, I now realized that I pigeon-holed myself into something that not many people specialize in. This year, I am certainly re-thinking the way that I approach my SOP. I need them to know that I specialize in war literature, but I am thinking about expanding a bit to explain my interest from a trauma theory perspective and to explain how this fits in to my interest in the modernist period in general.

As far as improving my "fit," I am actually looking for faculty that lists "war literature" as an interest. As it turns out, it's a difficult thing to find, but it's something I wasn't looking for last time around; I was really focused on finding who specialized in 20th century British, and was hoping I peaked their interest.

I am also working hard to raise my GRE general and GRE lit scores from where I was last year. I had good scores, but I know that for a couple of programs that I applied to, I was a couple points below where I needed to be to look great compared with other applicants.

Last year, I feel that I put every ounce of time and effort into the application process that I could have, but it still wasn't enough and I really think that has a lot to do with how many things I had on my plate: teaching, school work, my MA thesis, my other job, and wedding planning. This year, I am working as an adjunct at my MA University and teaching 3 courses, which is going to be the only other thing I have to focus on besides studying to retake my GREs and the applications overall. I really hope that this means I will have a clearer mind and will be more motivation to give the second time around all that I've got!

Have you applied or looked at UC Riverside? Katherine Kinney does a lot with war literature. She teaches a lot of classes that involve war literature, too.

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Have you applied or looked at UC Riverside? Katherine Kinney does a lot with war literature. She teaches a lot of classes that involve war literature, too.

Really?! I was looking into the UC schools, but I haven't gotten to that point in my research where I started looking at faculty. Thank you SO much for the recommendation, because I am absolutely going to look into it now. Like I said, finding someone who actually lists "war literature" as a research interest is pretty rare! You are going to be starting there in the fall I see? Congratulations!

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I think we might be application-redux twins, TheNewMrsS, because I think the thing that hurt me most this last app season (2 waitlists, but neither materialized) was that I was too specific in my SOP. I'm also focused on British modernism but I have this really strong interest in a particular underrepresented writer and thought that I'd single myself out from all the other brit mod applicants by emphasizing this particular writer and what I wanted to focus on. I tried to broaden the appeal and at the same time demonstrate fit by tackling some of the theoretical approaches I'm interested in (this is where I pulled in POIs and tried to make connections between their approaches and mine), but after the post-mortem I realized that being too specific (eg "I want to write my dissertation on x") will scare people away. I realized that you want to be clear about your interests and strengths, but you don't want to limit yourself to a point that adcomms and POIs can eliminate you because they don't have someone who's working on that topic or interested in that niche area. I also know that research interests inevitably change, so it's wiser to keep to the broader interests anyway.

But, as others have said, there's also just some crazy alchemy that happens with those adcomms and our application materials. I'm not sure they could even justify their decisions in the way that we're all trying to justify/analyze why we were accepted or not.

I wonder if you tossed up the same exact set of applications by the same adcomms a second (or third or fourth) time whether they'd even choose the same people.

Ok I'm sounding more and more cynical. See what this does to us? And it's only August!

Edited by Imogene
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I tried to broaden the appeal and at the same time demonstrate fit by tackling some of the theoretical approaches I'm interested in (this is where I pulled in POIs and tried to make connections between their approaches and mine), but after the post-mortem I realized that being too specific (eg "I want to write my dissertation on x") will scare people away.

Yea, definitely stay away from the "I want to write my dissertation on..." because not only is it too specific, it can come off as arrogant also. Adcomms will feel like you are proposing that perhaps you are already prepared to write your dissertation and perhaps their program can teach you nothing. Obviously, that is not how you feel, but be careful not to come off that way.

They are looking for an advanced awareness of the discipline and an open-minded assertion of your potential research interests.

Good luck to all of you! I have nothing but the best wishes for you!

B) <--- good luck sunglasses

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I think we might be application-redux twins, TheNewMrsS, because I think the thing that hurt me most this last app season (2 waitlists, but neither materialized) was that I was too specific in my SOP. I'm also focused on British modernism but I have this really strong interest in a particular underrepresented writer and thought that I'd single myself out from all the other brit mod applicants by emphasizing this particular writer and what I wanted to focus on.

....

But, as others have said, there's also just some crazy alchemy that happens with those adcomms and our application materials. I'm not sure they could even justify their decisions in the way that we're all trying to justify/analyze why we were accepted or not.

I wonder if you tossed up the same exact set of applications by the same adcomms a second (or third or fourth) time whether they'd even choose the same people.

Ok I'm sounding more and more cynical. See what this does to us? And it's only August!

Haha! It certainly sounds like we used similar SOP approaches, and I've realized the same thing you have: I can't stand out TOO much, or else they won't have anywhere to put me! If you don't mind my asking, who is the author you focused on in your SOP? I wrote my MA Thesis on D.H. Lawrence, and I mentioned him in my SOP, but i'm not sure if mentioning a specific author at all was a good way to go... I'm not sure yet. Obviously, there are tons of other authors I'm interested in writing on.

And I also completely agree with you about the WAY they choose people. I really think that if all the identical apps were sent in again this year, different people might be chosen because some of the things they are looking for will have changed and the adcomms will have different opinions and interests from year to year.. That's why I'm also afraid to completely change the way I applied last time, because who knows if I'm what somebody else is looking for at another university?

This is all so stressful... yes, even though it's only August!!

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I should clarify that "I want to write my dissertation on x" was hyperbole, but, yeah, I basically flubbed on that important point you make, Stately Plump.

@TheNewMrsS, this writer is REALLY underrepresented, as in, I went through an MA and MFA and never even heard of her. But I stumbled upon her since leaving academia and am really motivated to return in part just to get the chance to contribute to making her part of the conversation again. (she's been getting more attention in the last 15 years, but you won't find her in any Norton Anthologies, for example ;).

Hugs and solidarity to you all -- I'm glad I found this forum, and I'm sure it will help me this 2nd time through the PhD slaughterhouse, I mean, application season.

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I should clarify that "I want to write my dissertation on x" was hyperbole, but, yeah, I basically flubbed on that important point you make, Stately Plump.

I figured you were exaggerating, but it's useful advice all around. I know I was tempted towards that end of the spectrum in my attempts to sound smart and prepared, and I needed to have people tell me no. B)

Edited by Stately Plump
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I should clarify that "I want to write my dissertation on x" was hyperbole, but, yeah, I basically flubbed on that important point you make, Stately Plump.

@TheNewMrsS, this writer is REALLY underrepresented, as in, I went through an MA and MFA and never even heard of her. But I stumbled upon her since leaving academia and am really motivated to return in part just to get the chance to contribute to making her part of the conversation again. (she's been getting more attention in the last 15 years, but you won't find her in any Norton Anthologies, for example ;).

Hugs and solidarity to you all -- I'm glad I found this forum, and I'm sure it will help me this 2nd time through the PhD slaughterhouse, I mean, application season.

It's not Anna Kavan, is it?

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