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A few questions from a non-American


confusedalien

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Hi everyone,

 

I'm a bit of a long time lurker and I was hoping that you might be able to share your collective wisdom on a few issues.  I am not an American, so I'm sorry if these questions are assumed knowledge in the US.

 

I've been selected by the Fulbright commission in my country for a scholarship.  This will essentially fund a living stipend for one year of Ph.D. study at a US university.  One of the conditions of this scholarship is that at the conclusion of my Ph.D. study, I have to return home.  In other words, I won't be able to work at a US university once I have finished the Ph.D.

 

My questions are:

 

1.  How much of a 'wow factor' would be attached to the Fulbright scholarship?  I'm not trying to humblebrag here - the scholarship (though prestigious in its own way) is not particularly well known in my country, but I understand it might be a bigger deal in the USA.  It is hard for me to judge what effect the scholarship might have on my admissions prospects.  

 

2.  Any speculation on how an admissions committee might view the fact that I cannot stay in the USA at the completion of my degree?  I.e. I won't be moving to a top 20 school and thus building on the university's placement record.  Some of the comments on gradcafe suggest that admissions committees are looking only to admit people who can graduate in five years, and then secure a tenure track position at a top 20 uni (therefore making the Ph.D. school's placement record look great).  A more likely career path for me is to return to my country and work for the Government, or perhaps teach at one of the country's best universities.  

 

3.  Might the fact that I have a living stipend for a year actually make me a harder candidate to admit?  This sounds counter-intuitive, but it might mean that a Department has to juggle some money around to fund four years, instead of the normal five?  Or instead of funding me normally they might seek to fund my position through non-departmental fellowships (or similar).  

 

Some non-scholarship questions:

 

4.  What GPA equivalent would a MA with First Class Honours be in the American system?  I had to work very hard to get this in my country, but I'm worried it might not be appreciated by an adcom who is used to GPA scores.

 

5.  Does anyone know if adcoms make some allowance for the fact that many countries do not have a heavy quantitative focus in the pol sci area?  In my country, no-one does quant.  I haven't touched maths since leaving high school, hence my Q score of 156.  I am a bit worried that this was a real weak point in my application.

 

For context, I have applied to a few top-10 schools, and a couple of more policy-focussed schools in the top 50.

 

Any input is appreciated.  Thanks!

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I first read this as "I want to spend a year at a US program" and not "I have a year of funding for a US program," but a re-read suggests you mean the latter.  So, in my experience, having external funding is never a bad thing (your #3), particularly if you're applying to public schools.  Private schools have a set tuition amount for everyone, whereas public school tuition will be higher (sometimes quite a bit higher) for people who aren't residents of that state.  As an international student, you're unlikely to be eligible for residency, meaning the department is on the hook for your higher rate of tuition.  I know some public programs have all-but stopped admitting international students unless they have full external funding (for the duration of the program).

 

On #1, then, the leverage this gets you may depend on the schools to which you're applying.  At my program, I don't think it helps you in terms of setting your CV apart, but it could help you on the margins, when making funding decisions.

 

On #2, did you tell committees that you plan to move back to your home country?  I wouldn't be surprised if the people reading your file had no idea there are strings attached to your year of funding.  Some faculty members, particularly at top programs, expect their students to go into academia and to want to teach at a research-focused insitution.  They see you as less serious if you don't, for example, strive to get a top US job.  Other faculty members want you to do what's best for you.  I have colleagues who've moved back to their home country and taken good jobs, and their committees haven't objected. Until you know how different faculty members react, there's no reason to tell them anything that could cause them to object to you, given how random the admissions process already is, IMO.

 

Also, they'll likely know how to make the conversions (#4), as international applicants are probably somewhat common.  But, on the other hand (#5), for my department, the only people who tend to regularly get a break on the GRE quant requirements are those who plan to study political theory.

 

I hope that helps!

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Please keep in mind that we are all sort not knowledgable about this stuff, considering that we're applicants, too.

 

1) The competitiveness of a Fulbright is different in each country where it is awarded. Some people on committees may be vaguely familiar with your circumstances. Broadly speaking, my understanding is that having a major grant is helpful in admissions because it signals that someone else with experience in evaluating social science proposals was impressed with you.

 

2) If you haven't mentioned the chance that you will not teach, I would not. Common wisdom is that PhD programs, especially the high ranked ones, prefer to train scholars. The committee members may be aware that Fulbrights often require the grantee to leave the US, but some programs appreciate placements at elite foreign universities. I think your milage on this one may vary (if you follow the euphemism).

 

3) No.

 

4) I don't know, and I'm not sure anyone here would without knowing what country you're from. British first hono(u)rs are probably well known to be respectible; Kyrgyz ones may be seen as corruptible.

 

5) You will need to evaluate quantitative work in your program, so your Q score is relevant. Some people get in to great programs with middling quant scores. In many cases they have proven math ability in other ways; some are simply rock stars that don't do math well.

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4.  What GPA equivalent would a MA with First Class Honours be in the American system?  I had to work very hard to get this in my country, but I'm worried it might not be appreciated by an adcom who is used to GPA scores.

 

First Class Honours (or Distinction at the MA level) in Britain is the equivalent of a 3.7 GPA or higher in the American system.

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Re your second question, I (international student as well) explicitly mentioned in my statements of purpose that I am interested in (applied) research, working for a research institute (I even specifically mentioned a non-U.S. based institute) or as an independent consultant later on. In other words, I made it pretty plain that I have no intention to teach or work as a professor at a university in the U.S. or outside after completing my PhD. Of course I wondered if that would in any way diminish my chances of admission, but I wanted to be honest and upfront about my reasons for seeking a PhD. I have applied to three schools, two of these have admitted me with full funding, and I am still waiting to hear back from the third. Maybe this helps somewhat.

 

Re your question 5, I think you should be fine if you described the situation in your country, emphasized your interest in quantitative methods and highlighted any aspects of your academic, professional or (if necessary) high school career that demonstrate a propensity for math, formal methods and the like. It might be a good idea to sign up for a relevant math course prior starting the program (and ideally mention it in your application) as well. FYI, I have a mediocre GRE quant score in the 77th percentile, but one of the programs that admitted me is very quant-heavy indeed.

 

Best of luck with your applications!

Edited by geitost
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I could be wrong, but my understanding is that Fulbright and other similar funding sources require foreign students to return to their home country at the end of the period of study as you explain, but only for a certain number of years. This does not prevent you from taking a job in the US. Instead, in practice, this means deferring the starting date on a US job (if you choose to stay in the US) or taking leave from a US job to return home for 1 or 2 years. Stathis Kalyvas at Yale, for example, came to the US on a Fulbright and had to return to Greece for two years as a result. He used this time to conduct research for his book on civil wars while on some sort of leave from his job in the US. As for the funding, it certainly won't hurt you to have a year of funding coming in to the department.

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All, many thanks for the replies.  Looking back now there are a few things that I would have done differently, but I don't think any of them are sufficiently important to torpedo my chances - and at any rate, it's too late now!  Best of luck to everyone, and thanks again for your time and input.

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I was in a similar situation last year, although I was only granted the Fulbright after the admissions process for PhDs (deadlines vary across countries, I guess), and just wanted to add that the Fulbright finding might not alter departmental funding at all. At my university all external funding simply comes on top of what the dept. offers. This might obviously vary per university, so it is worth taking into consideration if/when you are deciding between schools.

 

Congratulations in any case!

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