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Profiles and Results, SOPs, and Advice (Fall 2013)


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To pass our (painfully gained) institutional knowledge on to a new (or returning) set of applicants, we may be at the point where many are ready to post lessons learned, SOPs, advice for different types of applicants etc. Also certainly worth posting - links to other threads or articles on the application process.

 

Last year's similar post (which died down too soon) was definitely a starting point for many of us: and hopefully we can provide that to the next set of applicants. A profile/results framework is below, but please also consider including advice and SOPs.

 

Best of luck to future applicants and I plan to post my own advice/SOP/etc soon also.

 

PROFILE:
Type of Undergrad Institution:
Major(s)/Minor(s):
Undergrad GPA:
Type of Grad:
Grad GPA:
GRE:
Any Special Courses:
Letters of Recommendation:
Research Experience:
Teaching Experience:
Subfield/Research Interests:
Other:

RESULTS:
Acceptances($$ or no $$):
Waitlists:
Rejections:
Pending:
Going to:

 

LESSONS LEARNED:

 


SOP:

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ok, 

 

PROFILE:
Type of Undergrad Institution: Non-US top 100
Major(s)/Minor(s): Political Science, Communication Science
Undergrad GPA: good
Type of Grad: Non-US top 20
Grad GPA: very good
GRE: V: 163, Q: 161, AW: 4
Any Special Courses: Summer School at Yale, some math classes
Letters of Recommendation: 3-4 (depending on program), not so well known
Research Experience: 1 conference paper, 1 paper under review, 1 working paper, MA and BA theses
Teaching Experience: >2 years
Subfield/Research Interests: CPE
Other: 
 >2 years RA (RA for Harvard prof)

RESULTS:
Acceptances($$ or no $$): OSU, NYU, Yale (all 
$)
Waitlists: Harvard PEG
Rejections: Wisconsin-Madison, UC Irvine, Columbia, Princeton, Harvard Gov. Dep.
Going to: no idea

 

LESSONS LEARNED: This was my second cycle! Never give up!

 


SOP: PM me for SOP

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Type of Undergrad Institution: A Swedish, regional university


Major(s)/Minor(s): Political Science
Undergrad GPA: N/A (I still can't figure out how to convert it to American GPA)
Type of Grad: MA in Political Science from an American university
Grad GPA: 4.0
GRE: 168/153/5 (V/Q/AW)
Any Special Courses:
Letters of Recommendation: Tenured IR Professor with an endowed chair (former department head), Tenure-track IR professor, associate professor in CP (All of these are people I worked with in the MA program)

Research Experience:Two conference presentations, one summer and one semester as a research assistant, one article that is a work-in-progress together with a faculty member from my MA program
Teaching Experience: One semester as a teaching assistant, three semesters teaching individually while in the MA program. One year as an adjunct/lecturer.
Subfield/Research Interests: International Relations/War and Conflict
Other:

RESULTS:
Acceptances($$ or no $$): Michigan State ($$) & University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign ($$)
Waitlists:
Rejections: University of Pennsylvania, University of Michigan, Pennsylvania State University, Yale, Ohio State
Pending:
Going to: ??

 

LESSONS LEARNED: Oh dear, where to start? First, you are going to receive a lot of different advice during your application process and it might be difficult to sort out exactly what advice that you should take. There's good advice on this site, make sure you use it to your advantage. But be aware that what applies to one discipline doesn't have to be true for politicla science.

 

Second, one thing you definitely should do is to take advantage of your current professors. Ask if they know people at other institutions, what their graduate experience was like, and if they might be able to put in a good word for you. Some will do this, others will not. It all depends on the professor in question and you know your own professors better than I do.

 

Third, apply to a lot of programs. It might hurt your wallet, but do not limit yourself to 1-3 programs. I ended up applying to 7 programs and that might not even have been enough. The process is, to a certain extent, random. You are competing for a very limited number of slots against a ton of students who all have excellent qualifications and many excellent candidates will be rejected.

 

Fourth, If you want to find programs/institutions, use the NCR and the USNews rankings to find programs that might interest you. I started out with the top 100 programs from NCR and then eliminated programs based on location and fit. In the end, I had about 14-15 programs that I considered to be really good fits in locations where I could imagine living for 5-6 years. Then I made a last cut because of financial restraints, etc.

 


SOP: I'm not going to post my SOP (mainly because I think it's crap). Some advice though: You can't rewrite it too many times. I didn't rewrite it nearly enough or spend enough time on mine. I hate to so it, but I'm fairly sure that I would have been admitted to some of the schools that rejected me if I had spent more time on it. As others have, or will, tell you, the SOP is the one thing over which you have complete control. You want to send strong signals to the people reading it that you know what you're getting yourself into, that you have a clear idea about what you want to do, and that you are good fit for the department to which you're applying.

 

Good luck, and have a happy time applying!

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PROFILE:
Type of Undergrad Institution: Big state school
Major(s)/Minor(s): International Affairs & Economics (majors)/Russian Studies (minor)
Undergrad GPA: 3.89
GRE:  V:166 Q:159 AW:5.5
Any Special Courses: Not really
Letters of Recommendation: Three tenured professors—no one famous or anything  :) 
Research Experience: None
Teaching Experience: Economics tutor (no experience teaching a class)
Subfield/Research Interests: IR/IPE
Other: I have a lot of language study in my background.

RESULTS:
Acceptances($$ or no $$):
Rochester ($$) and UPenn ($$)

p.s. Why do we use two dollar signs? Why not one?
Waitlists: Not-a-one
Rejections: Um, a lot. 12, in fact. But all from really great programs that I certainly cannot blame for not taking me.  :) 
Going to: Undecided

 

LESSONS LEARNED: Well, I second the advice about applying to a lot of schools. It is expensive and it is stressful. But the way I see it, if you only apply to programs you really respect and wish to be a part of, you only need one acceptance to make your dreams come true. There are so many factors we can't control. Make it easier on yourself by having 10 dream schools instead of one. I was so scared that applying directly out of undergrad with no research experience would write me off immediately. I could not be happier with my offers!

 
SOP:

            A NOTE: I feel a little embarrassed about sharing this. A lot of people feel the need to keep privacy here, but other than removing names of universities and professors and taking out the parts I added on a school-by-school basis, I wanted to give future applicants an unaltered example. (Though beware, future applicants, this is an example of mediocrity, I promise you.) Along the lines of lessons learned, I think I really should have started on my SOP sooner and re-drafted more. If I were applying again next year, I’d probably try to get rid of some of the background-y stuff and focus more on want I want to do in the future. Oh well. All’s well that ends well! Oh, and also, the research I proposed is not exactly IR, it’s more CP, but the professors I’ve talked to since getting accepted don’t seem to be bothered by overlapping/fluid research interests. Anyway, here it is:

 

            [Last year, my identity authorized me to live and study in 29 different countries. A German passport deserves credit for 26, the Schengen Area, and my American passport carried student visas for both Canada and Russia. As a citizen of America and a citizen of Europe, it was simple for me to acquire this priceless mobility clearance. That is, unearned privilege, bestowed upon me based on my citizenship, afforded me access to further privileges. This is not a revelation, but it has troubled me, and appears now as the foundation for my research interests. My passports protect me from the complications of borders.

 

            It is safe to say I have taken advantage of my opportunities to travel. I toured the railways of Europe and enjoyed a summer of white nights in St. Petersburg, but the two experiences I find most valuable were the ones that convinced me to change direction. I attended my first year of college at University X. I majored in biology—a decision that amuses those who know me now—but health problems prevented me from taking my final exams in the second semester, thus saving me from that dark path to medical school. Having been redirected but not quite sure where to go, I spent a year in Germany. I went to learn my father’s language and to allow myself time to evaluate a life dissociated from academia. In an intensive German language program, I achieved fluency in half a year. Languages, I discovered, come more easily to me than to most, but the real impetus for my progress was the rigor and focus of the work. My day was exercise and application, beginning with five hours of classes and persisting as I tried to order coffee or give directions or buy a train ticket. Evenings were for homework. I flourished. I came home in the spring and promptly enrolled for summer classes at University Y. German language would not be my main academic focus, but the discovery of an unexplored interest was invigorating, and I had learned something stirring and important about myself as well: I do best when I am fully immersed.

 

            My preoccupation with international relations began with economics. In a course on development economics, Professor X explained the potential failures of inequality scales, addressed the theories and realities of microfinance, and gave an overview of risk analysis in migration decisions. With these models, economics ceased to look like a flat but satisfying collection of abstractions. Instead of obscurity, I saw real-world application. Instead of sanitary models, I saw fallibility. Dissatisfaction was a thrill. My research interests emanate from the questions Professor X’s course taught me to ask. Political science courses then built me a framework for my new knowledge. A course on the international political economy helped unify my academic interests; remittances and the global terms of trade were topics that caught my attention best. Professor Y and his class on foreign policy provided the last piece of the puzzle: policy implications. Now I want all three. I want to learn to conduct research horizontally, cross-examining economic models and political theory with proposed and enacted policy.

 

            This returns me to the inherent privilege granted by American citizenship. The mobility I commanded a year ago is attributed to globalization, which has pleased efficiency-minded economists with its progress toward the free movement of goods and capital. Yet American citizenship is rare. Aside from exceptions like the Schengen Area, which makes my German passport so potent, the world is resisting advancement toward the free movement of labor. Migration marks an impasse at the confluence of economics, political science and state policy. Economics tells us that immigration is a natural market dynamic and a reaction to wage differentials, but that similarly-skilled workers and local government—the losers—will oppose it. Political science adds that sovereignty and borders are enmeshed, and that national identity is associated with ethnicity and that nebulous concept, culture. Policy obliges political leaders to weigh public opinion against economic gains, while legislators, in the American political system at least, are more likely to be subject to localities—the aforementioned losers. As a graduate student, I hope to address these relationships by looking more closely at assimilation. My first step would be to put parameters on what is now an amorphous notion; I want to conduct a comparative review of the measurement of assimilation, and to determine whether official gauges are commensurate with public perceptions. In terms of political theory, this project would involve the study of ethnic amalgamation, in which the working hypothesis would be that public expectations for assimilation can never be met. That is, as long as society A expects to subsume society B, the amalgam society C will always be perceived as transitional.

 

            With this application, I declare my intent to pursue a Ph.D. in Political Science with a concentration in the subfield of International Relations. I hope to use this education to obtain a position at a university or independent research institution that will allow me to conduct research and write on contemporary issues. While my greatest strength is writing, I also take pleasure in teaching, and believe that either type of institution would suit me well. I wish to emphasize my awareness of the dedication required to succeed in this program, and to express appreciation for the time afforded to review my application.]

 

Boy this post got long. Sorry guys!

Edited by aulait
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PROFILE:
Type of Undergrad Institution:
no-name non-US
Major(s)/Minor(s): English, area studies, linguistics
Undergrad GPA: 4.0, according to most conversion standards
Type of Grad: MA Political Science from a non-PhD granting U.S. public university
Grad GPA: 4.0

GRE: 162 V, 159 Q, 5.0 AW

Letters of Recommendation: three tenure-track profs from grad institution

Research Experience: 1 term as Graduate RA, two years work experience in applied research (not relevant to my PhD research interests)

Teaching Experience: 2 years as Graduate TA (no actual teaching)
Subfield/Research Interests: IR/CP, intra-state and ethnic conflict

Other: foreign language skills, work experience in international development (peace and conflict)

RESULTS:
Acceptances($$ or no $$): Pitt ($$), Penn State ($$)

Waitlists: none

Rejections: Brown

Pending: none

Going to: ??

 

LESSONS LEARNED: I agree with what has been said above. In addition: This is my second application cycle, so the first thing that I would like to stress is: don't hesitate to try again if you weren't successful the first time. Strengthen your application where you can: retake the GRE if necessary, rewrite your SOP (it's best to start again from scratch - things will fall into place more easily), and always have faith in and highlight your strengths (including transferrable skills from other disciplines, work experience etc.). In hindsight I wish I had been a little more confident and applied to two or three highly ranked schools with a good fit, but I am very happy with the outcome as it is. If money is any concern at all, apply only to programs that offer full funding to all or most incoming students. One other thing that has been very important to me personally was to look beyond the boundaries of the Political Science departments: international linkages, graduate certificates or other offerings that allow regional or thematic specialization, and offerings at other related departments or units.


SOP: I do not want to publish it publicly, but if anyone is interested, send me a message.

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PROFILE:
Type of Undergrad Institution:
Public Big Ten (undergrad/law school) Mid-tier private uni (MA)
Major(s)/Minor(s): Theatre and Creative Writing (undergrad); International Affairs (MA)
Undergrad GPA: 3.5
Type of Grad: Law School/MA
Grad GPA: 2.9 / 3.97
GRE: 750/750/6
Any Special Courses:
Letters of Recommendation:
MA faculty
Research Experience: RA position for two years during MA
Teaching Experience: None
Subfield/Research Interests: Political economy of violence, social movements, identity construction, nationalism and political development
Other: five years of work experience in corporate and commercial litigation

RESULTS:
Acceptances($$ or no $$):
UCSD (funded)
Waitlists:
Rejections:
Harvard, Princeton, Berkeley, Stanford, Columbia, Yale, Duke, MIT, Chicago, Northwestern, Minnesota
Pending:
Going to:

 

LESSONS LEARNED:

 

The only kitchen mistake you can't fix is a fallen souffle.


SOP:

 

I am interested in pursuing a Ph.D. in political science followed by a career in teaching and research. My primary research interest is the organizational behavior of violent groups. Specifically, I have begun to examine how political, economic and cultural factors explain variation in the strategies and goals of such groups and influences patterns of group membership. I am particularly drawn to sub-Saharan Africa and have also enjoyed researching cases in Latin America and Central Asia.

Jesse Driscoll’s interest in settlement and peace-making in the wake of civil conflict and state failure addresses the opposite side of the same coin. The processes of integrating “unruly populations” offer great insight into the processes by which “unruliness” and social disintegration unravels societies. Phillip Roeder’s research on the continuity of civil war settlements, institutional design and post-conflict politics similarly engages a wide range of social and economic factors in explaining violence and social tension.

My research will address two major gaps in similar contemporary scholarship. First, I see the economy of violence as fluid and closely linked to changing social contexts. I will highlight this dynamism to further flesh out the relationship between social contexts and the tactics used by violent entrepreneurs. I initially developed this line of inquiry in a recent paper delivered to the Midwest Political Science Association’s annual conference. In it, I examined street gangs in South Chicago, focusing on a peculiar period of peaceful behavior.  Using historical analysis and process tracing, I argued that gang leaders were well-positioned to capitalize on new inflows of community development funds and temporarily redirected the efforts of their organizations to profit from these programs. When this strategy failed to deliver the protection benefit sought by the gangs’ members, the cycle of violence resumed.

Second, I will examine variation among the incentives violent groups offer. The strategies and goals of violent entrepreneurs determine the membership and support they are able to attract, reflecting society’s demand for those incentives. Leveraging the observation that almost all violent groups provide some economic and social benefits requires a sensitivity both to shifts in the political economy and the fabric of deeply felt (but perhaps not deeply rooted) identity conflicts. The “greed versus grievance” debate overlooks key mechanisms. I will examine violent movements to ask how each is expressed, how they are related and how those relationships drives cycles of conflict.

Two recent papers highlight my developing skill and interest in this work. The writing sample included with this application examines variation violence between neighboring regions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Despite the ostensibly ethnic nature of this conflict, I find a compelling link between the size of mining concessions in a region and the region’s stability. (Larger concessions attract corporations who invest heavily and sponsor a single militia for protection.) While I believe identity politics can and does play a crucial role in how violent organizations form and behave, the value of economics and game theory to my research cannot be overstated. Samuel Popkin’s work on peasant political economy illuminates similar dynamics in the absence of great state power.

Another paper examined the recent Tuareg uprisings in Northern Mali. Traditional Tuareg practices are often in tension with fundamentalist interpretations of Islam, yet the Tuareg allied with fundamentalist groups to push the Malian army from the north. Weeks later, Tuareg rebels and their Islamist allies were themselves at war over the implementation of sharia law in Tuareg lands. Historical research and interviews allowed me to address difficult questions key to my future research: how are powerful conceptions of belonging and community altered instrumentally by social contexts and what constrains these changes?

Victor Magagna’s exploration of the politics of ancient societies informs the debate about the durability and salience of political identities, vital insight into debates of nationalism. Claire Adida’s modern exploration of the role of ethnicity in politics helps illuminate the difficulty of exploring and understanding cross-cleavages in identity. Karen Ferree examines the circumstances under which mutli-ethnic states come to see governments as inclusive and effective.

These questions are macro-social; the concepts central to examining them defy easy quantification. The debates important to me are argued intersubjectively, relying on the presentation of useful frameworks and qualitative evidence to craft compelling explanation. Still, I expect my work requires a multi-method approach. Quantitative analysis will be useful to examine granular trends and relationships, tying the pieces together to discuss the use of violence broadly will require careful historical analysis and process tracing.

The organizational behavior of violent groups interests me for a variety of related reasons. Intellectually, the study of violence offers unique leverage into understanding fundamental relationships among and between people and institutions. Put (too) simply, we learn about the state in part by examining how other organizations fill the cracks its failures leave. Studying organized violence is an emerging and exciting way to frame larger questions about how states and institutions relate to the expectations of their constituencies.

More practically, abusive coercion causes a great deal of pain and suffering, both directly (in terms of the casualties of conflict) and indirectly (as instability and violence hinders growth and development). I appreciate the growing calls for a more policy-relevant political science and would strive to make my research relatable to practitioners. During my short service with the U.S. Department of State, I saw this suffering and its systemic causes firsthand. These experiences influenced me greatly and provided a great deal of the impetus for my decision to leave corporate litigation.

My path to this career belies a developing passion for my research, a diverse and developed set of analytical and research skills from outside the social sciences and a maturity that both evidences my preparedness for post-graduate study and highlights the positive impact I can have on the department for reasons outside my academic fit. I feel strongly that UC San Diego’s department will provide the right training and mentorship for my research and career. Thank you for considering my application.

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PROFILE:

Type of Undergrad Institution:Top 50 Private University

Major(s)/Minor(s): Majors in Political Science and Philosophy

Undergrad GPA: 3.4 in my majors (overall was below 3 due to my initial major and poor choices)

Type of Grad: Top 100 Law School

Grad GPA: 3.6

GRE: V/Q/W 167/161/5.5

Any Special Courses: Concentration in International Law

Letters of Recommendation: 2 Law Profs and a Kaplan supervisor

Research Experience:

Teaching Experience: 6+ years of LSAT/SAT teaching/tutoring

Subfield/Research Interests: IR/Globalization/global governance

Other:

RESULTS:

Acceptances($$ or no $$):SUNY Albany($$), SUNY Binghamton (no $$), SUNY Buffalo (??), West Virginia (??), Western Michigan (??)

Waitlists: Delaware

Rejections:Penn State, Johns Hopkins, Maryland, Syracuse, Temple

Pending:Kent St.

Going to: not sure yet

LESSONS LEARNED:

It's never too late to decide to follow your dream. Make sure you apply to a wide field of schools especially if you have a glaring weakness that you're not sure how different schools will weigh.

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PROFILE:

Type of Undergrad Institution: Non-American university (ranked #94 in QS Latin American University Rankings 2012).

Major(s)/Minor(s): Political Sciences.

Undergrad GPA: 3.7

Type of Grad: None.

Grad GPA: NA.

GRE (V/Q/A): 167/154/4.5

TOEFL: 112 (iBT)

Any Special Courses: Summer school on conflict with American professors.

Letters of Recommendation: Two research mentors and one college professor.

Research Experience: 3 years RA, 2 peer-reviewed articles (plus other publications), 1 government grant for small research project.

Teaching Experience: 2 years teaching undergraduate courses in PoliSci at my college.

Subfield/Research Interests: Comparative + Latin America.

Other: NA.

 

RESULTS:

Acceptances ($$ or no $$): Ohio State (? with Fulbright scholarship).

Waitlists: Pittsburgh and Notre Dame.

Rejections: Harvard, Yale, WUSTL and Northwestern.

Pending: None.

Going to: Waiting for news on the waitlists.

 

LESSONS LEARNED:

Even if you contact professors and they tell you to apply and they even talk with the guys in the admissions committee, that’s no guarantee you’ll be getting in. Look for a good fit, write a perfect SOP, identify (and contact) more than two SOP and get your test scores up. Basically, don’t neglect any aspect of your application.

Take and retake your GRE if necessary. I think I could’ve gotten one or two extra admissions if I had worked more on my quant score.

It helps to have external funding through a scholarship or something similar. According to what I gathered, even though some top programs don’t care whether you already have funding, others will be keener to offer you admission.

Don’t worry if you don’t get 10 admissions. You just need one (and because it’s possible you only get one, only apply to places you would like to go to).

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PROFILE:
Type of Undergrad Institution: Top 100 Undergrad Private Liberal Arts
Major(s)/Minor(s): International Relations
Undergrad GPA: 3.80
Type of Grad: Top 100 Private Liberal Arts / MA Int'l Affairs
Grad GPA: 3.87
GRE: 760 V / 730 Q / 6 W
Any Special Courses: 
Letters of Recommendation: Two grad profs, one academic and the other policy, one undergrad prof
Research Experience: All internal research experience, none for external publication
Teaching Experience: None
Subfield/Research Interests: Comparative
Other: 2 years experience U.S. foreign service (overseas), 1 year data consultant

RESULTS:
Acceptances($$ or no $$): Virginia ($$)
Waitlists: 
Rejections: U Penn
Pending: Georgetown
Going to: Virginia

 

LESSONS LEARNED:

If you're already a good ways into your career, you may find it more challenging to relocate anywhere in the world for a PhD program. There is a measure of safety in numbers that you won't have if you apply to fewer schools, although that feeling is really a chimera if you can't attend any of them anyways. I only applied to three schools because only three (and really just one) worked well. If you can convince a school, particularly if it isn't in the top 10, that it truly is your number one choice, I think you will have a better chance at getting in due to the yield problem (% of people accepting offers of admission). Communication with professors, though, is essential for this to happen. Be proactive--this is a career, not just another degree.

 

Secondarily, it seems to me that PhD school admissions are heavily weighted in favor of academic work experience, even if that experience is relatively mundane or uninteresting. This may well be a problem with the academy overall (academic inbreeding creating external irrelevance), but it will make it more challenging if you haven't been sitting in a think tank or a professor's office as their research assistant for the last two years. I attended a professional M.A. program and had to re-write my thesis in order for it to fit the more traditional format that I thought schools were expecting. While that project was absurdly time-consuming, it did pay off. So my advice for those applying farther into your career is to work hard at re-fashioning your experience to fit into the academic model and consider even attaining some academic credentials before applying, especially academic publication. A successful professional career is relatively uninteresting to academic panels compared to an application with all the academic boxes checked. If this bothers you too much, consider staying in the MA/MPP program world.


SOP:

I won't post mine, but I did receive advice to be sure to list out any "special" reasons that you want to attend a certain school, such as family or other obligations. That will help the admissions committee see that you're not just putting them first like all the other 10 colleges you applied to.

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PROFILE:
Type of Undergrad Institution: Non-American Unranked Young University
Major(s)/Minor(s): Political Science
Undergrad GPA: 3.80
Type of Grad: Oxford, St Antony's College
Grad GPA: Nil
GRE: 160 V 162 Q 6.0 AW
Any Special Courses:
Letters of Recommendation: One from tenured prof at undergrad university (senior thesis supervisor), one from tenured prof at Oxford (masters' thesis supervisor), one from untenured prof at CHYMPS uni.
Research Experience: 3 working papers (including one R&R), RA work
Teaching Experience: 3 semesters of TA
Subfield/Research Interests: Comparative political economy of Southeast Asia
Other:

RESULTS:
Acceptances($$ or no $$): Emory ($$)
Waitlists: 0
Rejections: Everywhere else
Pending: 0
Going to: Emory!

 

LESSONS LEARNED:

 

(1) Apply to many schools to boost your chances.

(2) Fit is terribly important. If there is one ounce of uncertainty in the SOP, or if the question which you want to work on is unclear, most likely to get rejected.

(3) Contacting POIs ahead of time may or may not be useful. I got into Emory without a POI, but got passed over elsewhere even though POI in the department was very encouraging about my applicaiton.

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Belie means to deceive or "fail to give a true notion." SEND YOUR SOPs TO SOMEONE WHO CAN READ THEM CAREFULLY. Anyway,

 

PROFILE:

Type of Undergrad Institution: small academically oriented LAC

Major(s)/Minor(s): Political Science

Undergrad GPA: 3.62

Type of Grad:

Grad GPA:

GRE: 170V/159Q/6.0AW

Any Special Courses:

Letters of Recommendation: Three college professors, one well-established, one rising star, one who knew my work quite well.

Research Experience: Two summers during undergrad, think tank job in D.C.

Teaching Experience: I worked as a teacher's aide with an americorps program for a year and spent the next year teaching English in Asia.

Subfield/Research Interests: Political psychology of international relations

Other:

RESULTS:

Acceptances($$ or no $$): Cornell, Columbia, Chicago (funded)

Waitlists: Penn

Rejections: Harvard, Princeton, Berkeley, Stanford, Yale, UCSD, Michigan, NYU (got into masters)

Pending:

Going to: probably Columbia

 

LESSONS LEARNED:

Your SOP should be short and absolutely 100% free of errors. They're looking for reasons to reject you. Be perfect.

SOP:

I would like to research how states _____, which ____ models best correspond to state behavior, and whether states are capable of _____. These interests developed over the course of my experience as a research assistant to ___ and during my honors seminars at ___. Columbia is exceptionally strong in all of the areas I would hope to research and study, and is my first choice for graduate school.           

 

In summer 2009, I assisted ___ in preparing the manuscript for his then forthcoming book, ___. After familiarizing myself with the existing literature on political engagement, I focused on the subfield of citizen competence. I read and produced summaries of books and articles that discussed whether democratic citizens are sufficiently intelligent and motivated to handle the tasks of citizenship. Professor ___ and I met once or twice each week to discuss those texts and how they fit into his work.

 

That summer, we began a co-authored article on the heuristics and biases that characterize elite thinking. While researching the citizen competence debate, I was drawn to political psychology work that provided empirical answers to questions of judgment under uncertainty. Most of this research concludes that people use misleading heuristics and are influenced by biases of which they are only minimally aware. Professor ____ and I realized that this work had largely not been applied to political elites in American politics. Our article detailed research on citizen competence, prospect theory in political science, and how this work might be applied to political elites. I wrote the literature review and outlined seven avenues for future research. We are currently submitting the article to the journal Perspectives on Politics; my contribution is also my writing sample. Professor _____ and I jointly presented our findings in December 2009 to a faculty lunch attended by approximately forty professors. I found this work deeply gratifying. I was fairly certain I would pursue an academic career in political science by the conclusion of that year.

 

The other experience which cemented my desire to pursue an academic career was my participation in the honors program at ____. The four seminars I took exposed me to a wide variety of research agendas and methodologies. My senior year professors each provided the flexibility to pursue my interest in political psychology further. Accordingly, I wrote a ____literature review in American Politics; an essay discussing _____ implications for democratic states’ perceptions of military engagements in International Relations; and an analysis of how laboratory research on motivated reasoning and misleading heuristics supports and rebuts classical theorists of democracy such as Tocqueville, Lippman, and Schumpeter in ___.

 

Especially outstanding was my seminar in international relations. Benefiting from a small class of motivated students and a syllabus I found fascinating, I became deeply focused on the discipline's questions and methodologies. I enjoyed the clarity and focus of realist authors such as John Mearsheimer and Kenneth Waltz, and the parsimony of ideas such as the security dilemma, and the provocative questions asked by constructivists. Above all, I wanted to actively participate in debates about how and when to incorporate empirical, psychological findings into international relations models. This experience further narrowed my interest to the political theory and psychology of international relations.

 

In between college and graduate school, I have taught, traveled and researched. I currently work as a research intern at ___ in the ___. I write literature reviews, gather sources and conduct statistical analyses on behalf of both our department and our advocacy allies across the country. The prior academic year, I taught English in ____ with ____. From 2010-2011, I worked as a teacher’s aide in a low-income, public elementary school Kindergarten with an Americorps program called ____. Although I have deeply valued the civic engagement of these positions, I look forward to returning to academia, where I feel I can do my most meaningful and effective work.

 

Within international relations, the two research avenues I am most interested in pursuing are _____and __________." I am largely persuaded by the hypothesis that ___. I seek to follow in the footsteps of thinkers like ___who ____. I would like to add to this work by ______________. I hypothesize that states sometimes do the same, and that this tendency may help explain states' participation in international institutions.

 

The questions I would like to ask stem from these premises. First, _____? My initial hypothesis is that states are sometimes susceptible to prospect theory biases such as the availability heuristic and loss-aversion. To verify this, I would like to ____. Second, I would like to investigate what conditions could lead states to ___. I will draw upon existing social psychology and behavioral economics research on the subject with an eye to how such research might explain interstate behavior. My broader goal for this research is to produce concrete recommendations for institutional design that encourage states to strongly commit to globally beneficial outcomes.

 

Because of these interests, Columbia is my clear first choice. The department's faculty would be a wonderful resource, especially Robert Jervis, Barbara Farnham and Jack Snyder. I would also greatly look forward to studying with Jon Elster, whose work has profound influenced the questions I hope to ask and the tools I would like to use. I believe that my political science career would thrive at Columbia.

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PROFILE:
Type of Undergrad Institution: Top 35 undergrad, outside of Boston
Major(s)/Minor(s): Politics
Undergrad GPA: 3.57
Type of Grad:
Grad GPA:
GRE: 165V, 158Q, 5.5AW
Any Special Courses: Honors Thesis
Letters of Recommendation: Three Professors, 1 in Political Theory, 1 in Comparative/IR, 1 in Political Philosophy
Research Experience: Honors Thesis on History and Philosophy of Penal Reform
Teaching Experience: None
Subfield/Research Interests: Political Theory
Other:

RESULTS:
Acceptances($$ or no $$): Vanderbilt PhD $$, UChicago MAPPS partial $$ (declined already)
Waitlists:
Rejections: Harvard, Yale, Penn, Johns Hopkins, Michigan, Duke, WUSTL, UCLA, UCSD, UC-Berkeley, Stanford
Pending: UVA (maybe waitlist? likely will decline even if offered)
Going to: Vanderbilt (99% sure)

 

LESSONS LEARNED: It's all just a crapshoot at a certain point, but what seems to have been important for me, at least according to the people at Vandy I spoke with, were my letters of rec, especially from my primary advisor, who's very well respected and thought I was cut out for this.  I also had a good, well-polished writing sample (part of my thesis) and a pretty good Statement written up, tailored a bit to each school and written with help from my advisor and my girlfriend's father, who's a professor in another field in CA.  As much as anything else though, I think it was just luck once I got my foot in the door.

 


SOP:

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I'm not sure if this is the right place to post this link but I thought it may be very helpful for future applicants

 

 

I think it is of great value for Political Science students even though it is from a Sociology ad comm member

Edited by chaetzli
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I'm not sure if this is the right place to post this link but I thought it may be very helpful for future applicants   http://forum.thegradcafe.com/topic/40476-iama-grad-student-rep-on-a-adcomm/'>http://forum.thegradcafe.com/topic/40476-iama-grad-student-rep-on-a-adcomm/   I think it is of great value for Political Science students even though it is from a Sociology ad comm member
I think I'd drop that link in "Faculty Perspectives" as well.
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I think I'd drop that link in "Faculty Perspectives" as well.

I wanted to post it there but I thought that since it is not really from a faculty member it might be the wrong thread

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To all the international students! Don't give up! Despite a quite disadvantaged background (international, unknown school, different major), mediocre GRE scores and not perfect GPA, I managed to get into some of the top schools.

 

PROFILE:
Type of Undergrad Institution: non-ranked school in Latin America
Major: BA in Social Psychology
Undergrad GPA: 3.9
Type of Grad: mid-ranked school in Europe 

Major: MA in International Relations
Grad GPA: 3.5

GRE: 155V, 165Q, 3.0AW (AW is really embarrassing)
Any Special Courses: summer course (funded) at a top US school (during MA)
Letters of Recommendation: adviser from the grad school (non-polisci) + two star US profs from top schools (polisci)
Research Experience: 2 years of research assistance at the undergrad school + 1 year of research assistance at a well-known European research institute + several completed research projects + one mediocre non-polisci publication (peer-reviewed) + >10 conference presentations
Teaching Experience: One seminar
Subfield/Research Interests: Methodology, Comparative
Other: laureate of several national merit scholarships

RESULTS:
Acceptances($$ or no $$): Yale $$, Rochester $$
Waitlists: NYU, Princeton
Rejections: all others (overall I applied to 15 top schools)

Going to: ?

 

LESSONS LEARNED:

 

  1. It is very important for international students to receive good Quant GRE scores and get LORs from decent American profs (you can get to know them at conferences/summer schools/etc.)
  2. Great SOP, Research experience and LORs could save you almost no matter what
  3. But still you should spend more time on GRE
  4. Additionally, I wish I could spend more time on customizing my SOP for all the departments and prospective advisers. Fit really matters.
  5. Grade degradation (BA - 3.8, MA - 3.5) and change in major are no good 
  6. Applying to as many departments as possible really helps (of course, if you feel like you have at least a slight chance to get in)
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Grade degradation (BA - 3.8, MA - 3.5) and change in major are no good 

 

This is certainly true, especially as most students tend to have higher grades in grad school than in their undergrad! At the same time, however, there are such huge differences between grading systems that that can be difficult to avoid if you move around internationally. It is so much harder to get a perfect grade in Europe than it is in the U.S. (and even impossible in the UK unless you are some kind of genius, from what I've heard). So what I think is really important is to include an explanation of the grading system with the application or ask your school for a description of grade distributions (where this is available). Or quite possibly have your degree and grades evaluated by an official agency - some U.S. schools require that anyway.

 

Regarding the other aspect of your statement, a lot probably depends on whether and how well you can explain your change of mind and major and whether it was a complete break or more of a fluid transition. Of course it may have helped in my case that I got my master's in the U.S., but I too can imagine that things like SOP, letters and writing sample become a lot more important when admission committees assess applications of international students. I would agree that the GRE probably carries greater weight as well because it is a (supposedly) objective measure. And as most internationals aren't accustomed to standardized testing, it's all the more important to practice. I sure wish I had had the time to actually do it.

 

At the same time though, I think that one shouldn't underestimate the power of international (research, study, professional, life) experience, intercultural skills and awareness, foreign language skills, different perspectives... How relevant these are of course depends on what you are studying and whether you are a quant or a qualitative person. But I do think that being an international student has its advantages too - at least if you can demonstrate in your application that you have a very good command of English and can produce strong written work. In the end it's also a question of how successful you are at showcasing certain aspects of your skills, experience, interests and background and why they are likely to be an asset.

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This is certainly true, especially as most students tend to have higher grades in grad school than in their undergrad! At the same time, however, there are such huge differences between grading systems that that can be difficult to avoid if you move around internationally. It is so much harder to get a perfect grade in Europe than it is in the U.S. (and even impossible in the UK unless you are some kind of genius, from what I've heard). So what I think is really important is to include an explanation of the grading system with the application or ask your school for a description of grade distributions (where this is available). Or quite possibly have your degree and grades evaluated by an official agency - some U.S. schools require that anyway.

 

x1,000,000,000

 

I know that I had many very good grades I earned in Germany changed to P/F on my transcripts, because their American translation seemed relatively low (for example, the highest possible grade for one class - mere points from a perfect score - translated to an A-). I had the grades in B- range changed, which was frustrating because I was an American student studying in German masters courses abroad - and I still scored at what my German friends consider more than respectable.

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x1,000,000,000

 

I know that I had many very good grades I earned in Germany changed to P/F on my transcripts, because their American translation seemed relatively low (for example, the highest possible grade for one class - mere points from a perfect score - translated to an A-). I had the grades in B- range changed, which was frustrating because I was an American student studying in German masters courses abroad - and I still scored at what my German friends consider more than respectable.

 

Ha, I was referring to Germany as well :) It can be frustrating - I had several professors who absolutely refused to give any grade better than an A- and courses where everyone just got a B by default (we didn't have p/f). It's perfectly common for an A- or even a B+ to be the highest grade anyone (and maybe only 1 person out of 60) earns in a particular class. At least conversion tables seem to take that into account.

 

Maybe this is helpful for future international applicants to get an idea of how grades earned in a particular country translate to American grades: http://www.wes.org/gradeconversionguide/index.asp

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Ha, I was referring to Germany as well  :) It can be frustrating - I had several professors who absolutely refused to give any grade better than an A- and courses where everyone just got a B by default (we didn't have p/f). It's perfectly common for an A- or even a B+ to be the highest grade anyone (and maybe only 1 person out of 60) earns in a particular class. At least conversion tables seem to take that into account.

 

Maybe this is helpful for future international applicants to get an idea of how grades earned in a particular country translate to American grades: http://www.wes.org/gradeconversionguide/index.asp

 

That chart is much more friendly than the one my home university in the States uses. For example, although I did manage one 1,0, I received a 1,3, which was considered A-, and 1,7, which was considered B... Yet both of those scores would be considered ausgezeichnet in Germany. And considering how easy an A can be at my home university...but I digress. (I did get a 2,3 as well, but that was an oral exam and I was very very nervous).

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I agree on Germany. I spent one erasmus semester there and it was terrible in terms of grading. For instance, if you did 70% of a test assignments, it would be like the first class in the UK  (the best grade, which translates to the US 'A' ), but only 2.3-2.7 in Germany (a mediocre grade, which translates to the US "B" at best).

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PROFILE:

Type of Undergrad Institution: Top 5 SLAC

Major: BA in Government, Minor in Econ

Undergrad GPA: 3.7

Type of Grad:

Major:

Grad GPA:

GRE: 160-170 v/q, 5.5 AW

Any Special Courses: lots of math courses in undergrad?

Letters of Recommendation: 4 professors from undergrad- none particularly huge names, but I know them all fairly well

Research Experience: honors thesis in undergrad

Teaching Experience: worked in the writing center in undergrad

Subfield/Research Interests: Comparative

Other:

RESULTS:

Acceptances($$ or no $$): UNC, Cornell, UCSD, Berkeley all $$

Waitlists:

Rejections: All others, funded CIR from Chicago

Going to: Berkeley

LESSONS LEARNED:

PM for SOP

like everyone says- fit is the most important.

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PROFILE:
Type of Undergrad Institution: Large State University
Major: BS in Economics, Minor in Global Studies (IR)
Undergrad GPA: 3.2 (3.9 in minor)
Type of Grad: Random classes
Major:
Grad GPA: 3.6
GRE: 151/148/4
Any Special Courses: Principles of Macro/Micro, Intermediate Macro/Micro, Game Theory, International Economics, Public Finance, Money and Banking, Labor Economics, Quantitative Analysis (Grad)
Letters of Recommendation: 3 Profs
Research Experience: Econometric paper in UG. Research Job for a year
Teaching Experience: none
Subfield/Research Interests: 99% Sure IR/CP
Other: URM

RESULTS:
Acceptances: Kentucky, New Mexico, Houston
Waitlists:
Rejections: Alabama, GMU (waitlist then reject), SUNY Albany
Going to: Kentucky

LESSONS LEARNED:
Fit is what got me in obviously. Along with not majoring in poli sci probably helped (but hurt me from applying to top schools, my GPA would have been much higher). Study hard for GRE. The Math portion is the one where you can make the most improvement. Apply early. I should have followed my gut in JR yr and changed majors, but a Political Science major is not very employable.

 

Fit gets you in. GPA/GRE gets the funding.

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PROFILE:
Type of Undergrad Institution: middle of nowhere, unranked SLAC
Major(s)/Minor(s): Political Science
Undergrad GPA: 3.5
Type of Grad: n/a
Grad GPA: n/a
GRE: 169/156/4.5
Any Special Courses: not really
Letters of Recommendation: no one notable, but I know all of my professors very, very well
Research Experience: one coauthored article, a pretty decent undergrad thesis
Teaching Experience: none
Subfield/Research Interests: comparative, methods
Other:

RESULTS:
Acceptances($$ or no $$): Michigan State, Maryland, Penn State
Waitlists: Notre Dame, UVA, Michigan
Rejections: GWU, MIT, Cornell, Northwestern
Pending:
Going to: Penn State

 

LESSONS LEARNED:

 

1. Unlike others, I found fit to be pretty irrelevant. I had a much stronger fit at the schools I was rejected to, and honestly had very few shared research interests with the schools I was accepted to. If fit matters, in my experience, it mattered in terms of the style of research you want to pursue, rather than the specific questions you want to ask.

 

2. I skipped the formal visiting weekends of all the schools I was accepted into, and visited on my own time. This was probably the best decision I made during the process. By visiting at a different time more convenient to my schedule, I didn't have to rush, and more importantly, I was able to have one-on-one discussions with 8 or 10 faculty members. This was indispensable. 

 


SOP: PM me for SOP

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