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Should I bother trying again next year?


Carlpolisci
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Turning to the forum for some advice (which I should’ve done much earlier in the process, but those are the mistakes of a first cycle I guess). With 3 confirmed and 2 presumed (Columbia, Harvard) rejections of 5, it’s time to reflect. 
The core of the question is in the title: Should I bother trying again or is it a waste of my money and time. While I’m not going to relay on just the answers here, I’d really appreciate your opinion as you are all seasoned experts in the admissions circus. 

Some context:
I’m an international student with a Communication Master’s from an American School with more of a professional image. I also have a MA from my university at home (totally unrelated field). My GPA at the American School is 3.91, hard to translate the international MA, but according to some random website it’s 3.38. 
Research Interest is political communication. I know a lot of profs look down on that as a communication, not a PoliSci subject, but I tried to frame it in PoliSci terms in my SOP, seems like it hasn’t worked (happy to send in PM if anyone is willing to read). Because of my hybrid interest, I also applied to Annenberg as my only comms program and there’s a project in line with my interest at NYU, where I thought I’d be a fit.  

Strengths:

  • Have published a book on my research interest, wrote one peer reviewed paper
  • Some other (journalistic) publications, lots of media coverage/punditry. Variety of Lectures, panel discussions. Some awards (e.g. Fulbright) 
  • Lots of academic teaching experience in research interest. 
  • LOR from the Fulbright Chair of my country. Others are ok, but no big names.   

Weakness

  • Definetly my GRE which was 159 V/151 Q/4.5 - asides from running out of time I had hoped my strong CV evens that out. 
  • Lack of quant grades/experience/classes/anything.
  • Lack of writing sample. given my international status and my professional Master, I only have two English writing samples, one’s a lit review, the other one is my thesis, both are honestly not very good. 
  • For private reasons I’m bound to the Boston to DC metro corridor. 

I’d definitely apply to more and less prestigious schools (although I didn’t choose so much by name than by profs) and putting more comms programs in the mix. 
But the thing is: The only thing, I can actually improve on (possibly) is the GRE. I'm out of school for quite a while, so I'm not going to write a paper in the next months. 

With these weaknesses, do I have a chance or should I not bother? And where else should I reconfigure my application?

I really appreciate your advice! 

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First of all, Harvard hasn't released decisions yet, so I wouldn't count yourself out just yet.

 

I'd be happy to take a look at your statement, even though I'm not in political comm.

 

Which press did you publish your book with, and where was your peer-reviewed paper?

 

There's some questions I would encourage you to ask yourself, though:

1. Do you read Political Science scholarship in your area of interest/more widely? That should show in your SOP, especially with an unrelated major like yours.

2. Why don't you think you'll be able to write a new writing sample/polish your old one? I know applying is a ton of work, but if you're not willing to put in the necessary work, you might ask yourself if/why you want to get a PhD in political science?

3. (seamless transition) Why do you want to get a PhD? Why one in polisci, not in communication? What's the end goal?

4. (related) If you're hoping for an academic career, being bound to one place (even if it is a relatively university-heavy one) is difficult. Something's gotta give, in my opinion. Would you be willing to relocate for a job?

 

I actually think many of the red flags of your application can be remedied, if this is really what you want to do.

 

First, getting your GRE up will be important, especially because you don't have any quant classes. Try going for more than 90th percentile for Quant. You can also take a CC/online quant class to show you're willing and able to put in the required work. You could also try looking into taking some poli sci classes, to get a better idea of where the field is, and where you fit in there.

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I think you should try again next year, but I will take the liberty of saying that at this point I think your single greatest weakness is your GRE. Most of the schools you listed really won't seriously consider anyone below 156Q (and you should really aim for 160+). Some of the faculty at the institutions you mention have told me that directly. So I would say go for it, but really try to strengthen your GREs. And if you can't, you may want to consider schools outside of the top-20, which may care less about your GRE scores. Good luck!!

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Turning to the forum for some advice (which I should’ve done much earlier in the process, but those are the mistakes of a first cycle I guess). With 3 confirmed and 2 presumed (Columbia, Harvard) rejections of 5, it’s time to reflect. 

The core of the question is in the title: Should I bother trying again or is it a waste of my money and time. While I’m not going to relay on just the answers here, I’d really appreciate your opinion as you are all seasoned experts in the admissions circus. 

Some context:

I’m an international student with a Communication Master’s from an American School with more of a professional image. I also have a MA from my university at home (totally unrelated field). My GPA at the American School is 3.91, hard to translate the international MA, but according to some random website it’s 3.38. 

Research Interest is political communication. I know a lot of profs look down on that as a communication, not a PoliSci subject, but I tried to frame it in PoliSci terms in my SOP, seems like it hasn’t worked (happy to send in PM if anyone is willing to read). Because of my hybrid interest, I also applied to Annenberg as my only comms program and there’s a project in line with my interest at NYU, where I thought I’d be a fit.  

Strengths:

  • Have published a book on my research interest, wrote one peer reviewed paper
  • Some other (journalistic) publications, lots of media coverage/punditry. Variety of Lectures, panel discussions. Some awards (e.g. Fulbright) 
  • Lots of academic teaching experience in research interest. 
  • LOR from the Fulbright Chair of my country. Others are ok, but no big names.   

Weakness

  • Definetly my GRE which was 159 V/151 Q/4.5 - asides from running out of time I had hoped my strong CV evens that out. 
  • Lack of quant grades/experience/classes/anything.
  • Lack of writing sample. given my international status and my professional Master, I only have two English writing samples, one’s a lit review, the other one is my thesis, both are honestly not very good. 
  • For private reasons I’m bound to the Boston to DC metro corridor. 

I’d definitely apply to more and less prestigious schools (although I didn’t choose so much by name than by profs) and putting more comms programs in the mix. 

But the thing is: The only thing, I can actually improve on (possibly) is the GRE. I'm out of school for quite a while, so I'm not going to write a paper in the next months. 

With these weaknesses, do I have a chance or should I not bother? And where else should I reconfigure my application?

I really appreciate your advice! 

 

If your heart is set on grad school, yes, apply again. Spend the intervening period strengthening your application. I would advise the following:

 

1. Improve those GRE scores. I retook the GREs last summer and improved dramatically relative to what I got when I took them two years earlier. Invest a ton of time into studying and take a preparation class if you think it'll help. GREs don't make an application, but they can break it.

 

2. Take some time to fix up the writing sample. Don't write one from scratch. I'd recommend editing the thesis down to a publishable article. Take that to a conference perhaps, get more feedback. Rework it. Perfect it. Submit it to a journal. And use it for your apps. (It'll also give you an added line on the CV for a conference, an added line for an article "under review", and a better writing sample). At this point, you'd have until December or so, which, unless time is very prohibitive, is possible. If you go to a good conference, that also gives you the chance to network with faculty and students at prospective schools. I talked to people from Delaware and Northwestern at ISA-NE and I think that face time helped them seem I'm not an automaton, I'm dedicated to what I want to do, and that I have a required minimum amount of social skills. When people look at applications and they all look the same I bet it helps to be able to say that, all else equal, at least person X is someone I enjoyed having a conversation with.

 

3. The DC-Boston corridor has some great schools. Focus your efforts on fit rather than ranking, but don't forget about ranking altogether. I'd say that unless you're going to be at a top 10 program, having good fit at a program ranked 23rd, is better than a bad fit at a program ranked 17. At least that's how I weigh these things, for better or worse. 

 

 

Most importantly, if this is what you want, don't give up. I applied three years ago and got rejected from 9 schools. I went into a catatonic depression. It took a while to figure out the right steps forward, to get myself back on my feet, and to reassess my strategy for getting where I want to go. And it paid off that I took those steps that I reflected on. I hope your luck turns---unfortunately luck might be the single most important part of this process.

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I can't really comment on the whether your research interest fits better in political science or communication, so I won't try haha. 

 

Honestly, your strengths seem quite impressive. Certainly good enough to get into a strong program if you correct the weaknesses

As you already mentioned, your GRE is one thing that could clearly be improved. Since you would now have quite a long time to improve it, I would start right away and just do a little bit every day. On the verbal part, in particular, you can improve your score a ton with software like Anki (it's a spaced repetition system flashcard program. You'd be amazed how much you can remember just by letting the program quiz you over and over again. My score shot up from a 150ish to 170. The quant part, I suppose just requires reading and practice, but you already know that :)

I know you said you aren't going to write a new paper, but if you are serious about getting into a good program and don't think your current samples are very good, I really think it would be worth reconsidering. I know it takes time, and can really be a pain if you're working a regular job at the same time, but this is what a career in academia is about. 

Other than that, the only real advice I have is to apply to more programs. Even with a great application, only 5 programs is risky. I only applied to 6 programs this time, but I really know I should have applied to 10+.

In short: If you're willing to put in the work to boost your GRE score, draft a new writing sample, and cast your net a bit wider, it's absolutely worth reapplying. 

(Last suggestion: I know most of us who applied more than once took quite a hard look at our SOPs. I think the main thing that made my applications stronger this year was taking more time on my SOP and making sure it made my research interests and fit with the school more explicit. Donald Asher's book on Graduate Admissions Essays is particular good, imo.)

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Last suggestion: I know most of us who applied more than once took quite a hard look at our SOPs. I think the main thing that made my applications stronger this year was taking more time on my SOP and making sure it made my research interests and fit with the school more explicit. Donald Asher's book on Graduate Admissions Essays is particular good, imo.)

 

I absolutely agree. I was advised by a director of graduate admissions to start the SOP by talking about your research interests and plans. Let this take up about half of your statement and only then devolve into a discussion of how you got to have this interests. It struck me as somewhat anachronistic, but I think it made me a stronger applicant. If you'd like to discuss SOP drafts with more specificity, I'd be happy to chat via PM.

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Isn't political communication quant heavy? with a lot of polling/surveying data? If so that quant score and lack of quant classes will kill you in the app process, moreso if your writing sample is weak too. The good news is that you can change them.

 

It sounds (from what I'm reading) that the OP is less interested in polling or survey data, and more interested in the interactions of media and politics? Am I reading that right? If so, then a communications program might be the right place for you. Not that there aren't people in polisci who might do that kind of thing, but I think you have to be abundantly clear why you think your interests are better served by a political science PhD over a communications one. 

 

Alternatively, aside from bulking up your application, you could look into interdisciplinary social science programs! I think Sociology could be a good fit, very specific Political Science programs, and Communications programs with a good relationship with other social sciences. IIRC (and this memory is several years old), Syracuse has an interdisciplinary social science PhD program that you could look into!

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Not to break the stream of helpful advice and thoughts, but THANK YOU, really, for some things to think about. 

 

re: Relationship of comms and PoliSci. I believe it's a matter of public opinion and participation, so I think it has more a PoliSci hat than a comms hat, but I might be too stubborn trying to convince the world of that and just give up and live a life next to Marketing and Advertising people, teaching Communication 101 to future PR firm employees ;)

 

Thank you! and please keep the advice coming!

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re: Relationship of comms and PoliSci. I believe it's a matter of public opinion and participation, so I think it has more a PoliSci hat than a comms hat

 

Nope, that totally says PoliSci to me, too! I think that, since you have such a strong background in the Comm field, you really have to sell your experience hard--you have experience with the communications angle, this is why it fits with PoliSci, and you see why X department is a great fit for you because of [reasons]. That said, I do think you have to find programs that are really strong on public opinion and political participation and sell it on that angle, since those are the ones that are most likely to see your fit in the discipline, whereas other programs (whose strengths aren't in that opinion/participation area) might be wondering why you aren't applying to Comm programs. 

 

But my two cents may not be worth much--I'll be back with you next cycle!

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