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Inadvisable to 1) apply to more than 10 schools, 2) apply to different disciplines in different schools


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I just finished the MAPSS program at University of Chicago as well as graduate level statistics course at Berkeley, and believe I am going to be a competitive candidate for a PhD program.

However, the program, in giving me the good advice to apply to a range of schools and thoroughly read prospective advisers has also turned me on to a much higher number of social scientists that address my research question and equally appear to inhabit the fields of comparative politics and political sociology. A previous professor informed me that the more schools I apply to, the higher my chances are, and I very much wish to apply to nineteen schools.

The problem is that the program says I should not

1) apply to more than ten schools (because, as they claim, the program might think I am desperate and/or simply figure they will more likely reject me because they think I probably have other options),

2) apply to more than one discipline (because I will appear indecisive, and the first three years of my graduate study will be dramatically different in poli sci and sociology, even if my dissertation in either field might appear different, and I might have to end up teaching intro courses).

Aside from the fact that my MAPSS adviser and the program may not write a letter for me for the additional ten departments, does any of the above make sense to anyone else? I think I may be missing something, because 1) I do not see how any graduate program would know (or bother to find out) what/how many programs I applied to unless I told them, 2) think I would be happy to fit into the curriculum of either department, as I am more concerned about the suitability of the adviser.

As much as I value their support and advice thus far, I worry that I may lose their support if I do not follow it strictly.

Any opinions based on people's experiences of applying to more than one departments?

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If you apply to multiple disciplines, do not indicate this to the programs. Schools want "serious" applicants, and publically considering any other options is a sign of unseriousness, for better or worse. I applied to five religion programs and five sociology programs, but I wasn't forthcoming about it to schools because I didn't have to be. On all my religion applicatoins, I listed the four other schools with religious programs I was applying to, likewise on my sociology apps. At one school, I wanted to apply to both a religion and sociology program, so I wrote the DGS of a sociology program asking if this was okay and he straight out said, in exactly the language other professors had warned me about, "There is no institutional problem with applying to multiple departments* here. However, in our department we would consider that the sign of an unserious candidate." (*It is a problem some places--Berekely, for example, I know forbids it). Perhaps a better strategy might be to ask the professor if they have historically worked with faculty in the other department, and faculty in the other department if they've worked closely with students in your department.

Your situation might be borderline exceptional, however ( though I still say "better say than sorry, keep your cards close to your chest"). Tom Pepinsky at Cornell's Government Department has decent blog post about applying to graduate schools and the most directly relevant bit says says:

While interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary research is often praised, in practice students in the social sciences are strongly encouraged to work within their discipline. There are some exceptions: social movement scholars frequently work across political science and sociology, formal political theorists frequently work with economists, methodologists will often work with statisticians. The point is, if you really care about history rather than political science, it’s better to apply to our (excellent) History Department. This point may seem obvious, but many applicants appear to miss it.

I'd add to this there's various degrees of crossover between political science and sociology in organizations, social networks, historical-comparative (especially related to origins of states, welfare states, revolutions, etc.), ethnic identity/ethnic conflict, social capital/trust (less crossover than you'd think, here), and religion in the public sphere in addition to social movements. I found, though, personally as I went through the application process, where I belonged became clear to me, just by how people reacted to my project as I pitched my proposal professors at different departments. At religion departments, I got a lot of "Wow that seems cool I want to read that... but I can't be your adviser for that." Maybe you'll get the same sense. Consider also you'll have to read Theda Skocpol, Charles Tilly, Robert Putnam, John Padgett and Mancur Olsun no matter what, but, beyond teaching the intro courses, do you want to read Hobbes or Durkheim? Do you want to have peers interested in game theory and rational choice, or do you want to have peers interested in gender and Bourdieu? Of course, you can find political scientists who use gender, and sociologists who use rational choice (Michael Hechter, whaddup), but it matters for the types of critiques you're kind of required to anticipate and address in your work.

I should add, in some places, it's quite easy to work with one departments while being firmly grounded in another. My advisor does political sociology and many of her closest colleagues are in the political science department rather than our department, so when I want to take class there (and if I want to have one of them on my committee) her name hooks me up big time with three or four of the faculty over there. I'm sure that's not rare. I know I belong in the sociology department, clearly, not in the political science department. Nevertheless, the presence of one member in the political science department influenced my choise to apply to the sociology department here (he was recommended, incidentally, by another sociologist). For me, it was useful to realize that I wanted to be "a sociologist who could be read in the first (or middle) three weeks of political science course" (in the ethnicity literature, think people like Gellner, Brubaker, Anderson, etc) not "a political scientist who could be read in the last (or middle) three weeks of a sociology course."

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I applied to roughly the same number of programs that you are considering and it certainly did not hurt my chances (and I would argue it helped them). Having come out of MAPSS’ sister program (CIR), I'm a little surprised at the advice you received, given that advisers in CIR often suggested applying to 15+ programs. Most of your letters of recommendation will be submitted electronically, so your recommenders are unlikely to have a problem with sending that many letters (although you should be very respectful of their time and grateful for their assistance!).

As for applying to programs in political science and psychology, I don’t think that shows you are “unserious” or that you don’t have a clear research agenda. Assuming your SOP clearly outlines your research focus and desired methodological approaches, studying political psychology from either discipline can make perfect sense. In my program, we have a number of people with psychology backgrounds and we have students doing PhDs in both Politics and Psychology who work with professors from both departments. Some of these students applied in both disciplines and had success getting into programs in each discipline, so it can certainly be done.

Lastly, most applications only ask you to list a number of the other schools you are applying to (often allowing space for only 10), so most schools won't see your whole list or know the disciplines you are applying in. It probably helps to make sure the list you present is coherent, so that anyone looking at it can see the logic used to select the schools, but I don't think the decision to admit/reject is going to be based on how many schools you apply to or whether you also submitted applications in another related discipline.

Best of luck, adapt.

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  • 2 weeks later...

As far as I'm concerned, the relationship doesn't start getting built until after you're accepted. I'm applying to a lot of schools and sometimes don't even have enough spaces to list them all. Obviously, the information is not crucial. Give them a sampling of the schools you're applying to and that's it. But it's obviously your choice.

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Give them a sample, by all means. But also realize that if you're being specific about your topic in your SOP (as you should), they can probably guess where else you are or should be applying based on your interests. And, they may or may not be friends with those folks, which may or may not lead to an informal conversation about an applicant. The relationship *does* start before you've been admitted, whether you see it that way or not. The people you apply to work with will remember your name and may talk to you when they see you at conferences or see your name on a grant application or whatever. I'm still in touch with a few POIs that I decided not to work with and I meet them for coffee at the annual meeting each year. Those are relationships that began before I was admitted and have continued for years since then. Just something to keep in mind.

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Great idea...what a way to build a relationship with an institution!

From what I recall, the request to list other schools was not a "requirement", and sometimes was limited in the number you could list. In any event, there is functionally a zero percent chance that this will ever come up, and I don't think it's right for schools to "demand" that you tell them where else you're applying. When I spoke with schools after being admitted, whenever I was asked where else I had been admitted, people went out of their way to let me know that it was my choice whether or not I wanted to tell them .

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Every application I filled out had a limit of 4 or 5 other schools, and definitely not a requirement to provide an exhaustive list.

So while I think it's worthwhile to answer the question honestly, there's no need to list all 19 schools you would be applying to, but just a good selection of them.

As to applying in different disciplines- this may be different between the lab sciences and social sciences, but a lot of our top applicants the last couple of years have been applying to a range of disciplines, although with related interests in each (think Molecular Biology, Biophysics, Chemistry, etc), and it hasn't hindered their applications at all.

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As I thought I mentioned before but I guess didn't, I applied to religious studies programs and sociology programs. On my religious studies apps, I listed the other four religious studies schools plus a sociology school with a good religion program; one my sociology apps, I listed the other four sociology programs plus a religious studies school with a good sociology program. I've heard of other people who applied to a range of schools rankingswise putting only peer institutions on the application.

After I got in, I mentioned to my adviser that I applied to religious studies programs as well and she just laughed at me and said, "But your questions are so sociological!" She obviously didn't care that I hadn't listed the schools I applied for and she was head of the admissions committee that year. My guess is once you get into a program, they will laught at you for applying in that other field because they think you belong so clearly at their department (after all, they picked you); in most cases, they will not even be able to imagine you fitting into the rival field.

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