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Most of the top-tier schools have notified applicants of their decisions, and certain forum members have had repeated success.  (I can think of four in particular, but there are probably more.)  I think it would be exceptionally helpful in many ways to many readers if those members who have been admitted to multiple schools among the top ten or fifteen or so would describe their applications in general terms, to give everyone some general idea of what it takes to gain admission to those schools.

 

For example, it might provide some context for those who were not admitted in understanding why not.  It may also provide some guidance to applicants in future years as to what their chances are, and whether it is worth the application fee.  It may also provide a sense of what "best practices" are helpful in achieving admission to these schools.

 

There's no need to provide information so specific that it identifies anyone personally.  I'm thinking of a level of generality like:  Ivy undergrad, or top ivy undergrad, highly-ranked state university or average state university, private university, SLA, west-coast-ivy-equivalent, etc.

 

It would probably be helpful to indicate your degree (BA or MA) and how many years, if any, it has been since you were last in school.  Also, if your undergraduate major was in a field other than English.

 

Some general information regarding GPA and GRE would be useful.  I believe they will most likely show that a range of numbers is OK.  

 

Information regarding letter writers would, I think, be particularly helpful:  For example, if they are well-known scholars at a top school; or if they are well-known scholars in your primary field of interest; or if they have a particularly close relation to one or more members of the faculty who may have had an influence in the admissions process (for example, if your LOR was a former student or mentor of a faculty member at a school you were applying to); or if your LOR had taught at that school at some point.

 

Giving an indication of one's field of interest and/or research perspective would also be helpful, and whether there seemed to be a particularly strong and objective fit between your interests and those of the faculty at the schools you were admitted to.  Alternatively, how you saw the fit, and whether there seemed to be a better fit at the schools you were admitted to than at those where you were not.  Also interesting would be whether you tailored your statement of research interests differently to different schools.

 

Things like "strong LORs" or "strong WS" would not be particularly useful, since most everyone's LORs are strong, and presumably everyone here is a good writer.  I think it's more helpful to say something about the letter writers themselves, since there is reason to think that not all letter writers have the same level of influence.  (A strong letter from Helen Vendler, say, might well be expected to carry more weight than an even stronger letter from someone less eminent.)  Also, it would be helpful to describe the extent, if any, of faculty involvement in reviewing and revising your SOP and WS.

 

Basically, it would be interesting to see if any correlations can be drawn between certain sorts of applicant/application characteristics and repeated admission to the top schools.

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What a great topic, SleepyOldMan. Last year, I didn't get into any of the programs for which I applied, and I would have really appreciated something like this. My experience is a little different tha

Most of the top-tier schools have notified applicants of their decisions, and certain forum members have had repeated success.  (I can think of four in particular, but there are probably more.)  I thi

I thought Jazzy's first post was very helpful and that she (or he-- sorry I can't tell from you profile) was very clear both times. It's sort of, well, rude to compare how helpful people are, if they'

I’m not sure if you want “outdated” info (how outdated could it be, really), since I didn’t apply this cycle, but when I did, I only applied to schools within the USNAWR Top 20 and received offers from 5 schools. I’ll try to address the info w/o being too overly specific (or too vague!)2

 

I graduated from a okay-good state university; nothing near a Berkeley or even a Michigan, but ranked ~mid-40s according to USNAWR overall and in the low teens for public universities. I applied as a senior in the process of getting my BA (English major). GPA was good as a standalone, but probably on the low side for people graduating in my field due to having an Engineering curriculum for the first year. GRE Subject was below 50th percentile, GRE Verbal was in the 80s, writing was low 90s.

 

Out of my letter writers, only one of them had been tenured for over a year (they are completely outside my field though, so I honestly couldn’t tell you how they are considered by their peers), one of them I think just got tenure before that app season, and the other was not yet tenured (they are now though). However, all 3 had had me in at least 2 courses, including individual study and/or summer research projects. So regardless of their standing in the field I would assume these letters were pretty strong since they had seen me grow as a student over the years and had a great deal of familiarity with my work.

 

Fit wasn’t something I stressed myself out about too much, in part because I had a great mentor (one of my letter writers) who had a better idea of departments than I did and could steer me in the right direction. The thing about my field of interest is that even in the best of circumstances, a department is really only going to have 2-3 people who fall broadly in that area, so it’s more important to find a department with great people who are doing great work than the absolute perfect fit. 

 

I had the same SOP for every school, one of my main regrets right after application season (though, it’s such a moot now, I love my program) since I do wonder if that turned some schools off. But I went over that bad boy like a banshee in the months before app deadlines. Same with my writing sample. I even edited it in between applications, though I found no correlation there. There were certainly some schools at the tippy top that I didn’t hear the good news from that I thought would have been a great fit and surely would have been. But you can’t wallow in that or you’ll make yourself nuts!

 

I stand by the KISS approach to applications; don't worry about what you can't change, focus on what you have the most control over (SOP and WS). Seek guidance. Gradcafe is great, but it is Gradcafe... I understand it might be harder for people who are years removed from undergrad, but from those currently in a program seek advice from real life professors who know who you are and know your work. General advice can only go so far, especially with something like an application, specifics are needed and can make all the difference. 

 

Okay, that's all I got!

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I very much appreciate this thread.

 

Jazzy, when you write, "The thing about my field of interest is that even in the best of circumstances, a department is really only going to have 2-3 people who fall broadly in that area, so it’s more important to find a department with great people who are doing great work than the absolute perfect fit," then presumably you make a distinction between "the absolute perfect fit" and "a department with (2-3) great people who are doing great work" "broadly in [your] area." I can think of a few reasons for the distinction but I'm curious about your take since, after all, there is another perspective from which 2-3 people doing great work in your area, broadly, is how some people are defining "the absolute perfect fit." Or another way to ask, I guess, is, what do you specifically have in mind when you didn't stress about an absolute perfect fit?  I take note and keep in mind that you didn't dwell on this, and in fact I've posted a bit where the OP has also posted and am coming to my own conclusions about fit - namely, I also won't stress, either. But I am curious and still learning, so hit me w/ it.

 

 

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I suppose I should contribute, given that I went through two rounds of PhD applications, come from a definitely unconventional background, and am at a leading program for my fields. 

 

My undergraduate work was at a very small private LAC in the Midwest, in English. Subsequently I did an unfunded MA at the University of Chicago, in Cinema and Media Studies. It was crucial to shaping me as a viable PhD applicant--in terms of what it showed me about serious academic work at this level, the general culture and expectations, opportunities for research, identifying emerging areas of specialization, and of course establishing good references. I should note that my BA was in '09, and MA in '11, and I entered the PhD in '13. I did not present or publish anything prior to entering. What I did do was revise my statement of purpose and research project (and corresponding writing sample) a *lot.*

 

GPA/GRE were fine. As I've said before, once beyond a certain point, they don't really matter much. I did use the same SOP everywhere, with significant tailoring. I believe fit was the greatest factor for my admissions (and the couple of waitlists I received). Like jazzy, I edited my writing sample continuously--right up until my final applications, actually! What may be interesting is that I received two straight admits out of four late applications (all using the same, final essay), while my earlier submissions turned into two waitlists (using a slightly earlier revision). Significant? Who knows.

 

My interests are explicitly interdisciplinary and that may be reflected in that I was admitted to two programs that are very interdisciplinary, waitlisted at another joint program, and the last one is also be very interdisciplinary. I don't do "traditional" cinema studies, and it showed, I think. I don't think there is ever an "absolute perfect fit"--I'm very happy to have found several people here who play into various aspects of my developing interests. Also, it's hard to ever get a handle on fit. To wit: the person whose work is presently most in line with my own interests was not even named in my SOP simply because I didn't know their present work!

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I'll try to give some particulars on my case. I applied to 4 English PhD programs and a couple interdisciplinary/comp lit programs and received 2 top tier offers in English and 1 offer in French (Columbia and Chicago, and Cornell, respectively. Might as well mention them since I posted them previously). 

 

I applied while completing an MFA in poetry (in a program that is "studio-academic," meaning I got to take a ton of grad-level English courses) and received my BA from Northwestern in philosophy and english/creative writing (and have the undergrad debt to prove it). Took two years off in between. I am also finishing a "graduate theory certificate" this semester, and, starting last summer, I began attending Middlebury for an MA in French (by the by, those programs are incredible. They are funded, at the master's level, and they are summer-only, meaning you can do whatever else during the year). GPAs between 3.7 and 3.9, GREs at the 97%v, 75%m, 97%w, no subject test (just didn't even think to take it).  

 

2 of my 3 letter writers were tenured -- one a poet (my thesis advisor), one a professor I took a really great class with (but is utterly outside my interests), and one a Modernist prof. They all came from my MFA school. No one who has contacted me has mentioned my LORs.

 

Unlike Jazzy, fit is something I spent a lot of time on, but in a sort of nonlinear way, perhaps. I didn't just look for faculty in "transatlantic modernism," but in all the surrounding areas of my interests. For example, with my interest in nonliving, nonhuman objects, I would sometimes throw in a Marxist scholar and talk about how, in order to talk about materiality, I must understand historical materialism as well (which is, I think, probably quite true). I structured my statement of purpose wholly around my interests (transatlantic modernism, american/french avant garde poetry, ecocrit and the nonhuman), mentioned a lot of possible avenues and writers and thinkers I wanted to work with, and mapped that on to the department I was applying to. I also talked a lot about what I don't have, and how I can find that in the work of the scholars at X school. 

 

SoP was: corny intro, 2 wide paragraphs about interests, specific paragraph about WS and how it displayed these interests, paragraph about faculty at school that would further aid my development, educational background in terms of how it has made me the applicant I am/have the interests I do. For example, I spent a couple sentences justifying going from a creative degree to an academic degree. I edited it like a madman as well, like Jazzy, especially to make the connections and transitions between the paragraphs I didn't change and the ones I did appear seamless/natural. 

 

I wrote my writing sample in the fall, directly before applying. It was directly within my interests and was titled "Wallace Stevens and Radioactive Materials" (don't know if I should be worried about being specific). It is an admittedly (and I said as much in my SOP) anachronistic reading, and two schools mentioned that explicitly to me as something they found interesting. Who wouldve guessed (not me!). I think the take away here is awareness: I mentioned anachronism because it seemed like a point of critique against me, when it turned out to help, oddly.

 

Point is the same I've said before in another post, and a strong echo of Jazzy: SOP and WS were what the profs who have called/emailed spoke about. That's what they looked at, that's what they cared about.My SOP presented a detailed enough proto-project, that had room to grow/change, that wasn't stated as a Definite, but that showed at least an awareness of the overlapping discourses I hope to work within. And my WS was a direct example of what I talked about in the SOP. Those were the parts I had control over, and at the end of the day, I know I am lucky that the readers of my application felt some level of resonance with my project and that they had something to offer me.

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Since fit is always discussed most often when people talk about SOPs and writing samples, I figured I'd copy and paste this from an email received by another poster by the DGS:

 

I'm afraid I don't have good news.  The admissions committee completed its initial reviews of applications last week, and they did not recommend that you be included in the pool of offers we sent out this past Friday.   The comments on your file were positive, but American lit is our most competitive area right now, and the number of applicants who want to study in that field far exceeds the number of students our faculty can accommodate.  

The problem in American lit is especially acute since Prof. Bross has moved to an administrative position outside the Department, Prof. Peterson currently serves as Head of the Department, and both Prof. Duvall and Prof. Lamb currently are overloaded with Ph.D. students.  Eventually we do hope to be able to accommodate more prospective American lit students, but, for now, we can accept only a handful.  

To be more specific, we received just over 200 applications to the Literature and Theory and Cultural Studies programs this year, but we'll be able to admit only 12 people--and only 2 or 3 of those will be working in American.  I know that's cold comfort, but it's the best explanation I can provide for why we weren't able to make you an offer.  

 

 

I think this is a useful way to think about fit-- it's not a static quality. It can evolve from year to year based on the internal movements of faculty within a department, and is dependent on the particular advising load for particular faculty members. As usual, the process serves the needs of the departments first. Just food for thought. (And more reason that you shouldn't beat yourself up about any given rejection-- there's just so much you can't control.) 

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Ok, here's my two cents worth. I'm far from being the most successful person posting on here, but I got into two top programs and am wait listed at two more that are 'top 20'. I'm an international student with a ba and ma from highly ranked UK programs (as in, among the three or four that are generally well-known in the US). I guess I have the equivalent of a 4 gpa in both, though we don't have a very easily translatable grading system.  

 

I've been out of school for a while and had very little guidance from anyone, no feedback on sop or writing sample, so it was pretty much a stab in the dark. But from what I've worked out in retrospect, it basically hinges on your sop and writing sample, and it's important for there to be an easily discernible link between the two, and ideally for it to be clear why one naturally follows from the other, even if they're not about exactly the same thing (eg, my sop took the main theoretical thrust of my writing sample and talked about ways in which it might be pursued as a larger-scale project relating to different authors, even though in doing so I transposed it onto a different context). 

 

Another key thing, I think, is pitching something a) specific enough for them to have a clear sense of your interests and to show them that you understand your field and how to put together a project, yet B) sufficiently open/general/adaptable that you can point to different ways in which your project might evolve throughout the program, and why specific courses might help you develop the critical approaches/methodologies etc that would help take it in those directions. So on the one hand, not sounding intractable or too 'formed' for them to want to work with you, but also avoiding going the other way and writing something too vague and general. It's a tough balance to strike. 

 

Nobody at the programs that admitted me has said anything whatsoever about my gre, gpa or lors (which were all solid but so are everyone's), so I doubt they were particularly pivotal. I think it's also safe to say presentations, awards, publications etc are of at best secondary importance. 

 

Another thing on 'fit', which people talk about a lot: I do think it's really important, but I also don't think it's something you should over-think. Present your interests as fully and honestly as possible, and definitely show that you have some sense of how you might pursue them within the program, but remember that the people on adcomms know far more than you ever could about the resources within their department. Case in point, I was admitted to a 'top tier' program for which I actually thought my 'fit' was pretty tenuous. Then two professors got in touch and laid out in detail how they saw my interests coinciding with those of several people - both inside and outside of the department - none of whom I had mentioned in my sop. 

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(For the schools I was accepted to last year)

What I had: publications, conference presentations, pretty good writing sample, connections with faculty members (visits or phone calls), interesting/ unusual project on minor literatures, great GRE scores, great recs, 4.0 in Master's program, individual research for project (I.e. dedication)

What I didn't have: prestigious undergrad, prestigious MA, prominent rec writers, great undergrad GPA, traditional background

Who knows what it was that got me into programs. In all likelihood, some of the things that kept me out of one program helped get me into another...

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Well, I'm probably not qualified to comment on getting into top programs, as I'm honestly not certain what constitutes a top program in digital rhetoric even at this point.  :huh: But I do have a couple thoughts based on coaching writers with their personal statements for a number of years. Based on conversations with faculty and admissions committees, I think there are a couple things that we all can miss when writing our statements. These are things that ultimately promote that ephemeral thing called "fit." I'm not saying that you can just create fit from nothing--and, yeah, that's often something known only to the program--but you can certainly make a few moves to help show programs why you could be a genuinely good fit:

 

--As others have said, mention faculty you would like to work with, mention courses that interest you, mention groups or projects that you would love to be part of, and/or talk about what personal research projects you would like to do in the program. People are rarely as specific in their statements as they could be, and I include myself in that.

 

Also, folks stress out big time about how to mention faculty they want to work with. "Dr. X would fit my interests and be a great candidate for working with me" is never as good as "At X program, I would really like to work with Dr. X, whose work on raises questions that intrigue me." In other words, don't put faculty into your sentence in a way that makes them seem to fit you. This was a major paranoia for me as tone can be so hard to create and/or judge. Others will pick up on tonal things you never noticed, though, so pester them for help. :)

 

-- "Tell me why this experience is relevant." Despite telling this to people for years, I still found that I had trouble doing it myself in my own statements. It's so very easy to think that the words on the page explain themselves, but you sometimes really have to make their importance blatant. These folks are reading massive numbers of statements, so it's not always enough to discuss your thesis research; it helps to end a point or paragraph with a linking statement: "This project represents the kind of work I hope to extend and deepen in X program at X school." "I hope to continue engaging in these types of conversations in the X community." Sounds silly, but this alleviates a lot of muddiness and blurring together for people who are reading and reading and reading these things. :)

 

--Strike a balance between confidence and timidness. "This program gave me skills in X" isn't as strong as "Through this program, I gained skills in X." However, "I am a superb researcher" isn't as strong as "I have worked to become an effective researcher." Also, it's not a bad thing to show humility. "This project taught me important lessons about X" is kind of refreshing if used carefully. Kind of obvious, I suppose, but again--tone is tough!

 

So, I don't know. I'm just going from what I've seen and the things I've heard. But as viviandarkbloom said, faculty will see ways you fit their program that you never will, so be candid and honest and show your enthusiasm, but do so genuinely. When you care and are honest, it shows.

----------------------------------------------

 

One final thought, and it's one that hopefully reassures someone out there. I come from a small program filled with excellent faculty, but we have no real reputation. We're near the bottom of the World News rankings, and I've had faculty comment to me and others that we'd be very hard pressed to get into good programs with an MA from our school. Worse, I have no major conferences and no publications. But I still got into what I consider some wonderful programs. So if you're like me, please don't despair or feel like you don't have a shot. It can be rough when even other academics tell you the outlook is grim. Work hard at it and please, please, please don't do it alone. Find a friend, find a writing tutor, find a teacher who can give you the insight you need. And don't despair. 

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What a great topic, SleepyOldMan. Last year, I didn't get into any of the programs for which I applied, and I would have really appreciated something like this. My experience is a little different than a lot of traditional students, as I've been working as a writing center administrator (I supervise and coordinate the directors) and NTT faculty at a state university (so it was a real blow last year when I didn't get in, as I'm actually working in the field right now). *By the way, if anyone with an MA is looking for a job teaching writing, we're hiring! And if anyone with writing center administration experience and an MA is looking for a job, we will be hiring this summer! Drop me a message.* Anyhow, I'm applying to Comp/Rhet programs, and my research focus is the intersection of writing centers and digital media literacy.

 

When we see people's success, what we don't usually see is all of the failure and learning that preceded the success, so I want to emphasize that I have stumbled a LOT over the course of my career in my attempts to reach my goals. My "recipe" for success is as follows:

 

1 part buying people I admire coffee and asking lots of questions

1 part making friends and collaborating with people I admire

1 part mentoring people who are a few steps behind

1 part being involved in everything I can and taking on projects/creating projects as much as I can handle

3 parts assessing the state of the field critically and specializing as early as possible in something that not many people are doing but that will only become increasingly relevant (rather than simply "doing what I love," though I do love what I do)

5 parts being willing to take risks and fail (and I did, many times)

100 parts actively making the choice to use the failures as a learning opportunity

 

Here's my stuff:

 

The Numbers

Honestly, I don't know how much numbers matter as long as they're not abysmal. My verbal and writing GRE scores are above the 90th percentile, though they're not outrageously high, and my math score is just embarrassing, but I wasn't about to learn calculus for one test.  Both my BA and MA GPA are around 3.8. My BA and MA aren't from a prestigious university at all (it's a large, open admissions state school). I counterbalanced that with pragmatism. I figured out early what I wanted to do career-wise, so I started presenting at conferences (I'd ride along with faculty and sleep on their hotel room floors. Cheap!), doing voluntary internships, seeking out mentors, starting my own projects and rallying people to help, and building experience as an undergraduate. I was never "supposed" to go to college in the first place; nobody in my family goes to college and they don't always get what I'm doing. Most of the time I feel like I'm stumbling in the dark figuring out academia, so all of this is just what has worked for me so far.

 

The Writing Sample

My writing sample this year was a risk. I finished my MA in 2009, and I've been working in the field ever since, so I have drafts from conferences that I considered revising for the sample, but I ended up choosing an ethnography that I wrote during my MA and revising it for currency. I chose that piece strategically because it quotes scholars from schools where I wanted to study and because it reflects my research interests closely (and stands to show that my research interests have been a part of my work for many years).

 

The SOP

My SOP was the document that changed most between my failed year last year and my successful year this season.  My first SOP was more of a narrative, but that chanced when I gathered all of my friends SOPs, especially those who got into programs, spread them out on a table, and looked for patterns. The successful ones seemed to follow a specific formula, so I modeled mine after the patterns in structure and tone. The first few paragraphs of each SOP were the same, but the penultimate paragraph was very tailored for each program. In cases when I knew which scholar I wanted to work with, I talked about his/her research and how it connected with my own. I focused on academics in the statement of purpose, talking about conference presentations, special projects, and even my writing in graduate school, even though it had been a while.

 

The LORS

My LORs were written mostly by people I'd worked with (because, as I said, I've been working for five years now). The first was written by a fairly big name scholar in writing center studies who had been a supervisor during my first job out of grad school (I applied for and accepted the job because I wanted to work with him). The second letter was written by my current department head, who is a tenured composition scholar. The third letter, because I thought it might be good to find a former professor, was written by a tenured professor who had supervised my teaching as a graduate student. I chose him because I had worked with his wife for years, so I knew I had stayed at least a little bit in their consciousness, and because he had always been very aware of my interest in writing centers and supportive of providing opportunities that fostered that research interest. I did make it a point to go to his Christmas party when I was back home for the holidays (because I hadn't really talked to him in years), give him materials to refer to for his letter, including essays I'd written for his class, my CV, and my website URL, and ask him specifically to focus on certain aspects of my work that the other two professional colleagues wouldn't be able to speak to.

 

The CV & Chances to See Me

After crawling out of the hole that the crushing blow of being roundly rejected by all of the PhD programs I'd applied to last year had shoved me into, I called up my mentor to talk about how I could do a better job the next time around, and the advice he gave me was to give them as many chances to see you as possible. Last year's application didn't have a cover letter, but after being rejected, I was frankly pissed, so the cover letter I wrote was aggressive and bold, and it outlined my work experience and stated, very openly, that to progress, I needed the kind of scholarly foundation that I could only get from their PhD program. I put it on departmental letterhead for a little extra clout, and followed it with my CV.

 

I did what I could to give people chances to see me. In my work, if I had a chance to travel and talk to people, I took it. I emailed scholars at other schools for advice on projects we were working on at mine. Over the summer and after application season, I emailed faculty at schools I'd been rejected from to ask what I could do better next time - and they were often people I'd met through work anyhow, so I was both receiving advice, and reminding them that they had worked with me. Sometimes trying to find a way to phrase the emails was difficult and awkward, because I wanted to maintain my dignity in the face of failure while at the same time asking for help. A phrase a friend gifted me with was "I didn't get the results I'd hoped for this year, so I was hoping you could offer some advice for next year's application."

 

Other Stuff

Like I said, this thread is awesome. We're also really lucky to have one another as resources - I am happy to share my documents with people, acknowledging that they're not necessarily perfect, but they're my best attempt and they've achieved some success. I'm also willing to give up some of my anonymity in the name of being collaborative. Here's my website (as simple as it is) with some documents that might be useful: paula-miller.com. I'm also happy to Skype or GHangout with anyone who wants to talk more.

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The CV & Chances to See Me

After crawling out of the hole that the crushing blow of being roundly rejected by all of the PhD programs I'd applied to last year had shoved me into, I called up my mentor to talk about how I could do a better job the next time around, and the advice he gave me was to give them as many chances to see you as possible. Last year's application didn't have a cover letter, but after being rejected, I was frankly pissed, so the cover letter I wrote was aggressive and bold, and it outlined my work experience and stated, very openly, that to progress, I needed the kind of scholarly foundation that I could only get from their PhD program. I put it on departmental letterhead for a little extra clout, and followed it with my CV.

 

 

So this is easily shaping up to be my favorite thread since it's so helpful...Academicat, when you say that last year's application didn't have a cover letter, are you saying that you wrote cover letters for all applications this year whether or not the program officially listed it as a required application piece?  And if so, how did you include it? Did you just put it on the front of a WS or did you find a way to upload it separately, send it in hardcopy, what?  Finally, can you say more about it generically - length, etc.?  I imagine a cover letter to be a page-ish, right?

 

The reason I ask so many questions about the cover letter is because I've been focusing so much attention on SoP and WS.  Didn't realize I should be drafting an altogether different document, but if it works, I'm definitely on board. Thanks in advance.

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So this is easily shaping up to be my favorite thread since it's so helpful...Academicat, when you say that last year's application didn't have a cover letter, are you saying that you wrote cover letters for all applications this year whether or not the program officially listed it as a required application piece?  And if so, how did you include it? Did you just put it on the front of a WS or did you find a way to upload it separately, send it in hardcopy, what?  Finally, can you say more about it generically - length, etc.?  I imagine a cover letter to be a page-ish, right?

 

The reason I ask so many questions about the cover letter is because I've been focusing so much attention on SoP and WS.  Didn't realize I should be drafting an altogether different document, but if it works, I'm definitely on board. Thanks in advance.

That's right - I had no cover letter the rejectionful year. I assumed that the SOP served as a cover letter, but in talking with people who review these applications, I learned that most applications have cover letters. I was actually pretty mortified to learn that I'd missed this piece of information, but I was quick to correct it.

 

I usually uploaded the letter in the same .pdf as my CV as an introduction to the entire packet, as all of my applications are online. I'm happy to let you look at what I wrote, but it was about a page and a half long, and while my SOP spoke to my research interests, my cover letter talked about my competence as a teacher and writing center administrator. I played up the projects I'd been a part of and how scholarship both informed them and would continue to inform future projects. For what it's worth, I made sure I took the time to put it on letterhead and include an electronic signature.

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That's right - I had no cover letter the rejectionful year. I assumed that the SOP served as a cover letter, but in talking with people who review these applications, I learned that most applications have cover letters. I was actually pretty mortified to learn that I'd missed this piece of information, but I was quick to correct it.

 

I usually uploaded the letter in the same .pdf as my CV as an introduction to the entire packet, as all of my applications are online. I'm happy to let you look at what I wrote, but it was about a page and a half long, and while my SOP spoke to my research interests, my cover letter talked about my competence as a teacher and writing center administrator. I played up the projects I'd been a part of and how scholarship both informed them and would continue to inform future projects. For what it's worth, I made sure I took the time to put it on letterhead and include an electronic signature.

 

Oh jeez. I had no idea this was a thing.

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That's right - I had no cover letter the rejectionful year. I assumed that the SOP served as a cover letter, but in talking with people who review these applications, I learned that most applications have cover letters. I was actually pretty mortified to learn that I'd missed this piece of information, but I was quick to correct it.

 

I usually uploaded the letter in the same .pdf as my CV as an introduction to the entire packet, as all of my applications are online. I'm happy to let you look at what I wrote, but it was about a page and a half long, and while my SOP spoke to my research interests, my cover letter talked about my competence as a teacher and writing center administrator. I played up the projects I'd been a part of and how scholarship both informed them and would continue to inform future projects. For what it's worth, I made sure I took the time to put it on letterhead and include an electronic signature.

I may take you up on the offer to examine your docs or skype chat.

But I certainly don't want to wrap my mind around  this stuff anymore than it already is until I know my final place this season.

:D

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What on earth is a cover letter? I've never heard of one nor do I know any of my acquaintances currently in good PhD programs who used it.

 

A "cover letter" is something I've only used when applying to jobs, though I guess it's helpful when applying to PhD programs as well. When I've applied to jobs, the cover letter was basically a prose version of my CV--how have my experiences given me the skills necessary to fulfill the requirements for the position? How do they allow me to stand out from other applicants? Etc. I should have written a cover letter for programs. Drat.

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What on earth is a cover letter? I've never heard of one nor do I know any of my acquaintances currently in good PhD programs who used it.

This. ^

I've always been told to send the programs what they ask for: no more, no less.

I did well this application season -- and I would add that, in addition to what others have said about SOP and the writing sample, part of what I think helped me get into programs where I "fit" was allowing my personality to shine through my SOP. I was absolutely professional, but also took care to show my passion for my topic (minority women's literature) and where that passion came from, personally. In doing so, I was able to demonstrate not just that I have a sense of direction or a good proposed project, but that I am the *right* person to do this research, because it matters to me personally.

I think this also did the job of keeping me out of programs where, in the end, I probably wouldn't have been happy. Hope that helps!

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A "cover letter" is something I've only used when applying to jobs, though I guess it's helpful when applying to PhD programs as well. When I've applied to jobs, the cover letter was basically a prose version of my CV--how have my experiences given me the skills necessary to fulfill the requirements for the position? How do they allow me to stand out from other applicants? Etc. I should have written a cover letter for programs. Drat.

 

Seems a complete waste of time. Really, this is not expected and I would be surprised if adcomms paid attention to this. I am strongly on the side of sending what is specified. Again, I don't know anyone who's used this, and I've never heard of a cover letter for humanities PhD applications before today. 

 

Focus on what matters: the SOP, the writing sample.

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I guess--I've never used one before in applications. It seems some people here have or at least have heard that others included it. I also just tried to focus on perfecting the required documents, and I hope not including a cover letter didn't hurt my chances at all. My school's adcomm certainly didn't say anything about it.

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While I'm not saying the coverletter isn't a factor in applications, I have trouble believing it played a crucial role in getting anyone in anywhere. I've always supplied cover letters for jobs, but the reality is that AdComms have a limited time to sort through hundreds of applicants, so I can't imagine they'd really want anything that they don't explicitly ask for. Worst case scenario, if you don't include something in your SOP that you do include in your cover letter, there's a chance that information will be discarded.

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Well this certainly got interesting in a hurry!

 

Let's be fair to Academicat, who took the time to write a hell of a post and then followed up with explanation when asked (unlike others)...and who said the cover letter was partly the result of being pissed about a year of rejections and who was told that most applications do include them. It strikes me that this has to do with the particular people/departments that got specifically contacted for advice. On top of all that, Academicat is admitted to 4 programs. I for one don't sneeze at that. If, when it's my turn, I have a choice of 4 programs, I will do some unmentionable mode of celebration, it will be epic. And hell, if you get shut out one year and you get 4 acceptances the next time around, and one of your main differences is this tangible and identifiable, and we're asking, and Academicat is will to share, then I guess the neighborly thing here would be to continue seeking clarification:

 

Academicat, you mention taking a calculated risk with your writing sample...do you think the cover letter was another calculated risk? Would you have drafted and submitted a cover letter if you were pissed but did not get information that most applications contain them? If decorum by and large deems a cover letter irrelevant to other departments' application protocols do you still recommend it based on your current success, or do you think your applications were to an unusual set of departments in this regard? In short, what do you make of this mess we have on our hands? Please help to un-confuse me and possibly others.

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Well this certainly got interesting in a hurry!

 

Let's be fair to Academicat, who took the time to write a hell of a post and then followed up with explanation when asked (unlike others)...and who said the cover letter was partly the result of being pissed about a year of rejections and who was told that most applications do include them. It strikes me that this has to do with the particular people/departments that got specifically contacted for advice. On top of all that, Academicat is admitted to 4 programs. I for one don't sneeze at that. If, when it's my turn, I have a choice of 4 programs, I will do some unmentionable mode of celebration, it will be epic. And hell, if you get shut out one year and you get 4 acceptances the next time around, and one of your main differences is this tangible and identifiable, and we're asking, and Academicat is will to share, then I guess the neighborly thing here would be to continue seeking clarification:

 

Academicat, you mention taking a calculated risk with your writing sample...do you think the cover letter was another calculated risk? Would you have drafted and submitted a cover letter if you were pissed but did not get information that most applications contain them? If decorum by and large deems a cover letter irrelevant to other departments' application protocols do you still recommend it based on your current success, or do you think your applications were to an unusual set of departments in this regard? In short, what do you make of this mess we have on our hands? Please help to un-confuse me and possibly others.

Agreed.

To add on - perhaps the cover letter went straight to the bin(doubt it but I'm open to the possibility). Still the reconceptualizing of a CV and expressing traits in prose outside of the SOP prompts... well that process has got to be helpful.

I think we can at least assert - the addition of a cover letter did not tank her applications.

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Well this certainly got interesting in a hurry!

 

Let's be fair to Academicat, who took the time to write a hell of a post and then followed up with explanation when asked (unlike others)...

 

Not sure if that's a dig at me...? I fully intend to answer your response to my post but you know, got caught up in other things. I wanted to make sure I took the time to fully explain, but figured it wouldn't be right to spend however many minutes writing a long post on GradCafe when I had an abstract due that at the time wasn't even started.

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