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Improving apolication for next year?


Nikki

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With three rejections so far and two more likely rejections, I've begun looking at what I can do to improve my application for next year.

I think the one thing my application needs is more research experience. I'm considering taking a graduate course or two and perhaps applying for a short internship, but is that enough? I guess I'm not sure how to improve my application.

Are any of you applying for a second time this year? If so, what did you do differently? Was it helpful?

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You need research experience, excellent command of languages, and a crystal clear idea of what you want to do in order to get into a top notch school. I wouldn't waste time on an internship (you won't be doing any in grad school, right?). If you apply again, then I highly suggest you aim as high as you can. The job market is atrocious, and you will be in trouble if you do not gain admission into a top 15 school.

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First-time applicant like you. I'm not lacking in research experience and language training. There's nothing I can do about my GPA. But the one thing I'd do differently next year is to make meaningful contact with potential advisors. This time, I did establish contact, but it was along the lines of, "hey! Are you taking in students?" But the next time, I think I will actually get them sold on what I intend to do.

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I'm in basically the same boat as you, Nikki. I will try taking a grad class in the fall. In addition, I will bone up on my Spanish and try to get working on another, as yet undecided, language. Furthermore, I will keep practicing for and retaking the GRE until I get the verbal score I want, rework my writing sample(s), tailor my SOPs better, and really try to get on close terms with the professors of the schools I will apply to in round two next year.

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I'm in basically the same boat as you, Nikki. I will try taking a grad class in the fall. In addition, I will bone up on my Spanish and try to get working on another, as yet undecided, language. Furthermore, I will keep practicing for and retaking the GRE until I get the verbal score I want, rework my writing sample(s), tailor my SOPs better, and really try to get on close terms with the professors of the schools I will apply to in round two next year.

Oops, I forgot about the SOP and the writing sample/s. I got to work on those as well.

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Oops, I forgot about the SOP and the writing sample/s. I got to work on those as well.

Yeah, I didn't pick my best writing sample this round. Not sure why--at the time, when I picked it out, I thought it was pretty damn good, but looking back on it, it's not *quite* as good as I thought it was. And I really didn't know how to do the SOPs--had my advisor help me out with them, but he can only do so much.

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One of the profs basically told me that I probably didn't do that well this admissions cycle because of the way I pitched myself. So this time round, he's going to work on my SOP with me. Okay, my applications last admissions cycle were pretty last minute-- as with everything else in my life. :P

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I've heard taking a course in a school's summer program can be of help. I don't know how common this is for History, but I read about in a book about Graduate Admissions Essays. Seems like it would make for some great SOP material, too.

Also, if you think you could substantially improve your GREs, that might help. Probably need to go up at least 100 points for it to make a difference, though.

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i think meaningful contact with potential advisers is critical. they'll want to remember you when your application file comes across their desk.

also, more than anything, i think fit is absolutely essential to whether or not you get admitted, especially when there are more applicants for fewer spaces than usual. for schools where i had a really strong fit and made a good connection with a potential adviser, i got in with full funding. for places where fit was a stretch, or the potential adviser ignored my emails or sent back the one liner, "i'd be happy to work with you should you be accepted," then i didn't get in.

i don't know how it is for some other people here, but i want to work on a relatively small field (the caribbean coast of central america). save instances where a school has both a caribbeanist and a central americanist in their department, i've really only found two or three professors that could advise on precisely what i want to do. i cast a much wider net but in many cases i knew i was throwing my money down the drain before i even submitted my application. if the fit's not obvious, the admissions committee won't work to make the connection for you.

even if you don't know what area or theme you want to study, you'll have to pitch them something concrete in your statement of purpose, if only so you can demonstrate that you can formulate a research project.

it's hard to bump up a GPA over only 1 year. work on improving your GRE scores, maybe try to get a research paper published, and next time around do a lot of the application work early. contact potential advisers as early as september, stay in contact with them until the app is due, and try to only apply to schools where your interests fit. if you really want a top 10 or ivy league school, then lie about your interests to make the fit work. but don't try to (as i did) convince a colombian historian that they could advise you on the caribbean coast of nicaragua. :lol:

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The part about the potential advisers is really quite telling in retrospect. I applied to 5 schools and contacted 6 professors. I got polite interest from 4 of them, no reply from one of them, and an enthusiastic reply from one. I was admitted to the university with the enthusiastic professor.

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I emailed quite extensively with a prof from one of the schools I'm still waiting to hear back from (he even volunteered to and read/edited my SOP) so maybe that will play out in the end. Sigh....

From the feedback so far, I think I will sign up for a grad class or two, edit my SOP and writing sample, and see if I can get a letter of rec from a professor from one of the grad classes I'm going to sign up for.

Do you think It will still be helpful if the courses are online? There aren't any schools near me that offer courses in my intended field, so I've done some research and found a few I can take online.

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Do you think It will still be helpful if the courses are online? There aren't any schools near me that offer courses in my intended field, so I've done some research and found a few I can take online.

I don't know if you're going to get a LOR out of that.

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but don't try to (as i did) convince a colombian historian that they could advise you on the caribbean coast of nicaragua. :lol:

Hey Strangelight who was the Colombian historian? Thats my field. Didn't find many of them out there.

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You need research experience, excellent command of languages, and a crystal clear idea of what you want to do in order to get into a top notch school. I wouldn't waste time on an internship (you won't be doing any in grad school, right?). If you apply again, then I highly suggest you aim as high as you can. The job market is atrocious, and you will be in trouble if you do not gain admission into a top 15 school.

I personally think this mentality is BS. Especially the part about "your in trouble if you can't get into a top 15 program" Of course a Ph.D. from Berkeley or Princeton can make securing a job easier but plenty of grads from schools in the Top 50 and even below have landed great positions recently (even in this market). UCSB for example landed 10 tenure track positions for grads in 2007-2008. Going to a slightly lower ranked school can sometimes offer benefits that you couldn't get at top tier department. Up and coming faculty who are younger and more willing to incorporate you into their research for example. And don't forget that a school might be ranked in the top 5 of all schools, but they might be unimpressive in your field. UPENN for Latin America for example. And there is no point talking about how the job market is atrocious, because anybody who is still in the process of applying to school won't be on the job market for almost 10 years. Let all hope that it improves, but really who knows.

I think the key is to find schools that are a great fit for your interests and that you have a realistic chance of getting into. Why waste your time applying to places that won't even look at your application. Honestly what you need to get into a decent program and get funded is a good overall package. That can take time. If you need to take a year off to make yourself a better candidate. Take that time. I took two years preparing after undergrad. Specifically you need a good GPA, GRE's as close to 700 and 6.0 as possible, a serious commitment to your field (I moved to Colombia for a year and a half to work on my Spanish and do heavy reading in my areas of interest. Do all the entry level reading in your field, and be able to talk about which historians and books influenced you. LORs from teachers who believe that you are ready for a Ph.D. program (ask them if they think you are) and show those letter writers, what you are doing outside of class to prepare for the application process and the graduate work. That way they will realize how committed you really are and express that in their writing. Writing samples: I wrote a thesis as a senior on a topic related to my field, and got an A, but it still was nothing that was going to impress committees. Even though you might have a great 25 page paper, with a good argument, what you need to show is your ability to do research (Primary Source research) . I took my 25 page thesis tossed it and wrote a 45 pg paper arguing the same thesis but based almost entirely on primary sources. Don't worry too much about Pg limits, I sent my whole paper to every school and got no complaints. Again this takes time, but take that time if you need to. Lastly, actually read the work of the professors you want to work with, and not just an article. Read a good portion of one of there books or two or three articles. And then use that as an introduction to contact them. Don't let a tepid response from faculty you contact get you down. When you make initial contact they don't know much about you so sometimes all they can say is we share interests and lets hope you get in. And refer to their work specifically in your statement of purpose. The SOP is basically a clean and succinct explanation of this entire package, just sell yourself. If you have spent the time accomplishing the things above, selling yourself will be easy.

I hope this info will be helpful for anybody preparing for there applications, or applying a second time round.

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i think meaningful contact with potential advisers is critical. they'll want to remember you when your application file comes across their desk.

That wasn't true for me this year. I was advised by my college professors to avoid contacting potential advisors if I had nothing substantive to discuss with them ("how do you like my research interests?" being an unsubstantive question), so I didn't contact anyone. I was still admitted to some strong programs in history (Yale and UPenn) as well as strong programs in another discipline. If you have a lot to discuss with them about their research, contacting them might make sense, but I don't think you should focus on this as an essential part of the application, particularly if it's something you're really disinclined to do otherwise.

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I found some grad classes at ASU that I could take on campus, but of course they are during the day and clash with my work schedule. I'll have to call and see if they are open to non-degree seeking students. One on Research Methods and another on War and Revolution would probably be good additions to my transcripts...

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Hey Strangelight who was the Colombian historian? Thats my field. Didn't find many of them out there.

ann farnsworth-alvear at upenn. she's the only modern latin americanist, though, and upenn doesn't really offer grad courses in latin america. seems that the only people who go there for their degree received their MA from another school and simply work on their PhD with her. she's fantastic, though. very friendly, helpful, had good insights regarding other schools' programs, and i'm a fan of her work.

and mary roldan at cornell. cornell actually has a lot of its resources directed towards colombian studies, in various departments, not just history. they strongly encourage interdisciplinary approaches so you get quite a bit of mileage out of the school's expertise on colombia. that said, i've heard that mary roldan's leaving cornell for another institution in the fall, and i'm not sure where she'll be going.

there was someone at indiana who i spoke to as well, but the name escapes me now. we didn't talk much because jeff gould is there for nicaraguan history, so he would've been my primary adviser. if i had had my application in order in time for the nov. 15 deadline for international students, which i did not.

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That wasn't true for me this year. I was advised by my college professors to avoid contacting potential advisors if I had nothing substantive to discuss with them ("how do you like my research interests?" being an unsubstantive question), so I didn't contact anyone. I was still admitted to some strong programs in history (Yale and UPenn) as well as strong programs in another discipline. If you have a lot to discuss with them about their research, contacting them might make sense, but I don't think you should focus on this as an essential part of the application, particularly if it's something you're really disinclined to do otherwise.

yeah, i'll have to disagree. granted, you got into better schools than i did, so take this for what it's worth.

i contacted 6 universities that i ended up not applying to because of the conversations i had with potential advisers. one said their school had no funding, one said he had no interest in the hispanic caribbean even though it was listed amongst his interests on his website profile [including a few articles he had published on the subject, albeit some years ago], three were retiring, and one didn't want to work on anything other than cuba. i saved myself a lot of time and money by contacting these people ahead of time.

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yeah, i'll have to disagree. granted, you got into better schools than i did, so take this for what it's worth.

i contacted 6 universities that i ended up not applying to because of the conversations i had with potential advisers. one said their school had no funding, one said he had no interest in the hispanic caribbean even though it was listed amongst his interests on his website profile [including a few articles he had published on the subject, albeit some years ago], three were retiring, and one didn't want to work on anything other than cuba. i saved myself a lot of time and money by contacting these people ahead of time.

Agreed. I found out one Professor I was interested in was retiring and that a couple others were changing programs. So, if you want to be conservative, maybe contact but focus your inquiry on whether or not they are planning on taking on more graduate students. This seems like a pretty practical question, and will make you appear less "OMG i liek history" than if you had asked a question about research interests that is vague in the extreme.

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I have a question about language training: If one's research interests are in English-speaking countries, and almost all of the primary sources would be in English, why would one need more language training? And what exactly is training? How much is enough? I'm guessing that four years in high school and one in college is not enough. And how do you get more? I mean, other than buying a Rosetta Stone tape or something. I'm applying for MAs, so this is all a little different for me when reading and commenting in these forums.

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I have a question about language training: If one's research interests are in English-speaking countries, and almost all of the primary sources would be in English, why would one need more language training? And what exactly is training? How much is enough? I'm guessing that four years in high school and one in college is not enough. And how do you get more? I mean, other than buying a Rosetta Stone tape or something. I'm applying for MAs, so this is all a little different for me when reading and commenting in these forums.

A lot of schools have as a minimum requirement that you have to be basically fluent in another language even if your US. I think they believe it is at minimum a requirement to being a well rounded intellectual or whatever. I am also a US historian and I could see how Chinese or Spanish could be useful for studying immigration, but that's not something I am directly interested in.

I am fulfilling my language requirement with czech - I often wonder how that is perceived by US history Depts, as unlike spanish or chinese I can't really make the case that my language interest intersects my academic interests very directly. I always imagine ad comms thinking 'Why the hell does this kid speak czech?'

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I have a question about language training: If one's research interests are in English-speaking countries, and almost all of the primary sources would be in English, why would one need more language training? And what exactly is training? How much is enough? I'm guessing that four years in high school and one in college is not enough. And how do you get more? I mean, other than buying a Rosetta Stone tape or something. I'm applying for MAs, so this is all a little different for me when reading and commenting in these forums.

For Americanists I look at it in terms of generally being a part of the scholarly community. That is, for example, I'm going to be studying French history... obviously there are many French historians out there who are probably working and publishing in French, so it's important that I know the language. At the same time, my work and writing will be done in English even though I will be studying France, so many French historians would find it useful to know English because I'm not the only one doing that. So the same would apply, I think for American historians working in English - it will still be useful to know one or more foreign languages because there may be people working those languages even though they're studying American history, and you might want to read their work.

Most universities with graduate programs offer language courses specifically focused on reading proficiency, so if you're already admitted and don't have to worry about demonstrating sufficienct proficiency just for the admissions process, I think you'll be able to take advantage of those classes.

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