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What helped your applications the most?

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Canada may be different, your field may be different, your program in your school may be different. The important point--which I realize now actually didn't require as much of an explanation as I tried to give, and I apologize since I think my assumptions were wrong (in particular, I know that things are different in Canada and I was referring to the US)--the point is that you can't conclude from sample size N=1 that since this person got into the two schools she applied for then everybody should be able to get into any program they apply to even with lower grades without any trouble, so there is no need to worry or consult with anyone about the application. That simply doesn't follow. 

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Maybe, but my reply was to mikapika who claimed that their unspecified MPH was difficult to get into. Also, the ASPPH does not only represent U.S. schools.

The report you linked only seemed to list US schools, at least at a quick glance. I certainly didn't see any Canadian schools listed there.

You also said that public health was not a competitive field. All I'm saying is that some public health programs, in Canada, are incredibly competitive. There is no maybe about it. According to the reports I've read from Dietitians of Canada, the public health and community nutrition programs in Canada are extremely competitive and difficult to get into.

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Enthusiasm is really underrated in my opinion. I wasn't the highest scoring GRE or the highest GPA (163Q/157V/5.0W, 3.4 Overall, 3.75 Major), but my SOP discussed my passion for the subject, along with the large workload I took on top of school heavily. One other thing, which is tangential to enthusiasm, is having a specific interest. I'm not saying just pick something, but if you have a research interest which aligns with some of the professors doing research, and you can relay this in your essay, it can definitely help your chances; I think my specific research interest propelled my application quite a bit.

Agreed 100%. Enthusiasm and specific interest are key discussion points. In my case though I discussed these things in my email changes with POI. The ECE department at McGill doesn't require an SOP. In fact you can't upload one. You can only fill in a form where each box asks you to discuss achievements, experiences, etc. It was all about the stats and numbers. I had to find a way to get my plans and vision across so I decided to find a POI after two weeks of submitting my application. I shot an email and the rest is history.

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What helped me most during the application process was talking to experienced people from the field. I am not exactly used to asking for advice, but throughout this particular endeavor I was ready to absorb as much advice as I could get, from choosing the universities to apply to to making the final decision about the offer to accept. Thus, I am incredibly grateful to all these people who were there for me.

 

As for the outcome, I think that the key factors that helped me suceed were (in no particular order):
(1) good writing sample;
(2) excellent letters of recommendation;
(3) it was clear from my personal story that the decision to apply for a grad program in Linguistics was a well-thought one;
(4) while my undergraduate background wasn't in Linguistics, I managed to learn a lot myself (via summer schools and courses at a dept other than my home one) and conduct some independent research, which showed my commitment (this bit was pointed out to me by one of my recommenders, who also got to read my other LORs and said that this point was emphasized by all of my recommenders).

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So back on topic.  Things that helped me:

 

- Taking my resume/CV and statement(s) of intent to Co-operative Education and Career Services.  Despite the name, they also offer help with preparing materials for graduate school, so were able to provide some feedback on how to best structure my resume, CV, and statement(s) of intent, especially as I was/am a non-traditional student with two different undergraduate degrees.

 

- Having a back-up plan in place.  For me, that was an MSc with the professor who supervised my fourth year honours thesis.  The professor had mentioned that I would do well in an MSc program, and that they would be happy to supervise my master's degree, so I knew I had one "guaranteed" acceptance (provided nothing weird happened).  This really helped to relieve a lot of the stress and worry, as I had a sold back-up in place.

 

- Having contact with the programs that were of interest, either through their open house days, their information sessions, etc.  I was able to talk directly with the individuals in charge of the programs, as well as with current students in the programs, and that helped to solididy my decisions and my choices.  It also provided me with a way to introduce myself to the program directors, who would then hopefully remember me when they reviewed my applications (especially given that I have a rather unique background, so would likely be easy to remember).

 

- Having faith in myself.  I had one senior professor and advisor for my major tell me that I would be lucky to get any interviews, due to my non-traditional background.  They told me it would appear that I wasn't as committed as someone who went straight through from highschool, to undergrad, to a master's program.  My opinion differed, as I thought it would be clear that I now had discovered exactly what I wanted, having been in the work world for many years, and having had some success.  I was right, as I interviewed everywhere that I applied, and ended up eventually being accepted everywhere as well (although for my #2 program my acceptance was off the waitlist).

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Most helpful for me were likely the SOP, strong LORs, and research experience.

 

I found this guide (posted elsewhere here) to be super helpful for the SOP, especially since i found it hard to get started and had a little less than a month to get it together. Have as many people as you can review your SOP because often (at least for me) my thoughts got muddled in too many words even though I thought I was being clear and concise. My reviewers also had various backgrounds so they were able to offer me various perspectives and help me revise ideas/grammar in multiple ways. Transitions are one of the most important elements since everything in your essay should flow together. Looking at online examples won't be too helpful since the best ones (likely) aren't posted online, don't waste your time and start with your own clean slate. DO NOT list out all of your experiences or try to squeeze in as many as possible. FOCUS on 1-2 at most and show how they exemplify your qualifications/shaped your reasons for going to grad school/research interest. Hook readers at the beginning with an interesting anecdote (seemed to work for me).

 

Experience is invaluable and will put you ahead of the game. Just  because you don't have actual work experience and are coming directly from undergrad/master's, you can still gain experience while in school whether it be working with a professor on campus or getting an internship, etc elsewhere. Most of my experience actually came from my activities while in school and I worked on diverse projects so I was able to show in my CV different skills gained/applied for each. Diversifying seemed to have helped me a lot. 

 

Good luck to future applicants!

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To answer the main topic at hand:

 

I actually applied for Ph.D programs for Fall 2013, and I got close to getting some admits but got rejected by the schools post-interview.  That happened when I was finishing up my undergraduate studies.  The bad thing was that my GPA wasn't stellar, and neither were my GRE scores.  However, I managed to apply again to more schools this cycle, and I actually got accepted to a couple of the schools I applied to (yay!).  

 

I would say the one thing that really boosted up my applications this cycle was my work/research experience.  I decided to stay another year in my undergraduate research lab to work as a lab manager/research associate.  I do have to say that taking another year of research really helped me out since I learned some new techniques that are definitely relevant to what I will be doing in graduate school in the coming Fall.  In addition, that extra year helped my letters of recommendation since my PI had more to write about.  Furthermore, I had some teaching experience in two different ways.  First, I acted as an "undergraduate supervisor" in the lab - meaning that I helped undergrads with their experiments as well as advising them on what to do.  Second, I had another part-time job as a teacher at a local learning center where I tutored some high school students in various science subjects such as physics, chemistry, and biology.  Since I had an extra year to work, I believe the admissions committee saw the effort I took to improving my applications, and they also saw how I supported my career goals to become an academic in my SOP due to my teaching experience. 

 

In terms of completing my application, I had professors, relatives, and friends review and give suggestions on what they thought about my SOP, research experience, and other writing samples.  I also found talking to current graduate students in my lab or in prospective programs to be very helpful as well.  When time permitted, I would take some time out during the meetings with my PI to get some additional advice on what should be emphasized in my applications.  Finally, on my SOP, I used some space to explain some of the discrepancies on my academic record without giving any excuses.  I was concise with my wording as to make a long story short for the admissions committee.  Everything else on my application was pretty straightforward; I tried to answer each question that was asked to the best of my knowledge.

 

I hope this helps, and good luck to whoever is applying next year! 

Edited by alanfv91

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From some of the feedback I got from the schools that accepted me, I think the thing that helped me the most was having a strong writing sample that clearly reflected my interests. Both schools specifically commented on their interest in my sample and the professor who is going to be my advisor even specifically remembered the topic that I wrote about. I think that my SOP, which also specifically highlighted those interests and how they related to work I'd already done and work I want to do in the future, probably also was a significant factor in my acceptances.

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Haha. No. They accept less than 40 people each cohort. You have no idea what you are talking about. Go back and crawl in your hole, no one needs your opinion.

 

It is a professional program, yes, that is precisely I applied because there will always be work in the field of health. No I don't need to take out a huge loan, nor did I take one out. It only costs $2400 per term here in Canada land...Professional programs are the way to go!

 

Look, I have a professional degree as well—they can definitely be useful. But, controlling for quality of program, there is no doubt that a masters/JD admission process is much simpler, and far more permissive, than that for a PhD—particularly in the same field.

 

40 is a small cohort—for a masters' degree. For a PhD that's enormous. Vast. My wife is planning to apply this fall for a doctoral program, and her dream department (a very large program) admits 15-20. Most are smaller.

 

I get that you're proud of your degree. I am too, of mine. However your argument is ridiculous, and is making you look very foolish.

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I think the three things that helped my application most were: 

 

(1) Doing undergraduate research  (I've written a little more about that on my blog in case you're interested)

(2) Presenting at a major conference and meeting several POIs before the applications were due

(3) Getting very strong rec letters from professors because they really know me and my work ethic, even if they weren't actually in the same field 

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I believe that a really strong writing sample helped my applications. Also, both of my letter writers did grad programs at my top choice, which probably gave the letters a bit more heft

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Some general thoughts on what helped me the most, before I head off to start grad school and forget everything:

 

- A strong focus in my application: I tried to make it clear how the coursework I chose, the research and teaching I did, and the extracurricular experiences I had all tied together to prepare me for and stimulate my interest in my chosen graduate field at the specific school I was applying to. I laid this foundation for myself a few years before applying to graduate school, by choosing activities and courses I knew I would enjoy while still being able to add them cohesively to my application/resume/cv. 

 

- Relationships with my letter writers: I had tried my best to foster good connections and make good impressions on the people writing letters for me, which included frequently stopping by their offices just to update them on how my work/undergrad life was going and ask any questions I might have about the application process, courses, or my field in general. I think making a good personal impression on top of your good academic impression helps the writer add more genuine content to your letters of recommendation. What this means for you, though, will absolutely differ based on the individual -- I know some peers who did not have a good gauge on these types of interactions and just bugged their letter writers to death, so I tried my best to avoid that. Note: never annoy letter writers to death. 

 

- Explaining gaps in my application: I had a serious illness during one year of my undergraduate education, and I made sure to make that very clear without sounding like I was making excuses for myself (a delicate balance, but I was told it very much helped my application by professors who had reviewed it before accepting me) -- explaining clearly how you overcame adversity to succeed academically can often be a bonus point on your app because it shows dedication, even if during the time of adversity your grades dropped or you under-performed on a admissions exam. The whole picture is often much more important than one single part of your application. 

 

- Showing my personality in my statements: I think this specifically helped the most for the NSF GRFP application, but I had one part of my application where I had this sentence that sounded a bit ridiculous -- it included the words "happy dance" next to something very scientific -- and I was told by my friends to take it out. I felt strongly about it (for whatever reason, I felt it was "me") -- so I left it in. I got the fellowship. I have no idea if "happy dance" was the thing that pushed me over the edge for getting the award, or if it was one straw away from breaking the camel's back on my application -- but it didn't keep me from getting it. I guess I would say, if you have something positive in your application that you think makes it stand out a bit (in a good way -- I knew others who tried to "stand out" by simply stating that "they weren't like all the other robots in the field"), stay true to yourself and keep it in. 

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I went through this process three years ago and now consult about it.

 

Considering that doctoral applications are often evaluated by the department secretary and a few faculty, often in that in order, I'd say that a key element to most successful applications I've seen is an appeal in the personal statement to the research interests and work styles of several faculty members. They like to know that you're interested in enough in the work of several faculty to confidently RA and/or TA for more than one of them.  Among the most undesirable applicants are the ones who seem like an excellent fit for the faculty member who just quietly announced that he'll be taking a job at another university. 

 

The other factors mentioned in this thread could be critical.  However, since graduate school applications are assessed by actual human beings rather than machines, it's imperative that the content resonate with those human beings' goals for the department or for themselves.

Edited by fuzzylogician
link removed.

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I wasn't accepted to any PhD programs last time around, but I was accepted to several masters programs. I have a very checkered academic background, and while I have phenomenal grades in science and math, I have a lot of cruddy grades from other majors I had pursued. So my graduate coordinator told me that the part of my application that made the biggest impact was my LORs. They were from people I worked with closely and had really good relationships with. So they wrote me some really stellar recommendations. The coordinator outright told me that those grades really hurt my application and the admissions committee wasn't sure if they wanted to admit me, but the LORs were so good they took the chance.

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The number one factor that helped me was establishing rapport with the professor I wanted to work with and specifically mentioning my desire to work with him in my SOP.  I was initially offered unfunded admission and because I had already been interacting with him he pushed the department until they gave me a funded position.

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Hey everyone!!

Need your help!!!

I am applying for Fall 2015 Phd in Computer Science(focus in information assurance) to USA universities. After doing extensive research I managed to find some universities (ASU, Indiana University, George Mason, University of Texas- San Antonio). But as I hear for phd i need to apply to more than 10 universities to expect a call. Can anyone please help me if someone doing research in Information assurance/security in USA. 

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Guest

I haven't yet been accepted and am in the process of applying (Masters). But, I will be entering with mediocre GRE scores and a high GPA with honor rewards and scholarships. I've been putting in the most time with my SOP and ensuring that I have a relative to edit it. I am also emphasizing my foreign language skills and cultural background, which are vital to many International Affairs programs.

Edited by Guest

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I haven't yet been accepted and am in the process of applying (Masters). But, I will be entering with mediocre GRE scores and a high GPA with honor rewards and scholarships. I've been putting in the most time with my SOP and ensuring that I have a relative to edit it. I am also emphasizing my foreign language skills and cultural background, which are vital to many International Affairs programs.

 

I'd recommend that you get someone who works in your field, with similar qualifications as the ones you are pursuing, to edit your SOP. 

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I'd recommend that you get someone who works in your field, with similar qualifications as the ones you are pursuing, to edit your SOP. 

 

Thanks! I have a recommender in my field currently working on my letters, so I will be sure to ask her for some last minute suggestions.

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- Extremely strong LORs, especially from profs, PI, and mentors that either attended, personally knew someone, or had previously taught at the institutes I had applied 

 

- Writing a strong SOP for each program, clearly demonstrating that I knew what the degree would entail and that I had adequate preparation (especially in my case where my BS & MS degrees weren't in the standard fields of study that many of the applicants coming in had - though that may have worked to my advantage)

 

- Having 4.5 years of research experience. Even though some of the research was not in the area I'm going into - the transferable skills that I gained were viewed quite favorably. Plus by the PhD level, one should be self-motivated enough to learn material they had not previously studied if it would help with their research.

 

- Keeping a high GPA and doing quite well on the GRE. Now I list these points last since the typical applicant in the programs I applied to already possessed these qualifications and thus I feel the first three bullets held more weight in the application process.

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The things that helped my application the most were:

1. Taking a year off between my undergrad and graduate work to devote time to volunteering and proving that I could survive and succeed in the world. So much of my undergraduate career was spent working so that I could eat and stay in school, and I didn't really have the time to bulk up my resume. If you aren't happy with your resume/cv, I would honestly consider holding off and either getting a lower level job in your field or getting a scrappy retail job and do work in your field on the side while staying up to date on relevant literature.

2. Spend a lot of time writing. I was really bad at this one, but my creative writing majored husband kept pushing edits and revisions until my pieces were perfect. His mother helped as well, and the multiple perspectives were very useful for understanding all the ways my piece could be interpreted.

3. Meet/research POIs as soon as possible. I met mine almost a year before I even applied just to talk about the program, and found out later that she was also the grad program director. Meeting with her got me really excited about the program, and because I made that connection with her early on, she helped with the final draft of my SOP.

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The schools where I had substantial contact with professors I got in. The schools where I didn't, I didn't. Reach out to people in the summer or spring before you apply, if you know who you're interested in that far in advance.

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1) Publications (1 first author, 1 as a co-author) - I really believe that this gave me a massive advantage in this process.

 

2) LORs from well-known professors (I was actually told in an email from one PI that the fact I have a LOR from a particular professor would make me a very competitive applicant).

 

3) Contacting faculty by email before applying. I only applied to 2 programs and I contacted facutly about a month before the deadline for both. I received nice long replies from both PIs and kept in contact - talking mainly about research and their lab and not asking questions about applying/what are my chances as I think faculty are less responsive to these types of emails. I just gave them a brief background of my past studies, who I worked with - because I knew that they would know the names of my professors, what my masters thesis was about (I discussed this a lot with one PI who researches almost the exact same thing and he then shared some data with me) and telling them I was interested in their lab and asked whether they think I would be a good fit.  If you talk research (and not applications) then you will get a MUCH better response.

 

My GREs were not that great (mid 150s on both) and well below the averages of admitted students to the two programs I applied and was accepted to, and I think my SOP were okay, although I wrote each of them the day the application was due and didn't have anyone look over them so they probably could have been better. I got into two top programs and I encourage you to reach out to faculty and talk research and ask questions about their research and you will do well :)

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I think that I definitely tried to mitigate any weaknesses in my application and made sure I understood (more or less) what adcoms look for, which I believe helped my chances in this process. In my case, I am very young, so I asked my LOR writers if they felt it would be prudent to comment on my maturity/independence/self-motivation in their letters/assessments. Also, it is important to have very strong LORs - I was told by multiple interviewers at multiple programs that they really made all the difference in my application, so if you're reading this as an applicant, make sure to foster great relationships with potential letter writers and look actively for great mentors at your current institution!

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