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2014 PhD applicants, can you tell me


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...what you think worked and didn't work in your applications this year?

I'm applying next year and would love to know what aspects of your applications/background/choices you think helped or hindered your chances this year.

If it's not too soon, would you mind sharing? Thank you! And good luck to all those still waiting :)

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What worked for me was getting published and getting my GRE's up. That seemed to be the biggest difference maker. I rewrote all of my statements of purpose. I cannot strongly enough suggest that you have someone, ideally your POI, give you feedback on a draft of your statement of purpose. If you have the resources and time, visit the school and meet with your POI.

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Letters of Rec, SOP, and (especially) languages. Perhaps I am saying 'the whole package'...and honestly, that is pretty much what you need to be competitive at top schools. GRE scores, meh. I'm still convinced if the rest of your app isn't competitive they don't make a huge difference. 

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I think visiting programs and getting to know faculty is a huge part of it.  More than anything, it comes down to fit.  This is shown in personal interactions and your Statement of Purpose.  I definitely second having people in the programs you are applying to read over your SOP and edit it like crazy.

 

My GRE wasn't great (87% for verbal) and I had no language.  I spent 5 years in ministry before applying, but I got into my top 2 choices and I honestly think it's because of fit.  

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I'm not a 2014 applicant, but I'll throw in my .02.

 

What everyone has said so far is, I think, absolutely right. In general, it has to do with your whole package as an applicant, with some aspects being weighed more heavily than others. Faculty at some schools I applied to (in 2012) mentioned up front that I needed to be above 90% in my verbal GRE score and preferably way above. I was at 89% (161) and that may or may not have had something to do with my rejections from those programs! 

 

This is important to remember: Almost everyone applying is excellent. I'm convinced that it's the details that get you in, and what those details are is going to be very specific to your AOI, your POIs, the departments and universities you're applying to, etc. I think if I had had a better sense of what those were for myself when I was applying, I would've done more to emphasize different factors for different schools. Instead my special details (e.g. the fact that I have an MA in English and have a strong background in critical theory) were emphasized the same in every application. Consequently, (in my view) I ended up being accepted to two schools that care about that kind of background a lot, whose departments are equipped and looking for students with backgrounds like that (not only that kind of background of course) and that have larger university environments that are very friendly to theologians doing work in critical theory. For all the research I did when I was applying, I look back now and see that I should've taken some schools off of my list probably and added others that I decided not to apply to. That isn't to say, of course, that I think I was rejected specifically because I emphasized those things--maybe certain schools just didn't find it that important or interesting, whereas others clearly did.

 

My experience is obviously very specific to me, my interests, etc. but I think that's the point I'm wanting to make. Find what that thing (or things) is for you in relation to your AOI and exploit it as much as it makes sense for the schools to which you're applying. Maybe it's that you know a lot of languages really, really well. Maybe you've been on an archaeological dig in Jerusalem. Whatever it is, find it.

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Fit, fit, fit.  I came to the table with multiple ancient and modern languages (this is for OT Hebrew Bible programs), great GRE scores, and great GPA from my MA program.  But...looks like I'm out for the count this year, and I think I know exactly why.  All the programs I applied to, which were all top schools, unfortunately weren't a great fit for my interests.  I think my SOP reflected that.  They just get too many candidates to accept students that don't match exactly (or seemingly match exactly) what the POIs are looking to research.  There were some great programs that did have POIs studying more or less exactly what I wanted...but they weren't "top" schools, which meant I was hesitant on this go-round to apply.  I may rethink that for next Fall though.  Good luck!

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Fit, fit, fit.  I came to the table with multiple ancient and modern languages (this is for OT Hebrew Bible programs), great GRE scores, and great GPA from my MA program.  But...looks like I'm out for the count this year, and I think I know exactly why.  All the programs I applied to, which were all top schools, unfortunately weren't a great fit for my interests.  I think my SOP reflected that.  They just get too many candidates to accept students that don't match exactly (or seemingly match exactly) what the POIs are looking to research.  There were some great programs that did have POIs studying more or less exactly what I wanted...but they weren't "top" schools, which meant I was hesitant on this go-round to apply.  I may rethink that for next Fall though.  Good luck!

I couldn't agree with this more. I also feel that I have very good overall stats, but the schools at which I was either wait listed or accepted were entirely because of fit. I made it a point to reach out to faculty members at these programs and emphasize that our research interests overlapped. In turn, these faculty members said they would put in a good word for me to the adcom.

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Not that I'm saying others on this forum haven't already said, but I think what really helped me is when I went from approaching the application with the aim of making myself look really smart/accomplished, and instead spend time thinking about how you would actually read these things if you're a professor.

 

Unlike undergrad, most of them aren't just trying to admit the best students. They want to hear a bit about your interest and aims and think "That sounds interesting . . . that's someone I'd be interested in talking to and advising for the next 5-6 years . . . I can see how they complement my work . ." You need the grades and GRE scores for the Dean's office to let them accept you, but they're thinking of working with you for the next 5-6 years. Rec letters are important, but I think only to a certain point.

 

Anyway, my two cents.

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