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seroteamavi

Ph.D. applications 2014-2015 chit chat

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It's mid-September, so folks must be in the thick of things--filling out apps, mulling a GRE retake, scouting potential dissertation advisers, carving out that perfect SOP. Good luck to all this year.

 

 

(As a useful reference, last year's can be found here: )

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The link you posted is from two years ago (which is also useful!). Last year can be found here:

 

Ah, yes! I think someone posted on that thread last year and bumped it to the top, which must be why I stumbled upon it in the 2014 posts. Another reminder to me to double-check anything one puts in print. Thanks for the correct and even more useful link. 

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How is everyone's application season going so far? 

Pretty good here. Trying to decide which programs are worth applying to given my numbers (162 V, 153 Q, 5.0 AW, 3.85 grad GPA). I'm aiming for Marquette, but my MA is in history rather than theology which could cut me out of the running for funding.

Does anyone have an idea of whether admissions are more competitive at Columbia or Brown?

Anyone with scores comparable to mine who can talk about their past PhD admissions experiences (162 V, 153 Q, 5.0 AW, 3.85 grad GPA)?

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Anyone with scores comparable to mine who can talk about their past PhD admissions experiences (162 V, 153 Q, 5.0 AW, 3.85 grad GPA)?

 

I applied with nearly identical stats three years ago (161 V, 156 Q, 5.0 AW, and M* degrees in English and theology, 3.89, 3.7 GPA respectively). I went 2 for 10. One of my rejections was from Marquette (I wanted to work with D. Stephen Long in theology/philosophy.) It's hard to speculate, but I think my rejections from the TT programs I applied to had primarily to do with my GRE scores, and with the other schools... who knows? My advisor where I am now told me she was impressed by my writing in both my sample and my SOP, and that's primarily what got me in. The adcom also saw some affinity between my work and two others they wanted to admit to the Jewish Studies track who were working in Jewish philosophy/theology.

 

The difficult part about this process is that there is a much larger subjective element than any applicant would want. Your admittance is partially dependent upon the politics of the department, how many students each track can take in a given year, whether or not your POI can take on another student, how much your POI is willing to fight for the students he/she really wants, etc. Or you could be a fantastic candidate applying against someone else doing something very similar who grabs the adcom's interest just a little bit more. Even if you both blow away the adcom and the adcom really wants to admit you both, depending on the institution, funding constraints could force them to cut one from the final group. Unfortunately, those are aspects you can't control at all. 

 

An anecdote to illustrate what I'm talking about: I contacted Mark Taylor (at Columbia) when I was trying to narrow down schools to apply to and he told me straight up I shouldn't apply. He wasn't being mean. He thought my work sounded interesting and promising, my background had a unique aspect (because I had an English MA), but he just received so, so many applications directed toward working with him that the chances of doing what I wanted to do with him were basically zero because he had to choose among a pool of ridiculously qualified applicants. He passes on dozens of amazing applicants every year, and there is nothing he can really do about that. And I'm sure that out of the ones he does want to advocate for, maybe some years only one or two of those are admitted. Or maybe none. So I didn't apply. Btw, regarding your Columbia/Brown question, I'm inclined to say Columbia, but it really depends on the area to which you're applying.

 

The point is all you can do is put together the absolute best application that you can, which I know is frustratingly vague. We really want to have more control over these things, but unfortunately there's no perfect formula. People with amazing stats and a great SOP get shut out of admissions every year (though one's chances are certainly better with those things, to be sure.) 

 

As I've said before on this board, graduate school is simply a never ending parade of arbitrary rejections. You get some wins in there, but you experience far more rejection. I'm applying for major funding for the first time this year for the 2015-16 school year. It's honestly felt like Ph.D applications all over again in that I feel like my future hinges on the decisions that are going to be made. And I'll have to wait 5-6 months (much longer than a grad school app response!) before I know my fate. If I win an award, I get to go to Germany for the next academic year to start my dissertation and I get a to put a huge award on my CV (Fulbright or DAAD research grant). With the job market the way it is, every little thing helps. The thing is that these processes can be just as arbitrary and subjective as the Ph.D app process (maybe sometimes more so.) Unlike with my Ph.D apps, I have no idea who will read my grant applications. These reading committees are made up of academics from just about every field. I've written my proposals for non-experts, but maybe someone still won't get it--or maybe someone in RS will read it, and he/she will strongly disagree with what I'm trying to do with my project!

 

All of this to say that all the things we apply for as academics have some frustratingly high level of subjectivity and randomness like this built into them, beginning with Ph.D apps.

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marXian,

I just wanted to say thanks for your thoughtful relply. May I ask what school you are currently attending?

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good luck with applications everyone! I'm sending seven in this year, for my second go-around

 

Good luck to you. Just a word of encouragement: I was successful the second time around. Where are you looking, if you don't mind my asking?

Edited by seroteamavi

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I think a large problem that I've come across on this site (and others) has been an obsession with pointing out one's GPAs and GREs when, in reality, the process is so much more complicated than that (as MarXian) has stated). What I've learned from this go-around in the PhD process is that when it comes to the more elite institutions, what matters most is whether or not your research fits in with your potential adviser(s) and if, in general, you are a good fit to the program. The only way one can go about this is to just email around as much as you can; what's the point in spending money on an app where you know that the prof isn't that interested in your research? 

All the schools I'm applying to are schools who have shown an exceptional interest in my research and whom I've spoken to either on the phone or through Skype (at their insistence). Not one asked me what my GPA was or what my GRE scores were, because at this level, it is more about your potential to succeed in their program and your ability to represent said program well after graduation. Of course, the GRE/GPA does help in evaluating that, but a greater weight is placed on your research, what your previous professors have said about your abilities, who those professors are, your foreign language skills, and any other things that can be attributed to your potential success in their program.  

I'm speaking, of course, only about top, top tier institutions that are inundated with hundreds and hundreds of applications every cycle. Those of you lurkers out there who are put off by people posting their GPAs and GREs: don't compare yourself to them. Think about what makes you unique as an applicant and what you can bring to that university that no one else can. Try to stand out among the herd. It's important to understand that there is no exact formula for a successful PhD application. Rock it. 

Edited by Aubstopper

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Not one asked me what my GPA was or what my GRE scores were, because at this level, it is more about your potential to succeed in their program and your ability to represent said program well after graduation.

 

This has not been my experience. Two of the schools I've interacted with, both Top Tier, have specifically asked those questions - and my research interests do align with theirs (though I would stop short of saying they were doing hand-stands about it). This may, of course, be somewhat due to the fact that I do not come from a "Top Tier" M* program, but I do also think it means quite a bit to them regardless of background. Even if they are really excited about your research interests, they will have to justify their excitement about you to an admissions committee, and every positive square inch they can use from your background will be to their advantage.

 

That's just been my experience, though! And, of course, I agree that "fit" is more important than anything.

 

Good luck with the applications.

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This has not been my experience. Two of the schools I've interacted with, both Top Tier, have specifically asked those questions - and my research interests do align with theirs (though I would stop short of saying they were doing hand-stands about it). This may, of course, be somewhat due to the fact that I do not come from a "Top Tier" M* program, but I do also think it means quite a bit to them regardless of background. Even if they are really excited about your research interests, they will have to justify their excitement about you to an admissions committee, and every positive square inch they can use from your background will be to their advantage.

 

That's just been my experience, though! And, of course, I agree that "fit" is more important than anything.

 

Good luck with the applications.

 

Having a Masters does feed into my original point of a professor's/committee's evaluation of preparedness for graduate school. There  might be a larger emphasis on GPA and GRE if one is coming straight from undergrad into a PhD program because there is less material to base one's evaluation on. Yale's admissions process for PhD is done through nomination by professor, then the committee evaluates it. In that sense, more weight is put on a potential adviser's opinion of you as a candidate. Not necessarily so at other universities I'm applying to.

 

My GPA and GRE would be considered par for the course of the typical applicant to these sorts of programs, but in the end, when it comes to the humanities at the ivies, it is your research proposal, your recommendations (and the notoriety of the professors recommending you or whether the committee knows them), and language preparation. In every email I sent out, I asked what qualities constitute a successful applicant to your program and I received relatively the same response from everyone, which I'm relaying here. Language preparation especially seemed to be a large factor (I have 6 languages under my belt, most more or less relevant to my area of study). They love it if you already have proficiency in a main language (in your case, Biblical Hebrew, maybe Aramaic and Modern Hebrew) and knowledge of French and/or German---it means you can get straight into the meat of things rather than having to spend years of your PhD gaining language acquisition to do your dissertation. 

 

As someone who would obsessively compare myself to others on this site especially when I was applying to A.M. programs, I just wanted to stress that GRE/GPA may be some of the things but not everything. It's important to have confidence in oneself/experiences and let that bleed into your SOP.  And to know that even if one is rejected, it's not necessarily because one bombed the writing section of the GRE or got a B- in Calculus one's freshman year, it could be that one's research and interests just didn't fit into the program---and if that is the case, you probably don't want to spend 3-7 years of your life in a place that won't make you happy. Which is why it's very important to write these programs and get a gist of it all so you don't waste money on an application that will probably be a 'no.' 

 

Good luck to you as well! I think that the fact that you're getting responses (even if it's not of the doing handstands variety) is an extremely positive point in your favor. I am friends with several professors and they tell me that when application season rolls around, they get hundreds of emails and ignore most of them (especially if they look like form letters). I'm sure you'll do just fine :)

Edited by Aubstopper

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Having a Masters does feed into my original point of a professor's/committee's evaluation of preparedness for graduate school. There  might be a larger emphasis on GPA and GRE if one is coming straight from undergrad into a PhD program because there is less material to base one's evaluation on. Yale's admissions process for PhD is done through nomination by professor, then the committee evaluates it. In that sense, more weight is put on a potential adviser's opinion of you as a candidate. Not necessarily so at other universities I'm applying to.

 

My GPA and GRE would be considered par for the course of the typical applicant to these sorts of programs, but in the end, when it comes to the humanities at the ivies, it is your research proposal, your recommendations (and the notoriety of the professors recommending you or whether the committee knows them), and language preparation. In every email I sent out, I asked what qualities constitute a successful applicant to your program and I received relatively the same response from everyone, which I'm relaying here. Language preparation especially seemed to be a large factor (I have 6 languages under my belt, most more or less relevant to my area of study). They love it if you already have proficiency in a main language (in your case, Biblical Hebrew, maybe Aramaic and Modern Hebrew) and knowledge of French and/or German---it means you can get straight into the meat of things rather than having to spend years of your PhD gaining language acquisition to do your dissertation. 

 

As someone who would obsessively compare myself to others on this site especially when I was applying to A.M. programs, I just wanted to stress that GRE/GPA may be some of the things but not everything. It's important to have confidence in oneself/experiences and let that bleed into your SOP.  And to know that even if one is rejected, it's not necessarily because one bombed the writing section of the GRE or got a B- in Calculus one's freshman year, it could be that one's research and interests just didn't fit into the program---and if that is the case, you probably don't want to spend 3-7 years of your life in a place that won't make you happy. Which is why it's very important to write these programs and get a gist of it all so you don't waste money on an application that will probably be a 'no.' 

 

Good luck to you as well! I think that the fact that you're getting responses (even if it's not of the doing handstands variety) is an extremely positive point in your favor. I am friends with several professors and they tell me that when application season rolls around, they get hundreds of emails and ignore most of them (especially if they look like form letters). I'm sure you'll do just fine :)

 

Thanks for the encouragement! Let's hope my interactions do bode well. But time will tell.

 

Just to clarify: I do have a Masters, but it's just not from a Top Tier program. 

 

All the best to you again!

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MarXian, great point about the subjective element. Many refuse to believe such a force plays a role in admissions decision making. But it plays a larger role than most realize. 

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Seems like we're a little slow in getting started this year.... So name your sub-discipline and programs applied to - then let us know when you receive rejections (or the rare acceptance).

Sub-discipline: early Christianity

Programs applied to:

Duke - early Christianity
Yale - ancient Christianity

Notre Dame - Christianity and Judaism in antiquity
Columbia - Christianity in Late Antiquity
Marquette - historical theology
CUA - early Christianity interdisciplinary graduate program

Oxford (still working on application)
Cambridge

Best of luck to everyone!

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Agreed that the forum seems to be sluggish this year - at least compared to the activity last year and in 2013! Maybe most of the members are now those in PhD programs?

Well, my sub-discipline is Hebrew Bible, and I've applied across the board:

Yale, Emory, Duke (PhD and ThD), Princeton Theological, UVA, UChicago (Div), BC (Theology), and Baylor.

And the waiting continues...

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Yes, very slow! But maybe that's for the best - for a number of reasons.

 

My sub-discipline is also Hebrew Bible, and here's where I've applied.

 

Boston University (School of the Theology), Duke (PhD and ThD), Harvard, and Princeton Seminary.

 

I'm not terribly optimistic, but we'll see how it plays out.

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Die große Stille - the period of radio silence between Dec. 15 and Feb. 1 (also a fantastic documentary about Carthusian monks).

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Is anyone here terribly optimistic...? Isn't graduate school simply an exercise in self-abasement?

 

I'm pretty sure that's academia in general. We've chosen a career that fundamentally depends on our ability to grovel, schmooze, and otherwise convince people of our worth.  This is particularly true in the Humanities. 

 

Now in my fourth (and hopefully penultimate) year in a PhD program, all I can say is this: if you love it, nothing will be more fulfilling; if you don't love it, choose something else now!

 

But, on a positive note...GOOD LUCK, EVERYONE!

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It does seem like the applicant pool has been shrinking (not just in religion programs, but other humanities forums were talking about it as well), but who knows...maybe people just decided to not post on GC. 

I'm applying to:
Oxford (DPhil, Oriental Studies)

UC Davis (PhD, History - Modern Jewish History)

Yale (PhD, Religious Studies - Judaic Studies)

Princeton (PhD, Religious Studies - Religion, Ethics, and Politics)

Brandeis (PhD, Near Eastern and Judaic Studies)

My area of interest is modern Jewish thought. I wrote my MA thesis on Sabbatean antinomianism, its version of Lurianic Kabbalah, and its effects on later European Jewish secularization movements a la Gershom Scholem. I'm hoping to take it a bit further and look at Jewish political messianism. 

I guess I'm optimistic, but I'm also trying to be real here. I have 6 languages more or less down; a grad degree; a unique background (I'm coming at the research in the way of Middle Eastern Studies); very good recs; a very good writing sample (my thesis); typical GPA for the programs; very good pre-application interviews with Oxford, Yale (2 with Yale!), and UC Davis; but a so-so GRE. The process is really unpredictable since we're dealing with subjectivity on the part of the adcom...and I've taken off 3 years from academia. Though then again, one of the professors at Yale told me that it's an attractive quality to work in the "real world." 

The "real world" is boring and I want to be back in school already. This waiting process is brutal. 

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